2023 Trafficking in Persons Report: Mali

2023 Trafficking in Persons Report: Mali

MALI (Tier 2)

The transition government of Mali does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.  The transition government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Mali was upgraded to Tier 2.  These efforts included holding the first special Court of Assizes session focused on hereditary slavery and prosecuting and convicting more traffickers, including for hereditary slavery crimes.  It launched an NRM and victim statistics database and identified more trafficking victims.  The transition government collaborated with international organizations to provide anti-trafficking training to law enforcement and judicial officials and allocated more funding for anti-trafficking efforts.  However, the transition government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  The transition government lacked full control over large portions of its territory, particularly in the northern and central regions, limiting its ability to combat trafficking crimes, provide victims with services, and gather data.  For the fourth consecutive year, it did not amend the anti-trafficking law to explicitly define hereditary slavery as a form of human trafficking.  Its efforts to identify and protect hereditary slavery victims, including from acts of violence and retribution, were inadequate, and officials did not report proactively identifying or referring any hereditary slavery victims to care.  The transition government did not investigate any law enforcement or government officials for complicity in trafficking crimes, including for prior forced recruitment or use of child soldiers.  Shelter and services for victims, especially male victims, remained insufficient and were primarily restricted to Bamako.  Authorities did not consistently refer identified trafficking victims to services.


  • Vigorously investigate and prosecute cases of human trafficking, including hereditary slavery, and cases of unlawful recruitment or use of children; seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, including complicit officials, which should involve significant prison terms.
  • Amend the anti-trafficking law to effectively investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes involving hereditary slavery.
  • Cease the unlawful recruitment or use of children, including in support roles, and investigate reports of military personnel’s recruitment or use of children.
  • Screen vulnerable populations, including children associated with armed groups, communities historically exploited in hereditary slavery, and individuals in commercial sex, for trafficking indicators.
  • Train front-line actors, including law enforcement, security forces, judicial officials, social workers, and civil society, on the NRM and standard procedures to refer trafficking victims to care.
  • Expand and strengthen reintegration programs for former child soldiers to include psycho-social care, family reintegration, education, and vocational training; fully implement the 2013 inter-ministerial protocol to refer all children associated with armed groups to care and cease inappropriately detaining children for alleged association with armed groups.
  • Institutionalize training for law enforcement and judicial actors on investigating and prosecuting trafficking crimes under the 2012 anti-trafficking law and victim-centered investigative and prosecutorial techniques.
  • Increase the quantity and quality of services available to all victims, including adults and victims outside of the capital, in coordination with civil society.
  • Empower the anti-trafficking inter-ministerial committee (CNCTLPA) to coordinate the transition government’s anti-trafficking response by adopting a new NAP and allocating dedicated resources and personnel.


The transition government increased law enforcement efforts.  Law 2012-023 Relating to the Combat against Trafficking in Persons and Similar Practices, as amended, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking.  The law prescribed penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment for trafficking crimes, except forced begging for which it prescribed lesser penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 to 2 million West African CFA francs (FCFA) ($810-$3,250).  These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape.  Transition government officials and NGOs reported that the law did not precisely define hereditary slavery and therefore could not be effectively implemented to prosecute trafficking cases involving hereditary slavery.  Draft legislation revising the anti-trafficking law and penal code to explicitly define hereditary slavery as a form of human trafficking remained pending before the Ministry of Justice (MOJ).

The transition government shifted its reporting of law enforcement data from the calendar year to the reporting period.  From April 2022 to March 2023, the transition government reported the Specialized Judiciary Brigade (PJS) initiated at least 14 case investigations during the reporting period, compared with 23 cases during the previous year.  Following a 2021 MOJ-issued letter directing all public prosecutors to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of hereditary slavery using penal code provisions, the transition government held its first special session of the Court of Assizes — the court charged with hearing serious criminal felony cases — focused on hereditary slavery in February 2023.  The court prosecuted 79 alleged traffickers in three cases and convicted 47 traffickers for hereditary slavery crimes under penal code provisions for assault, murder, ethnic discrimination, arson, and battery.  The court sentenced 32 of the traffickers to between two years’ imprisonment and imposition of the death penalty, issued fully suspended sentences to 15 traffickers, and acquitted 32 defendants.  It also ordered 90 million FCFA ($146,380) in restitution in one of the cases.  In addition, the transition government initiated prosecutions of at least 31 alleged traffickers and acquitted one defendant charged with sex trafficking.  This compared with prosecuting 41 alleged traffickers and convicting 14 traffickers during the previous year.  The transition government reported 18 additional suspects in the Kayes region were imprisoned and awaiting trial for crimes related to hereditary slavery.  In August 2022, an investigative judge ordered the arrest of 22 suspects, including the village chief and religious leader, for the alleged killing of a hereditary slavery survivor who won her court case rejecting her status as a “slave”; the case remained pending trial.  The transition government prosecuted some hereditary slavery crimes as misdemeanors under discrimination, destruction of crops, or burglary statutes, which prescribed significantly lower penalties than those available under the anti-trafficking law; as a result, perpetrators received fully suspended prison sentences and fines, which did not serve to deter or adequately reflect the nature of the crime.

The PJS and Specialized Investigative Brigade investigated and prosecuted transnational trafficking cases.  The Migrant Smuggling and Trafficking Brigade investigated irregular migration and migrant smuggling, including potential trafficking cases, and referred cases to the PJS for further investigation.  The Morals Brigade investigated crimes related to morality, including sex trafficking and cases involving children.  These units lacked adequate resources and training and could not access portions of the country due to insecurity.  The transition government, in collaboration with international organizations and foreign donors, trained judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement authorities on investigating and prosecuting human trafficking crimes and protecting victims.  However, continued lack of awareness of the 2012 anti-trafficking law and frequent turnover and transfers of officials stymied law enforcement action.  In addition, law enforcement’s system-wide lack of training, funding, and resources, including a lack of vehicles and equipment to investigate crimes, impeded anti-trafficking efforts.  Insufficient funding and personnel limited the justice sector’s capacity and caused significant judicial delays, and insecurity limited court sessions to Bamako and some regional capitals.  The transition government did not report cooperating with foreign counterparts on law enforcement activities.

The transition government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of transition government officials complicit in human trafficking crimes, including hereditary slavery, or unlawful child soldiering; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action.  In some instances, traffickers reportedly paid bribes to security agents, and corrupt law enforcement agents reportedly returned victims to their traffickers or alerted traffickers to law enforcement presence.  In previous reporting periods, law enforcement agents reportedly coerced victims into paying bribes to avoid fines or obtain fraudulent identification documents, and officials reportedly interfered in hereditary slavery cases, threatening and intimidating victims in an effort to have charges withdrawn or dismissed.  For the first time in three years, the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa) unlawfully recruited or used at least 88 children, including children who took a direct part in hostilities and children younger than the age of 15.  Observers reported most of the 88 children had been released, and seven to 10 of the children remained unaccounted for.


The transition government increased efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims.  The transition government reported identifying 245 trafficking victims, an increase from 130 victims identified during the previous reporting period; however, it did not further disaggregate its data and therefore may have included victims of other forms of exploitation.  As in past years, the transition government did not report proactively identifying any victims of hereditary slavery.  Of the 245 identified victims, officials reported referring at least 110 victims to care.  This compared with its referral of the majority of the 130 identified victims in the previous reporting period.  Officials also identified and referred 16 children recruited and used by armed groups to care.

The transition government, in coordination with an international organization, launched and began training officials on an NRM with standard procedures to identify and refer trafficking victims, including hereditary slavery victims, to care.  It coordinated with the same organization to develop and begin training officials on a pilot database to track trafficking victim statistics and improve identification and referral to care.  The transition government worked closely with the Fodé and Yeguine Network for Action (RAFY), a national network comprising NGOs, international organizations, and transition government ministries, including the Ministry for the Advancement of Women, Children, and the Family (MFFE), to refer identified trafficking victims to service providers.  The transition government relied on NGOs to provide the majority of services, largely funded by private and international donors, but provided some financial and in-kind government support.  NGOs provided shelter, psycho-social, medical, repatriation, and reintegration assistance.  NGOs operated 10 transit centers for adult and child victims of crime, including one specialized shelter for female adult trafficking victims in Bamako.  Officials could refer victims to the MFFE’s general care facilities for services.  An international organization-operated transit center provided voluntary return and reintegration services to migrants in the capital.  Shelters and services for victims, especially outside the capital, remained inadequate, and rising insecurity limited NGOs’ ability to provide services in northern and central Mali.  While some facilities offered specialized services for female victims, there were no such services for male victims.  The transition government provided some assistance to NGOs and an international organization to repatriate Malians exploited abroad and foreign victims exploited in Mali.  The transition government did not offer legal alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship; however, most identified victims were from member states of ECOWAS and did not require special status to remain in Mali.  Local NGOs screened and provided some services, such as legal and psycho-social support, to victims of hereditary slavery, including children.

Access to victim services was not conditioned on cooperation with law enforcement proceedings.  The transition government did not have a victim-witness assistance program to support participation in investigations and prosecutions.  Officials reported law enforcement lacked facilities to conduct interviews that allowed for separation between victims and alleged perpetrators; however, victims could provide written testimony as an alternative to speaking with law enforcement.  NGOs provided legal assistance to trafficking victims without transition government support.  Victims could file civil suits against their traffickers; however, no victims reportedly used this provision, and many victims were not aware of this option.  The law allowed victims to obtain restitution, and the court ordered restitution in one hereditary slavery case.  Authorities previously arrested 13 activists and charged two others on spurious child trafficking charges; an investigative judge dismissed charges against 12 of the activists and charged the remaining three with trafficking.  All 13 arrested activists were released, and the case remained pending before the appeals court.

Due to inconsistent use of formal victim identification procedures, authorities may have detained some unidentified trafficking victims.  Authorities continued following the government’s 2013 inter-ministerial protocol requiring them to direct former child soldiers to reintegration programs, and the transition government worked with an international organization to train security forces on referral procedures.  The handover protocol required authorities to immediately transfer children identified within Bamako; outside the capital, authorities must notify child protection actors within 24 hours and transfer the children within 48 hours.  However, observers reported authorities continued to inappropriately detain some children for alleged affiliation with signatory and non-signatory armed groups.  Security forces detained at least 23 children for periods ranging from one day to four months and released at least 21 children to protection actors.  The transition government continued inappropriately detaining two children detained since 2020 and 2021.  The transition government reportedly held some children, including potential trafficking victims, with adults in central prison, which increased their vulnerability to further exploitation.


The transition government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking.  The CNCTLPA, chaired by the MOJ, led the transition governments’ anti-trafficking response and convened regularly.  The transition government continued implementing the 2018-2022 NAP to combat trafficking in persons.  However, the lack of coordination and ownership for activities in the action plan among committee members impeded its effectiveness.  The transition government maintained limited dedicated staff to work on trafficking, which impeded its efforts to consistently coordinate anti-trafficking activities.  The transition government allocated 271 million FCFA ($440,765) for anti-trafficking activities, including the action plan’s implementation, anti-trafficking trainings, and support for NGOs.  This compared with allocating 226 million FCFA ($367,575) in 2022; however, stakeholders reported the CNCTLPA only mobilized 40 million FCFA ($65,060) of its 2022 funding.  The CNCTLPA released an annual report in June 2022 detailing the transition government’s anti-trafficking activities in 2021.  The transition government made some efforts to raise public awareness of human trafficking.  It held two events on World Day Against Trafficking in Persons in collaboration with international organizations.  It also organized a national forum on the fight against hereditary slavery.   However, it did not report taking measures to raise public awareness of child forced begging.  It did not regulate Quranic schools to prevent child forced begging or abuse.

The Ministry of Defense had an edict banning children from all deployed military camps and a designated child soldier focal point to coordinate with international organizations when allegations of child soldiering arise.  However, FAMa recruited or used 88 children, including children who took a direct part in hostilities and children younger than the age of 15, during the reporting period; at least seven children may have remained active within the armed forces.  During the previous reporting period, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs completed a draft child soldiers prevention plan with international actors; the draft plan included measures to sensitize transition government officials and signatory armed group members on child soldier issues and increase coordination when cases are identified.  However, the plan remained pending validation by the Council of Ministers.

The transition government did not make efforts to address fraudulent recruitment of Malians abroad, nor did it prohibit worker-paid recruitment fees.  Labor inspectors lacked sufficient capacity and resources to regulate the informal sector, where most cases of forced labor occurred.  The National Unit to Fight Against Child Labor, chaired by the Ministry of Labor, coordinated transition government efforts to combat child labor and had dedicated child labor inspectors; it did not report how many children, if any, inspectors identified.  The police operated a hotline for crimes against women and children, including human trafficking; however, it did not report receiving any trafficking calls.  The transition government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.  The transition government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel, nor did it provide anti-trafficking training to its troops prior to their deployment as peacekeepers.


As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Mali, and traffickers exploit victims from Mali abroad.  Traffickers exploit boys from Mali and neighboring West African countries in forced labor in agriculture – especially rice, cotton, dry cereal, and corn cultivation – domestic work, transportation, begging, and the informal commercial sector.  Traffickers exploit boys in forced labor in informal gold mines, particularly in Gao and Kidal; third-parties sometimes “financed” transportation to mining sites, requiring them to work for an unspecified time to pay off the debt.  In 2020, the government estimated more than 45,000 children worked in artisanal gold mines in Mali.  Corrupt Quranic teachers exploit boys from Mali and neighboring countries, including Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, and Senegal, in forced begging or other forms of forced labor, and corrupt Quranic teachers exploit Malian boys in forced begging in neighboring countries.  Traffickers exploit Malian children in forced labor on cotton and cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire.

Perpetrators subject some members of Mali’s Black Tuareg community to slavery practices rooted in traditional relationships of hereditary servitude.  An NGO noted hereditary slavery practices in Mali differ from surrounding countries, as communities – rather than individuals or families – exploit victims of hereditary slavery.  An international organization report estimated there are 300,000 victims of hereditary slavery in Mali.  Former “slaveholders” and community members frequently tortured and attacked victims of hereditary slavery and formerly enslaved persons.  Traffickers exploit men and boys, primarily of Songhai ethnicity, in a long-standing practice of debt bondage in the salt mines of Taoudeni in northern Mali.  Traffickers exploit adult victims in forced labor in the agricultural sector, artisanal gold mining, and domestic work.  Traffickers recruit women and girls from other West African countries, particularly Nigeria, with promises of jobs as waitresses in Bamako or beauty parlors in Europe or the United States but instead exploit them in sex trafficking throughout Mali, especially in small mining communities.  An NGO report attributed some of the increased demand for sex trafficking in mining communities to cultural and religious beliefs, correlating sex with increased chances of finding gold, and it also noted corruption schemes involving complicit officials and community authorities perpetuating trafficking.  African migrants transiting Mali to Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, and sometimes Europe are vulnerable to trafficking.

In 2022, an estimated 7.5 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance, and there were more than 440,000 IDPs, most of which were children.  Terrorist organizations and armed groups continue to recruit or use children, mostly boys, as combatants, spies, laborers, and in other capacities.  Some of these groups use girls in combat, support roles, and for sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery through forced marriages to members of these armed groups.  Armed groups and terrorist groups purportedly coerce some families into selling or giving up their children to the groups for protection or to earn an income.  An international organization reported traffickers fraudulently recruit some children for education in Quranic schools but force them to fight with armed groups.  According to an international organization, insecurity, school closures, and deteriorating socioeconomic conditions are leading to a rise in child trafficking, forced labor, and forced recruitment by armed groups in Mali.  International observers reported artisanal gold mines controlled by armed groups remain a concern for trafficking, child labor, and child soldiering.  An international organization reported armed groups exploit children in forced labor in gold mines and extort adults operating in the mines via a “tax” to finance their activities.  Unaccompanied children among IDPs are at heightened risk of recruitment by armed groups in Mali.

In previous years, complicit officials reportedly interfered in trafficking and hereditary slavery cases, and law enforcement agents reportedly accepted bribes from traffickers or coerced victims to pay bribes and returned victims to traffickers.  In past years, Malian security forces cooperated with signatory armed groups, including the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group (GATIA), a pro-Malian state militia, that recruited and used children, sometimes through force, fraud, or coercion.  Both factions of signatory armed group Platform, of which GATIA is a member, and Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA) have UN action plans to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers.  However, both GATIA and CMA reportedly continue to recruit or use children.  During the reporting period, FAMa recruited or used children, including children who took a direct part in hostilities and children younger than the age of 15.  In 2019, FAMa recruited and used at least 24 children between the ages of 9 and 14 years old in support roles in Gao region as couriers and domestic help.  FAMa personnel reportedly committed acts of conflict-related sexual violence, including sexually exploiting girls in exchange for food and other goods, in 2019.  The transition government, in partnership with a foreign government, is reportedly implementing a program strengthening the capacity of local actors, including signatory armed groups CMA and Platform, to manage irregular migration flows and intercept migrants.  UN peacekeepers allegedly sexually exploited victims while deployed in Mali.  Although not explicitly reported as human trafficking, the UN reported there were two new allegations submitted in 2022 of sexual exploitation with trafficking indicators by UN peacekeepers from Chad and the United States deployed to Mali.