There are about six and a half million kids living in Mali, a landlocked country in the west of Africa where most of the land in desert, particularly in the north. In fact 38.3% of the entire population of the country is aged 14 yrs or younger and most live in poverty, with Mali being one of the poorest countries in the world. Education is compulsory and free for Mali kids (although books and pens are not) for the first three years, however enrolment figures are poor as working to help support the family is seen as a higher priority especially for girls where education is classed as an unnecessary distraction from household chores. (Recent figures suggest that over 700,000 Mali kids under the age of 15yrs are economically active). Boys are trafficked from Mali to the Ivory Coast where they work on cotton and cocoa plantations whilst girls are similarly trafficked there mainly for domestic servitude. It is estimated that over 15,000 Mali kids are sold into such labour every few years. Those kids who do attend school (about 49.3% of girls and 64.1% of boys) often find themselves in classes of a hundred or more, not least because of the acute shortage of qualified teachers, and those classrooms rarely have tables or chairs particularly in the more rural areas.
Other Mali kids are sent to Koranic schools mainly by fathers who want them schooled in Islamic tradition but also because of poverty and an inability to provide for their children. Many of these children end up begging on the streets which is seen by the schools as an integral part of their religious instruction. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is still widespread in Mali, especially in rural areas, and is normally under taken before girls are six years old. Kids in Mali can marry when they are 18 for girls and 21 for boys, although girls can marry under the age of 15 with parental or court consent, and there have been some instances of girls as young as nine getting married.
A number of these girls die due to engaging in sexual activity that their bodies aren't mature enough to cope with. Kids in Mali are slowly getting used to having a television even if its one dragged out into their courtyard to be shared with neighbours, although visiting friends and relatives remains a more popular use of spare time, when not playing football! When Mali boys reach adulthood they can take a number of wives, although the custom is two, not the three to four permitted by Islam. They will most likely be self-employed working as farmers, herders, fishermen, traders or artisans.
Mali girls who marry to a husband with more than one wife are generally entitled to their own living space however are expected to jointly share domestic tasks such as food preparation and earn extra money for the household through crafts and selling specially prepared foodstuffs. Mali kids tend to live in large families often having five or six siblings and the family home may also include grandparents as well as aunts, uncles and cousins. Men are seen to be the major decision makers, however it is actually the women of the household!
This video below provides insights into daily life for kids in Mali, however those living in the north of the country should not be forgotten following the insurgency there with many living in fear as armed rebels stalk the streets determined to seek independence for the land they call Azawad.
More children are turning to the streets in a fragmented and complex Mali in west Africa.
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