Children recruited as soldiers in northern MaliListen /
Armed rebel groups controlling large parts of northern Mali are recruiting child soldiers into their ranks according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
At least 175 boys aged between 12 to 18 years have been recruited since March this year.
UNICEF has expressed concern over the vulnerability of children in northern Mali saying there were reports of at least eight girls being raped or sexually abused.
Children are also being killed or injured by explosive devises.
The agency says insecurity in the region has forced nearly 300,000 children out of school leaving them vulnerable to recruitment, violence and exploitation.
Marixie Mercado is the spokesperson for UNICEF in Geneva.
"These numbers are reason for alarm especially because they represent only a partial picture of the child protection context in the north – an area where access for humanitarian workers is limited. UNICEF is working with local partners in the conflict-affected regions of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu as well as the bordering region of Mopti to strengthen communities' ability to protect children: how to identify and support separated children, raising public awareness about risks for children, including recruitment into armed groups, and promoting education.
Meanwhile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says at least 24 suspected cases of cholera have been reported in the city of Gao in northern Mali.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has dispatched cholera response kits to the region and is partnering with local aid agencies to sensitize the local communities on cholera prevention and treatment measures.