Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women and men, with a penalty of five to 20 years’ imprisonment for conviction, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Rape was a widespread problem. Authorities prosecuted only a small percentage of rape cases. Survivors seldom reported rapes due to societal pressure, particularly because attackers were frequently close relatives, and due to fear of retaliation. No law explicitly prohibits spousal rape, but law enforcement officials stated that criminal laws against rape could apply to spousal rape. Police and judicial authorities investigated rape cases but were also willing to stop pursuing cases if parties privately reached an agreement prior to trial. This promoted an environment where survivors might be pressured by family to accept monetary compensation instead of seeking justice through the legal system.
In the June 1 report of the UN secretary-general to the UN Security Council on the situation in the country, MINUSMA documented at least two cases of conflict-related sexual violence. According to the report, the cases included the gang rape of a woman by unidentified armed individuals in the city of Menaka on March 27 and the mid-March gang rape of a Fulani woman. The latter was allegedly committed by members of the Dozo ethnic group in Niono, Segou Region.
Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, was prevalent. A 2012-13 gender assessment found a vast majority of women in the country suffered from domestic violence. The assessment concluded that 76 percent of women believed it was acceptable for a man to beat a woman for burning food, arguing, going out without telling the man, being negligent with children, or refusing to have sexual intercourse. The 2018 Mali Demographic and Health Survey concluded that 79 percent of women and 47 percent of men believed this behavior was justified. The survey found 49 percent of women experienced spousal violence (emotional, physical, or sexual), 43 percent of women ages 15 to 49 experienced physical violence, and one in every eight women experienced sexual violence. Of women who experienced domestic violence, 68 percent never sought help or told anyone.
Spousal abuse is a crime, but the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence. According to human rights organizations, most cases went unreported because of cultural taboos and a lack of understanding regarding legal recourse. Conviction of assault is punishable by prison terms of one to five years and substantial fines. The sentence may be increased up to 10 years’ imprisonment if the assault is found to be premeditated. Police were often reluctant to intervene in cases of domestic violence. Many women were reluctant to file complaints against their husbands due to financial dependence concerns, or to avoid social stigma, retaliation, or ostracism. The Planning and Statistics Unit in the Ministry of Justice, established to track prosecutions, did not produce reliable statistics.
The United Nations reported an increase in conflict-related sexual violence attributable to extremist armed elements and signatory armed groups in the northern and central parts of the country. UNHCR and NGOs serving refugees and asylum seekers reported rising incidences of gender-based violence against refugees, asylum seekers, and IDPs, attributed to the deterioration of the protective environment for women and girls. Of 3,744 cases of gender-based violence against IDPs reported between January and June, more than half were rapes and physical assaults that took place while women carried out daily activities such as collecting water or firewood and traveling locally. UNHCR reported 196 cases of gender-based violence in the refugee population as of August 31. UNICEF reported that it provided more than 108,000 women and children with access to services related to the mitigation of, prevention of, or intervention in cases of gender-based violence.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is legal in the country and, except in certain northern areas, all religious and ethnic groups practiced it widely, particularly in rural areas. Although FGM/C is legal, authorities prohibited the practice in government-funded health centers.
Parents generally had FGM/C performed on girls between ages six months and nine years. According to the 2018 Mali Demographic and Health Survey, 89 percent of women ages 15 to 49 were circumcised, but this varied widely by geographic location, with rates ranging from 2 percent in Gao to more than 95 percent in Koulikoro and Sikasso. Approximately 76 percent of circumcisions occurred prior to age five, and circumcision was almost always performed by a traditional practitioner (99 percent). According to the survey, approximately 70 percent of men and 69 percent of women believed excision was required by religion and three-quarters of the population, regardless of gender, believed the practice should continue. Government information campaigns regarding the dangers of FGM/C reached citizens throughout the country where security allowed, and human rights organizations reported decreased incidence of FGM/C among children of educated parents.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, which routinely occurred, including in schools, without any government efforts to prevent it.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
While no government policy adversely affected access to contraception, women and girls faced cultural and social barriers such as needing the consent of their husbands and influential members of the household to manage their reproductive health.
Distant health-care facilities and flooded roadways during rainy season negatively affected the ability of those living in rural areas to easily access adequate health care.
In accessing information regarding their reproductive health, women with disabilities faced distinct barriers, such as physical barriers to entry into health-care facilities, communication barriers, discriminatory and disrespectful treatment from health-care providers, and the lack of reproductive health information in accessible formats.
While government sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception, were available to survivors of sexual violence, including survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, the services were rarely specialized and survivors often sought care from general health facilities. Through Spotlight, an initiative supported by the European Union, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and UN Women, the country provided specialized assistance to survivors of gender-based violence, including family planning counseling, at the referral-health-center level via 10 “one-stop centers” in Bamako, Gao, Mopti, Kayes, and Koulikoro.
The maternal mortality rate was estimated at 325 per 100,000 live births, and 67 percent of women delivered in health centers assisted by skilled health workers. The key drivers of maternal mortality included poor access to and use of quality prenatal, delivery, and postnatal care services. The primary direct obstetric causes of maternal mortality were hemorrhage (37 percent), eclampsia (11 percent), and sepsis (11 percent). FGM/C was a significant public-health problem that contributed to maternal morbidity. According to UNFPA, the adolescent birth rate was 164 births per 1,000 girls.
There are no legal barriers related to menstruation or access to menstruation hygiene. Sociocultural barriers, however, impeded equal participation of women and girls in society in certain instances. Educational materials on menstrual hygiene management were scarce, and teachers often lacked knowledge on puberty and menstrual hygiene management. In a 2020 NGO study, more than a quarter of girls reported developing a genital condition related to improper menstrual hygiene, and 14 percent of girls missed classes due to pain during a menstrual cycle. According to the same study, more than half of girls attending school had problems concentrating in class due to menstrual periods, and menstruation caused three-quarters of girls to miss school due to the need to go home to change menstrual products to avoid embarrassment.
No law impedes adolescent girls’ access to education due to pregnancy or motherhood status. The law allows for the deferment, upon request, of education in secondary school for pregnant students. Many girls and their families were not informed of their rights and social stigma still prevented pregnant girls from attending school. Additionally, a lack of childcare was a barrier to girls’ access to education due to motherhood status.
Discrimination: The law does not provide the same legal status and rights for women as for men, particularly concerning divorce and inheritance. Women are legally obligated to obey their husbands and are particularly vulnerable in cases of divorce, child custody, and inheritance. There were legal restrictions on women holding employment in the same occupations, tasks, and industries as men. Women had very limited access to legal services due to their lack of education, lack of information, and the prohibitive cost. Despite the discriminatory nature of the law, the government effectively enforced it. The Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Children, and the Family is responsible for providing for the legal rights of women.
While the law provides for equal property rights, traditional practices and ignorance of the law prevented women from taking full advantage of their rights. The marriage contract must specify if the couple wishes to share estate rights. If marriage certificates of Muslim couples do not specify the type of marriage, judges presume the marriage to be polygynous.
According to MINUSMA, extremist groups were responsible for intimidating and threatening women into “modesty” by forcing women in the regions of Timbuktu and Mopti to wear a veil. Reportedly, in the Dianke area of Timbuktu, several unveiled women were threatened, while in Binedama in the Mopti Region, all women were forced to wear a veil.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
Societal discrimination continued against Black Tuaregs, often referred to as Bellah. Some Tuareg groups deprived Black Tuaregs of basic civil liberties due to hereditary slavery-like practices and hereditary servitude relationships.
There were continued reports of slaveholders kidnapping the children of their Bellah slaves. Slaveholders considered slaves and their children as property and reportedly took children of slaves to raise them elsewhere without permission from their parents. The antislavery organization Temedt organized workshops in Kayes Region to convince communities to abandon the practice of keeping slaves.
On August 18, at the end of a regional forum to strengthen social cohesion organized by the Kayes governor’s office and international NGO Mercy Corps, the regional government in Kayes signed a draft charter to end hereditary slavery. This draft charter was supported by NGOs and community leaders as well as the regional government.
On November 4, an investigating judge in Kayes Region ordered the arrest of 36 proslavery suspects for their alleged role in violent attacks against antislavery activists and victims of hereditary slavery in the Bafoulabe Circle that killed one person and injured 12 others on September 28 and 29. The suspects were transferred from a prison in Bafoulabe to Kayes for additional oversight. On November 11, Minister of Justice Mamoudou Kassogue instructed all public prosecutors to prosecute hereditary slavery to the fullest extent of the law.
Members of the Fulani (or Peul) ethnic group frequently clashed with members of the Dogon and, separately, with Bambara communities regarding alleged Fulani support of armed Islamists linked to al-Qa’ida. According to Human Rights Watch, this tension caused a rise in ethnic “self-defense groups” and drove thousands from their homes, diminished livelihoods, and induced widespread hunger. Groups representing these communities were reportedly involved in several communal attacks, and retaliatory attacks were common.
In the central region, violence across community lines escalated. Clashes between the Dogon and Fulani communities were exacerbated by the presence of extremist groups and resulted in large numbers of civilian deaths (see also section 1.g., Killings).
Intercommunal violence related to disputes regarding transhumant (seasonal migration) cattle grazing occurred among Dogon, Bambara, and Fulani communities in the Mopti Region, between Bambara and Fulani in the Segou Region, and among various Tuareg and Arab groups in the regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal.
According to 2019 estimates, more than one-half of the population was younger than age 18.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from either parent or by birth within the country. The law stipulates registration within 30 days of birth. A fine may be levied for registration occurring after the 30-day period. Girls were less likely to be registered.
The government did not register all births immediately, particularly in rural areas. Some organizations stated there were insufficient registration sites to accommodate all villages, further exacerbating the low registration rates in certain areas. According to a 2019 UNICEF report, 13 percent of children younger than five were not registered, while 22 percent of registered children did not receive birth certificates. Lack or inaccessibility of services, lack of birth registration books, and parental ignorance regarding the importance of birth certificates were among the challenges for birth registration.
According to UNICEF, the government registered nearly 90 percent of births in 2019. The government conducted an administrative census in 2014 that collected biometric data and assigned a unique identifying number to every citizen. The process allowed the registration of children not registered at birth, although the number of birth certificates assigned was unknown.
Several local NGOs worked with foreign partners to register children at birth and to educate parents regarding the benefits of registration, which was critical for access to education and government services. Birth registration also played an essential role in protecting children, as well as facilitating their release and reintegration if recruited by armed groups or detained by authorities.
Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free universal education, and the law provides for compulsory schooling of children ages six through 15. Nevertheless, many children did not attend school. Parents often had to pay their children’s school fees as well as provide their uniforms and supplies. Other factors affecting school enrollment included long distances to the nearest school, lack of transportation, shortages of teachers, a protracted teachers’ strike during the year, shortages of instructional materials, and lack of school feeding programs. Girls’ enrollment was lower than that of boys at all levels due to poverty, a cultural preference to educate boys, the early marriage of girls, sexual harassment of girls, lack of access to menstruation hygiene, and pregnancy and motherhood status (see also section 6, Reproductive Rights). According to the 2018 Mali Demographic and Health Survey, two-thirds of women ages 15 to 49 had no education, compared with 53 percent of men in the same age range, and only 28 percent of women were literate, compared with 47 percent of men. According to a UNICEF report in May, more than two million children ages five to 17 did not go to school and more than half of persons ages 15 to 24 were illiterate. An October UN secretary-general’s report to the UN Security Council estimated that more than 478,000 children in the country were affected by school closures during the year.
As of June 1, the conflict had caused the closure of at least 1,595 schools in the north and central regions of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, Mopti, and Segou. School closures began in June in the southern regions of Koulikoro and Sikasso. Many schools were damaged or destroyed because rebels sometimes used them as bases of operations. The United Nations reported government security forces sometimes used school compounds as bases. Most closed schools were in Mopti Region.
Child Abuse: Comprehensive government statistics on child abuse did not exist, but the problem was widespread. Most child abuse cases went unreported. The United Nations documented in the March, June, and October UN secretary-general’s reports 636 cases of grave abuses (defined as recruitment or use of children as soldiers, killing and maiming of children, rape and other grave sexual violence, abductions, attacks on schools and hospitals, or denial of humanitarian access to children) against 467 children between January and September. Police and the social services department in the Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action investigated and intervened in some reported cases of child abuse or neglect, but the government provided few services for such children (see also section 1.g., Child Soldiers).
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age to marry without parental consent is 16 for girls and 18 for boys. A girl age 15 may marry with parental consent and with approval of a civil judge. Authorities did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in rural areas, and child, early, and forced marriage was widespread throughout the country. Girls were also forced into marriage with combatants and leaders of armed groups. According to 2017 data from UNICEF, 54 percent of women were married by age 18 and 16 percent before age 15.
In some regions, especially Kayes and Koulikoro, girls married as young as age 10. It was common practice for a girl age 14 to marry a man twice her age. According to local human rights organizations, officials frequently accepted false birth certificates or other documents claiming girls younger than age 15 were old enough to marry. NGOs implemented awareness campaigns aimed at abating child, early, and forced marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the sexual exploitation of children, including commercial sexual exploitation. The country has a statutory rape law that defines 18 as the minimum age for consensual sex. The law, which was inconsistent with the legal minimum marriage age of 15 for girls, was not enforced. Sexual exploitation of children occurred.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The government criminalized the act of infanticide. The August Court of Assizes session heard two cases of infanticide.
Displaced Children: According to an August UNICEF report, children made up approximately 64 percent of IDPs in the country.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There were fewer than 50 Jews in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.
Persons with Disabilities
Persons with disabilities could not access education, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. Persons with disabilities had access to basic health care. The government did not regularly provide official information and communications in accessible formats. The constitution and law do not specifically protect the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in access to employment, education, air travel and other transportation, health care, the judicial system, and state services. No law mandates accessibility to public buildings. Many individuals with disabilities relied on begging.
Persons with mental disabilities faced social stigmatization in public institutions.
The Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action was responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The ministry sponsored activities to promote income-earning opportunities for persons with disabilities. The ministry also worked with NGOs such as the Malian Federation of Associations for Handicapped Persons, which provided basic services. Although the government was responsible for eight schools countrywide for deaf persons, it provided almost no resources or other support for deaf persons.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Societal discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS occurred. HIV positivity was often locally perceived to be synonymous with LGBTQI+ identity. The government implemented campaigns to increase awareness of the condition and reduce discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
According to local NGOs, LGBTQI+ individuals experienced physical, psychological, and sexual violence, which society viewed as “corrective” punishment. Police frequently refused to intervene when such violence occurred.
The law prohibits conduct pertaining to “attacks on morality,” thereby criminalizing, on a de facto basis, consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. The government actively enforced this law. Anecdotal evidence suggested LGBTQI+ individuals were at risk of violence if their status were known; their full protection remained in question.
In October the prosecutor of the Bamako Commune IV Tribunal of High Instance charged three women on the grounds of incitement to debauchery (under the same section of the law pertaining to “attacks on morality”) and violation of private communications. Two of the women were imprisoned before being granted provisional release on November 2. The third woman was charged with the same alleged crimes but fled to Cote d’Ivoire. In the same case, another woman was prosecuted but not detained. Media reports characterized the women as part of “a network of lesbians.” During the year there were no other examples of the use of this law criminalizing, on a de facto basis, consensual same-sex conduct between adults.
Most LGBTQI+ individuals isolated themselves and kept their sexual orientation or gender identity hidden. An NGO reported that LGBTQI+ individuals frequently dropped out of school, left their places of employment, and did not seek medical treatment to hide their sexual identity and avoid social stigmatization.
No laws specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Some NGOs provided medical and support services focusing specifically on men having sex with men or HIV prevention.
Discrimination continued against persons with albinism, and the government struggled to implement plans to protect the rights of these persons. Some traditional religious leaders perpetuated the widespread belief that persons with albinism possessed special powers that others could extract by bringing a traditional spiritual leader the blood or head of a person with albinism. Lack of understanding of the condition continued and impeded such persons’ lack of access to sunblock, without which they were highly susceptible to skin cancer. The Salif Keita Global Foundation provided free health care to persons with albinism, advocated for their protection, and provided education to help end their abuse.