Paris (AFP) - Minors suspected of working as child soldiers for rebel groups in Mali are being left to languish in adult prisons in violation of their human rights, Amnesty International said on Thursday.
The rights group said that since Mali descended into crisis in January 2012 a number of children had been recruited as child soldiers, "by both pro-government militias and armed groups."
The report said that some had been "arrested by the Malian authorities and held in detention, without any adequate protection measures for children in custody, including being held together with adults."
Amnesty representatives visited a prison in the country in June last year, interviewing seven detainees believed to be minors under the age of 18.
The authors of the report said that while they had found a birth certificate showing one of the detainees was 16, the authorities had not checked the children's ages and had instead placed them in an adult division in the capital's prison and police camp.
Amnesty said the children had been "subjected to various forms of human rights violations whilst in detention, including being constantly confined to their cells and not being allowed outside their prison cells to go for exercise, as well as lack of access to legal counsel."
"Children currently held in adult prisons must be transferred to government agencies or to organisations that will guarantee them the special protections required by international law," said Gaetan Mootoo, the organisation's west Africa researcher.
Amnesty said that while four of the youths they encountered had since been released, "the Malian authorities have since continued to arrest and detain more children accused of being members of these armed groups, suggesting lack of political will to address the problem."
The decades-old grievances of Tuareg and Arab minorities in the country leapt into the international limelight in 2012 when they were backed by jihadist groups to overrun much of northern Mali.
The jihadists were broadly forced out in a French-led military intervention the following year but the grievances remain.
A ceasefire has been in force since May, and peace talks between the Malian government and six rebel groups will resume on September 1.