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Many school children leave northern Mali

Since Tuareg rebels joined with Islamists to take control of northern Mali, tensions between the two groups have been rising and the town of Gao is now under the control of Islamist forces after violent clashes with the Tuaregs.

Whereas the Tuarag rebels want an independent state in northern Mali, the Islamists want Sharia law across the whole country. Fighting together in order to seize territory, it looks as if the marriage of convenience between the two groups may now be over.

More than 300,000 Malians have fled the northern region since fighting began. Reports from IRIN suggest that those who remained behind are finding the new Sharai regime hard to deal with. Parents in the north are particularly perturbed by the changes to schooling, where boys and girls now learn separately and the curriculum has been revised. Any subjects deemed to promote “infidelity”, such as biology or philosophy, have been dropped and new subjects like Islamic education introduced.

Some parents have decided to take their children out of school and send them to live with relatives further south to continue with their studies. In Timbuktu, one teacher told IRIN that of the school’s original 429 pupils, only 107 students are left following the takeover of the town by Islamists. Mali’s education ministry estimates that across the northern region as a whole, as many as 5,000 students may have left to join schools in the capital Bamako and other southern towns. Because of the ongoing uncertainty, the education ministry has postponed national primary and secondary examinations.

Apart from the school curriculum, other changes have also been made in northern Mali which affect the lives of young people (as well as adults). Females are now expected to wear full-body garments and girls must sit at the back of classrooms, as they do in mosques. And boys are forbidden from playing sports such as football. Television and music are also banned by the Islamists. Speaking to IRIN, one of the spokespeople for the Islamist group in control of northern Mali said “Sharia has to be applied whether the people like it or not”. This means that Sharia punishments such as floggings are already being carried out in northern towns.

Many therefore understand why families would choose to leave or send away their youngsters. One teacher told IRIN “I understand the plight of the parents who fled with their children....[since] conditions are tough, especially due to Sharia”. The takeover of northern Mali has come at an already difficult time when many families are suffering from the drought across the Sahel region. The Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) is trying to resolve the unstable situation, but it looks as if it could be some time before shipments of food and other supplies can resume to those northern families in desperate need of help.

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