Mali to prosecute parents of underage migrants

A young survivor of a shipwreck of migrants off immigrants off the Italian coast looks out over the water of Lampedusa on 8 October 2013 Thousands of migrants make the dangerous sea crossing from North Africa to Europe each year

Mali says it intends to prosecute parents who send their underage children to Europe as migrants, but needs Europe's co-operation to do so.

A government minister told the BBC that families were increasingly sending children on the dangerous sea crossing to Europe as minors were not expelled.

Abderrahmane Sylla appealed to European nations to identify these unaccompanied minors to help Mali's authorities.

He said he hoped that prosecutions would act as a deterrent.

Mr Sylla, who is the minister for Malians in the diaspora, said he received almost daily reports of the deaths of Malians in the Mediterranean.

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He gave an example of an overcrowded boat that left Libya in July with 87 Malians amongst the passengers - 86 of them died, 17 from the same village.

'Tear to my eyes'

Mr Sylla said his ministry has prepared draft legislation to be put to parliament after returning from a recent visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa, where the experiences of two Malian children - aged 10 and 12 - had prompted him to act.

"This phenomenon brought tears to my eyes... these children take the same route as the adults - Ouagadougou, Niger, Chad, Libya; then they confront the ocean just as the grown-ups do," he said.

"So they arrive on the European coast completely traumatised. We have to punish those who send their children; we have to put a stop to it."

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Mapping Mediterranean migration

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But the minister said that while in Italy he had tried to find out the identities of the two boys so he could trace their parents, but Italian law protected their identities.

The BBC's Alex Duval Smith in Bamako says thousands of Malians depend on money sent home from their relatives in the diaspora - it is estimated the country receives an estimated $350m (£221m) in remittances annually.

Mr Sylla said Malians needed to do more to develop the country so that the culture of emigration stopped.

Our reporter says his comments mark a shift from a previous generation of Malian politicians who believed more foreign aid was the solution.

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