GENEVA: UNICEF said Tuesday it urgently needs $45 million (34.4 million euros) to help children in conflict-stricken Mali, where the threat of violence and trafficking has spiralled, compounding a long-running food crisis.
The money was needed to meet basic needs such as health care, nutrition, education and protection over the next three months, UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado told reporters.
Hundreds of thousands of Malians fled their homes in the wake of last year's seizure of a swathe of the north by Islamists who took advantage of a rebellion by the country's Tuareg community.
The number has risen during a French-led offensive against the militants launched by the Malian army in January.
"The impact on children has been particularly acute," said Mercado.
"Displacement has put children at increased risk of sexual exploitation, gender-based violence, trafficking, separation, recruitment into armed groups, as well as exposure to mines and unexploded or abandoned war ordinance," she added.
The conflict came on top of years of drought in Mali and other nations in the Sahel region of northern Africa, where millions face famine as a result.
"The region as a whole is experiencing a continuing nutrition crisis and children affected by the Mali crisis are at particular risk and in urgent need of assistance," said Mercado.
In Mali an estimated 660,000 children under the age of five are expected to face malnutrition this year, according to UNICEF.
The crisis has disrupted schooling for some 700,000 children.
There have also been concerns about human rights violations by both the Islamists and the Malian army.
Addressing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday, France's deputy foreign minister Yamina Benguigui called for a resolution that would pave the way for an investigation into rights abuses.
She said the Malian authorities must respect international rights treaties and watch for violations.
Cecile Pouilly, spokeswoman for the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights, said a fact-finding mission was sent to Mali last week.
Pouilly told reporters that the findings of the four-member team were to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in the coming weeks.
Among the alleged violations being investigated by the team, she said, were reprisals against Mali's Arab and Tuareg population, seen by some in the country's black community as closely linked to the Islamists.