FILE- In this Friday, Jan. 1, 2010, file photo, a young boy leads the hard-line Islamist Al Shabab fighters as they conduct military exercise in northern Mogadishu's Suqaholaha neighborhood, Somalia. The country's continuous violence appears to have increased recruiting efforts of young fighters, minors who can easily be indoctrinated, and Somalia's president has ordered an investigation, a decision welcomed by rights groups on Thursday June 17, 2010. (AP Photo/ Farah Abdi Warsameh/File)

Geneva -

The U.N. children's agency says it has received credible reports that armed groups in northern Mali are increasingly recruiting child soldiers, which would violate international laws.

Since a March coup toppled the democratically elected president, ethnic Tuareg rebels took advantage of the confusion to seize half the country but were driven out in June by Islamists vowing to introduce an ultra-strict interpretation of Islamic law, Sharia.

UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado told reporters Friday in Geneva the number of child soldiers “are in the hundreds and appear to be escalating” since July when at least 175 boys were recruited.

She says international law is being broken by recruitment of children under 18, while war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed by militants' use of child soldiers under 15. - Sapa-AP