Radical Islamists are compiling a list of unmarried mothers in northern Mali, raising fears of cruel punishments such as stoning, amputations and executions, a senior United Nations official said.
Islamists controlling most of the north have vowed to impose a stricter form of Islamic law, or sharia. Local radical groups have said the law condemns relationships outside marriage.
The U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights, who just returned from a visit to Mali, said there are reports Islamist groups are compiling lists of women who have had children out of wedlock, or who were unmarried and pregnant.
"The threat is there, it's real and people live with it and they are afraid of those lists," Ivan Simonovic said this week. "This could indicate that these women are at imminent risk of being subjected to cruel and inhumane punishment."
In July, Islamists forced a man and a woman into two holes and stoned them to death for committing adultery as terrified residents quietly watched in remote Aguelhok town.
Extremists have conducted public executions, amputations, floggings and other inhuman and degrading punishments, Simonovic said.
Women and children face greater risk, he said.
More women in the region are ending up in forced marriages. And with wives costing less than $1,000, husbands are also reselling the women, according to Simonovic.
He said the process is "a smokescreen for enforced prostitution and rapes" occurring in the region.
"Civil and political rights are being severely restricted as a result of the imposition of a strict interpretation of sharia law, and systemic cruel and inhumane punishments are being implemented," Simonovic said.
The militants are also buying children and enlisting them as soldiers, paying their families $600 -- a major incentive in a country where more than half the population lives on $1.25 a day, he said.
In addition, the Islamists have also banned smoking, drinking, watching sports on television and listening to music.
"We don't have to answer to anyone over the application of sharia," Islamist commissioner Aliou Toure said in August. "This is the form of Islam practiced for thousands of years."
Mali plunged into chaos in March after a military ruler overthrew the president, shaking one of West Africa's most stable democracies.
The coup leader stepped down in May and transferred power to a civilian transitional government, but uncertainty looms.
Ethnic Tuareg rebels and Islamist militants took advantage of the chaos to seize the northern portion of the country. Months later, two groups with ties to al Qaeda toppled the Tuareg movement. The two groups now control two-thirds of northern Mali, an area the size of France.
West African states and the nation's transitional government have asked the U.N. Security Council to authorize the military intervention to oust the radical groups.
The U.N. Security Council approved a resolution Friday that gives regional leaders 45 days to provide specific plans for an international military intervention to oust the rebels.
In its resolution, the U.N. Security Council condemned human rights abuses by extremist groups, including "hostage-taking, pillaging, theft, destruction of cultural and religious sites, and recruitment of child soldiers."
The primary responsibility to curtail abuses rests with the transitional government, but those outside the West African nation have a role to play as well, the Security Council said.
A day before the resolution was approved, thousands marched in the capital of Bamako to back efforts to send international troops to the north.
Jihadists are using the north for drugs and arms trade, to train recruits and plan new attacks, according to Alpha Moulaye Haidara, a leader of a group of northern Malians advocating action.
"It's unacceptable what the Islamists have done," said Papa Maiga, who attended the march. "I'm here to say Mali needs help, and I hope the international community listens."