The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but these “may be limited by the respect for the freedoms and rights of others, and by the imperative of safeguarding public order, national dignity, and state security.” The government sometimes restricted these rights. The communication code includes a number of provisions limiting freedom of speech and expression. The code also grants broad powers to the government to deny media licenses to political opponents, seize equipment, and impose fines.
The government arrested journalists and activists who had publicly denounced the misbehavior of public authorities. The government often used unrelated charges to prosecute them.
Freedom of Expression: In accordance with the constitution, the law restricts individuals’ ability to criticize the government publicly.
In May the Court of Appeals of Fianarantsoa confirmed a two-year suspended prison sentence for human rights activist Raleva, accused of impersonating the district chief of Mananjary. Raleva publicly questioned the legality of the gold mining permit of a Chinese company operating in Mananjary, on the southeast coast, and denounced the negative impact of the company’s activities on the environment and the health of the local population. In October 2017, after a month’s detention, the court of Mananjary convicted him of identity fraud against the district chief, for having demanded during a public meeting to see the legal document authorizing the Chinese company to operate on the site. Civil society members and local and international NGOs condemned the court decision and characterized it as an effort to silence human rights activists.
During the year, the CNIDH and local NGOs issued several communiques denouncing the continuing harassment, including arrest and intimidation, of human rights activists. Most of the affected activists had denounced illegal aspects of the evictions of local communities in several parts of the country to the benefit of foreign investors.
Press and Media Freedom: The communications code contains several articles limiting press and media freedoms. For example, Article 85 requires the owner of a media company to be the chief publisher. This article may permit the harassment of potential opposition presidential candidates, many of whom were also media owners.
Although defamation is not a criminal offense in the communications code, a separate cyber criminality law allows for the charge of criminal defamation for anything published online. It is unclear whether the cyber criminality law, which includes prison sentences for online defamation, has precedence over the 2015 communications code, as all newspapers are also published online. The fines allowed for offenses under the communications code are many times higher than the average journalist’s annual salary.
The communications code gives the communications ministry far-reaching powers to suspend media licenses and seize property of media outlets if one of their journalists commits two infractions of the code. Finally, the code allows only state owned radio and television stations the right to broadcast nationally, although this limitation was not always enforced.
The country had numerous independent newspapers. More than 300 radio and television stations operated in the country, although many shifted to live call-in shows in recent years to distance themselves from editorial responsibility for content. Many of them continued to have a national audience, in spite of the code’s limitations. Nevertheless, access by nonstate actors, especially the opposition, to public media, was limited.
In August newspapers reported that the minister of communication had ordered staff of the national television station not to broadcast Andry Rajoelina’s announcement of his candidacy for president. Although former president and opposition figure Marc Ravalomanana’s radio station MBS was allowed to resume broadcasting after years of suspension, its management alleged the government was deliberately jamming its broadcasts.
On August 8, after a meeting related to the coverage of the presidential election, managers of the state owned media announced their intent to ensure neutrality vis-a-vis the presidential candidates before, during, and after the elections.
Violence and Harassment: There were several reports of journalists being suspended or harassed for coverage of opposition figures. An online media outlet, Gasy Patriot, reported in May that a journalist for the public radio station had been suspended and others moved following accusations by their supervisors that they were too close to opposition members of Parliament who were demonstrating against the government at the time.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship, and authors generally published books of a political nature abroad.
In February the prefect of Mahajanga, Lahiniaina Ravelomahay, banned any interaction with the press about an ongoing conflict within the local university, and required the University of Mahajanga, its student association, and students’ parents to obtain official authorization from his office before talking to journalists. The announcement also required journalists to check whether their interviewees had the prefect’s written authorization to speak to journalists prior to conducting any interview.
Libel/Slander Laws: There were several reports of government authorities using libel, slander, or defamation laws to restrict public discussion.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
A cybercrime law prohibits insulting or defaming a government official online. According to Reporters without Borders, “the law’s failure to define what is meant by ‘insult’ or ‘defamation’ leaves room for very broad interpretation and major abuses.” The law provides for punishment of two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of two million to 100 million ariary ($560 to $28,000) for defamation. Following criticism from the media and international community, the government promised to revise the law, but did not do so.
Public access to the internet was limited mainly to urban areas. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 9.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.
Political groups, parties, and activists used the internet extensively to advance their agendas, share news, and criticize other parties. Observers generally considered the internet (exclusive of social media) among the more reliable sources of information.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Authorities cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian agencies in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. There were no reports that the government pressured or threatened refugees to return to the country from which they had fled.
A 2013 decree prohibits citizens from leaving the country to work abroad in countries deemed “risky, as a measure to reduce trafficking in persons. Because destination countries are not specifically identified in the decree, Malagasy persons may be prevented from leaving the country to work abroad at the discretion of border agents.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
More than 70,000 persons were displaced in January and March by Tropical Cyclones Ava and Eliakim and were temporarily housed in common shelters in several regions of the country. Through the National Office in Charge of Risk and Disaster Management (BNGRC), the government, coordinated with private and international donors to provide humanitarian assistance and to assist the majority of them to return home.
According to a survey conducted by the International Organization for Migration in 10 cities, more than 18,000 persons migrated from the deep south of the country between 2009 and 2017, most citing drought conditions. A new survey conducted in 20 other cities in the same region concluded that approximately 5,699 persons were displaced between 2009 and August, 986 of whom were displaced between January and August alone. Among the persons displaced, 42 percent were displaced by drought, 11 percent for economic reasons, and 9 percent due to insecurity. A portion of these IDPs had returned to their homes when climate conditions improved; others decided to resettle elsewhere. The BNGRC also coordinated with private partners and international donors to assist the displaced persons.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
As of March, approximately 55 persons had official refugee or asylum seeker status in the country.
Access to Asylum: The law does not include provisions for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Authorities generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting the small number of refugees in the country.
Freedom of Movement: Refugees and asylum seekers reported that police frequently detained some of them and sometimes did not honor UNHCR-issued documents certifying their status or tore them up, rendering them vulnerable to arrest or expulsion.
Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers did not have access to employment, because without a resident visa they were unable to get a work permit.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers received no support from the government, but the government did not interfere with support provided by UNHCR via a local NGO. Refugees and asylum seekers complained that the amount of support they receive is insufficient because they may not work and receive no government support. Hospitals and service providers charged refugees higher rates as foreigners, making basic medical care unaffordable to refugees.
The nationality code promulgated by the president in 2017 gave men and women equal rights to pass their nationality to their children and more protection to women and children against the loss of their nationality. The code’s main reform grants Malagasy women the right to transmit nationality to their children regardless of a woman’s marital status. The loss of Malagasy citizenship for any reason mentioned in the law does not affect the spouse and the children of the deprived person.
The provisions of the old code of nationality resulted in a large number of stateless persons in the minority Muslim community, many belonging to families that lived in the country for generations. Muslim leaders estimated the laws affected as much as 5 percent of the approximately two million Muslims in the country. Members of the wider Muslim community suggested a Muslim sounding name alone could delay one’s citizenship application indefinitely.
According to a July media report, Focus Development, a local NGO working on statelessness, reported an increase in nationality certificate requests since the adoption of the new nationality code. She reported that the court of Antananarivo alone had delivered more than 1,500 certificates since the 2017 legal reform. Even after the adoption of the new code, statelessness remained an issue for those who remained ineligible for nationality.
Some members of the South Asian community–who failed to register for Indian, Malagasy, or French citizenship following India’s independence in 1947 and Madagascar’s independence in 1960–were no longer eligible for any of the three citizenships; this circumstance applied to their descendants as well.
All stateless persons may apply for a foreign resident card, which precludes the right to vote, own property, or apply for a passport, thus limiting international travel. Stateless women may obtain nationality by marrying a Malagasy citizen and may request citizenship before the wedding date, but Malagasy women cannot confer citizenship on a stateless husband. Stateless persons had difficulty accessing education and health care, could not get jobs or buy land, and lived in fear of arrest.
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape but does not address spousal rape. Penalties range from five years to life in prison. Rape of a pregnant woman is punishable by hard labor. Authorities may add an additional two to five years’ imprisonment if the rape involves assault and battery. Authorities rarely enforced the law.
The law prohibits domestic violence, but it remained a widespread problem. Domestic violence is punishable by two to five years in prison and a fine of four million ariary ($1,120), depending on the severity of injuries and whether the victim was pregnant. There were few shelters for battered women in the country, and many returned to the home of their parents, who often pressured victims to return to their abusers.
Victims of domestic violence from vulnerable populations could receive assistance from advisory centers, called Centers for Listening and Legal Advice, set up in several regions by the Ministry of Population, Social Protection, and Promotion of Women with the support of the UN Population Fund. These centers counseled survivors on where to go for medical care, provided psychological assistance, and helped them start legal procedures to receive alimony from their abusers.
In April a one-stop center for victims of rape and sexual abuse in the public maternity section of Befelatanana hospital in Antananarivo reported that it received an average of 60 cases of sexual abuse per month, including four or five involving boy victims. They reported half of those cases as incestuous, perpetrated by fathers, stepfathers, uncles, cousins, and grandfathers. Family members generally tried to conceal cases of incest and avoided lodging complaints even though legal assistance for victims was available through the center.
Media reported in April that a 12-year-old girl living in Tolagnaro gave birth after being raped by a religious leader in the town. Her parents lodged a complaint; the girl’s father agreed to accept financial compensation from the presumed offender in exchange for withdrawal of the complaint. The clergyman reportedly withdrew from the agreement and instead lodged a complaint against the victim’s parents for defamation. Moreover, he reportedly threatened the parents and said that he had high-level protection. There was no report of any further legal action against the offender.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is against the law, and penalties range from one to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of one to four million ariary ($280 to $1,120). The penalty increases to two to five years’ imprisonment plus a fine of two to 10 million ariary ($560 to $2,800) if criminals forced or pressured the victim into sexual acts or punished the victim for refusing such advances. Authorities did not enforce the law, and sexual harassment was widespread.
On June 6, a 40-year-old woman in Antananarivo was injured by a 50-year-old neighbor who, she alleged, had regularly tried to force her to have sexual intercourse. When she refused, the man beat her, forcing her to run to a public place and defend herself. The woman filed suit against the man for the beating; the man filed a counter-suit. According to the media, the woman continued to be the object of regular reprisals by the man. The woman took no known legal action for the sexual harassment.
BIANCO, in collaboration with the UN Development Program (UNDP), conducted a study on sexual corruption. The results of the study published in August revealed that sexual harassment qualified as gender-based corruption and prevailed not only in all professional sectors, including in universities. Victims of harassment, however, generally did not complain out of fear or shame. At a workshop connected to the study, students testified that dissertation supervisors compelled them to provide sexual services in exchange for validation of their theses.
The collaboration between BIANCO and UNDP led to the development of a strategy to combat sexual harassment, including setting up a prevention committee to receive anonymous complaints, protecting the confidentiality of victims’ identities and conducting public awareness campaigns.
During the year, local NGO Capacity-building for Communities conducted awareness campaigns targeting men in some private universities to combat the culture of impunity for men who sexually harassed women.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: While women enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men in some areas, there were significant differences. Women experienced discrimination in employment and transfer of inheritance. While widows with children inherit half of joint marital property, a husband’s surviving kin have priority over widows without children, leaving the widow eighth in line for inheritance if there is no prior agreement. Families at times gave women a more favored position in the areas of employment and inheritance transfer, but there were no reports of women taking legal action in cases of alleged discrimination.
Birth Registration: Under the new nationality code, citizenship derives from one’s parents. The new law does not confer Malagasy nationality on children born in Madagascar if both parents are noncitizens. It does provide for a minor’s right to obtain Malagasy citizenship if one of his or her parents, regardless of their marital status, obtains Malagasy citizenship.
The country has no uniformly enforced birth registration system, and unregistered children typically were not eligible to attend school or obtain health-care services. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free public education for all citizen children and makes primary education until the age of 16 compulsory. Nevertheless, parents were increasingly required to pay registration and various fees to subsidize teacher salaries and other costs. As a result, education became inaccessible for many children. According to UNICEF, boys and girls generally had equal access to education, although girls were more likely to drop out during adolescence.
Child Abuse: Child abuse, including rape, was a problem. The press reported more than 20 cases of child rape, with most victims younger than 12; the youngest was three years old. In June the Ministry of Population, in partnership with UNICEF, published a study on violence against children in the country. The study revealed that violence against children, including physical violence, sexual abuse, and rape, occurred in all environments: family, school, social circles, and working places. According to the study, abuse was rarely reported due to a lack of confidence in the justice system, precarious economic conditions, and a desire to avoid social discord in the community. Only 4 percent of respondents to the survey said they had reported cases of child abuse to the police, while 19 percent had reported sexual abuse to the police or gendarmerie. Victims’ families often agreed to mediated arrangements involving financial compensation by the wrongdoers and occasionally forced marriage of the victim with the rapist.
In some towns and cities, particularly in Antananarivo, homeless women raise small children in dangerous conditions and environments, and will force children to beg on the streets at ages as young as three years old. Sometimes babies are “rented” to beggars to try to increase sympathy from passersby. Government authorities rarely intervened in these cases of child endangerment.
Government efforts to combat child rape were limited, focusing primarily on child protection networks, which addressed the needs of victims and helped raise public awareness.
With the support of UNICEF, the cities of Antananarivo, Toamasina, Mahajanga, and Nosy Be hosted one-stop victim support centers, called Vonjy Centers, in public hospitals. These centers received child victims of sexual abuse, including rape and sexual exploitation. Apart from the medical care, these centers provided psychological support through social workers assigned by NGOs. Police officials from the minors and child protection brigade recorded their complaints, and volunteer lawyers provided free legal assistance.
In Nosy Be the local office of the Ministry of Population, in collaboration with UNICEF, established a foster family system for child abuse victims who needed placement. Some officials reported that victims of child abuse were returned to the home where the abuse occurred due to a lack of options.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage without parental consent is 18 for both sexes. Nevertheless, child marriage remained very common, particularly in rural areas and in the south.
The practice of “moletry,” in which girls are married off at a younger age in exchange for oxen received as a dowry, reportedly continued. The parents of a boy (usually around age 15) look for a spouse for their son (girls may be as young as 12), after which the parents of both children organize the wedding. (For additional information, see Appendix C.)
The government announced initial implementation of the National Strategy to Fight against Child Marriage (SNMLE) in May. Implementation by the Ministry of Population, with the support of UNICEF, was planned for 2018 to 2024. The SNMLE aims to reduce child marriage prevalence–defined as “percentage of women age 20-24 who were married or in a union prior to the age of 18”–from 41 percent to 31 percent by 2024. The main elements of the strategy are to build the capacity of authorities and communities to better protect children and strengthen the ability of children to protect themselves against early marriage and early pregnancy.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Antitrafficking legislation provides a penalty of hard labor for recruitment and incitement to prostitution involving a child younger than 18, the sexual exploitation of a child younger than 15, and the commercial exploitation of a child younger than 18. Both the penal code and antitrafficking laws address, specify penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment and fines up to 10 million ariary ($2,800) for perpetrators of child pornography. Authorities rarely enforced the provisions. There is no minimum legal age for consensual sex.
Sexual exploitation of children, sometimes with the involvement of parents, remained a significant problem.
Employers often abused and raped young rural girls working as housekeepers in the capital. If they left their work, employers typically did not pay them, so many remained rather than return empty-handed to their families and villages. UNICEF’s 2018 study on violence against children indicated all reported cases of sexual violence in the workplace took place in the domestic labor sector.
In September 2017 the national gendarmerie officially launched its new morals and minors protection unit with responsibility for protecting children, including rape victims in rural areas not covered by the national police’s morals and minors brigade. The Ministry of Justice, collaborating with UNICEF and telecommunications companies, implemented a website called “Arozaza” (protect the child) that is intended to combat online sexual exploitation of minors and warn potential abusers. The website includes a form to report child endangerment or online pornography.
The Ministry of Population operated approximately 750 programs covering 22 regions throughout the country to protect children from abuse and exploitation. The ministry collaborated with UNICEF to identify child victims and provide access to adequate medical and psychosocial services. In collaboration with the gendarmerie, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Population, and UNICEF trained local law enforcement officials and other stakeholders in targeted regions on the rights of children.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Media reports documented several deaths of newborns abandoned in gutters and dumpsters. A traditional taboo in the southeast against giving birth to twins also contributed to the problem.
Displaced Children: Although child abandonment is against the law, it remained a significant problem. There were few safe shelters for street children, and governmental agencies generally tried first to place abandoned children with parents or other relatives. Authorities placed many children in private and church-affiliated orphanages outside the regulated system.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
The Jewish community consisted of approximately 360 members; there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and defines persons with disabilities as those presenting congenital or acquired deficiency in their physical, mental, or sensory capacities (without mentioning intellectual disability). The law also provides for a national commission and regional subcommissions to promote their rights. By law persons with disabilities are entitled to receive health care, education, facilitated access to public transportation, and have the right to training and employment; the law does not address access to the judicial system, information, and communications. Educational institutions are “encouraged” to make necessary infrastructure adjustments to accommodate students with disabilities. The law also specifies the state “must facilitate, to the extent possible, access to its facilities, public spaces, and public transportation to accommodate persons with disabilities.”
Authorities rarely enforced the rights of persons with disabilities, and the legal framework for promoting accessibility remained perfunctory.
Access to education and health care for persons with disabilities also was limited due to lack of adequate infrastructure, specialized institutions, and personnel.
Persons with disabilities encountered discrimination in employment. They were also more likely to become victims of various types of abuse, sometimes perpetrated by their own relatives.
The electoral code provides that individuals with disabilities should be assisted in casting their ballots, but it contains no other provisions to accommodate voters with disabilities.
In Antananarivo, persons with disabilities were often seen begging for money, sometimes accompanied by someone who was not disabled to call attention to the disabled person’s condition. Security force members did not intervene, even when disabled persons sat between moving lanes of traffic, making it difficult for those in cars to see them.
In June the NGO Humanity and Inclusion, formerly known as Handicap International, with financial support from the French government, launched two 48-month projects called “Inclusive Education and Vocational Training” and “Mental Health.” The first project aimed to give equal educational and vocational education opportunity to minors with disabilities; the second was a community-based strategy to promote mental health.
None of the 18 tribes in the country constituted a majority. There were also minorities of Indian, Pakistani, Comorian, and Chinese heritage. Ethnicity, caste, and regional solidarity often were considered in hiring and exploited in politics. A long history of military conquest and political dominance by highland ethnic groups of Asian origin, particularly the Merina, over coastal groups of African ancestry contributed to tension between citizens of highland and coastal descent, particularly in politics.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law provides for a prison sentence of two to five years and a fine of two to 10 million ariary ($560 to $2,800) for acts that are “indecent or against nature with an individual of the same sex younger than 21,” which is understood to include sexual relations. There is no law prohibiting same-sex sexual conduct for those older than 21. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community reportedly were unaware of the risk of arrest for “corruption of a minor,” and arrests occurred for such acts, although there were no official statistics.
There are no specific antidiscrimination provisions that apply to LGBTI persons. There were no reports of discrimination in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services. No laws prevent transgender persons from identifying with their chosen gender.
There were no reports of police or other government agents inciting, perpetrating, or condoning violence against LGBTI individuals.
As evidenced by comments in occasional news items involving well-known LGBTI personalities, members of the LGBTI community often continued to face considerable social stigma and discrimination within their own families, particularly in rural areas.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Health care providers subjected persons with HIV/AIDS to stigma and discrimination. HIV/AIDS patients have the right to free health care, and the law specifies sanctions against persons who discriminate against or marginalize persons with HIV/AIDS. Apart from the National Committee for the Fight against AIDS in Madagascar, national institutions–including the Ministries of Health and Justice–did not effectively enforce the law.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Mob violence occurred in both urban and rural areas, in large part due to crime and lack of public confidence in police and the judiciary. The local office of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (OHCHR) presented a report on mob violence on September 17, stating that between July 2016 and August 2018 it registered 108 cases of mob violence involving 152 deaths and 62 injuries. Crowds killed, beat, burned, or otherwise injured suspected criminals or accomplices, and the media reported 97 deaths resulting from mob violence between January and September. At least 15 of those incidents occurred in the Sava Region, where villagers caught and killed vanilla thieves caught stealing. Villagers also resorted to mob violence to take revenge on residents of other villages for previous alleged attacks. Authorities sometimes arrested the perpetrators, but fear of creating renewed anger hindered prosecution. Media and observers believed that the law was more likely to be enforced against perpetrators when it was in the interests of authorities or security forces.
In June local consulting firm Afrobarometer Madagascar published survey results on mob violence indicating that 41 percent of respondents considered mob violence acceptable for rape and cattle theft. The same study stated that 80 percent of rural inhabitants and 55 percent of urban residents resorted to dinas when handling cases of cattle theft and other social issues. In a September report, the local office of the OHCHR published a report stating that the dina system was effective in some regions but dangerous in others.
A mayor in the district of Mananjary went on trial on February 17, accused of involvement in the killing of a presumed thief beaten to death by villagers the previous month. Fellow mayors and members of the mayors association of Nosy Varika and Mananjary demonstrated against the detention of their colleague.
In August the Ministry of Justice, with the support of the UNDP, organized a two-day workshop in Sambava, capital of the Sava region, to mobilize local authorities, other public figures, and locally elected parliamentarians to prevent mob violence and popular revenge in the region. The second day was an open house exhibition during which different ministries shared information to promote civic behavior among the local population. The minister of justice and the minister of public security as well as the state secretary for the gendarmerie were present.
On June 4, in Belanana, villagers of Ambatotsihy killed a 54-year-old suspected thief to enforce a local dina ruling. The gendarmes had previously arrested the thief and were holding him in the office of the district chief. A group of villagers estimated at a thousand came to the district office to seize the thief and took him to his home village, Ambatotsihy, where his fellow villagers killed him as required by the dina. Media reported a few days later that gendarmes came to make an assessment but did not make any arrests, supposedly to avoid causing social unrest.