Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape but does not address spousal rape. Penalties range from five years to life in prison, depending on factors such as the victim’s age, the rapist’s relationship to the victim, and whether the offender’s occupation involved contact with children. Rape of a child or 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.
In 2015 the Vonjy Center at Befelatanana Public Hospital, Antananarivo, received 550 cases involving the rape of girls. Observers believed the figures greatly underestimated the extent of sexual violence nationwide, but no reliable national data were available. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated that 14 percent of girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 19 in the country had experienced sexual violence.
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 ($1,200), depending on the severity of injuries and whether the victim was pregnant. Statistics on the number of domestic abusers prosecuted, convicted, or punished were unavailable, but few women took legal action against their husbands, in part due to the 6,000 ariary ($1.80) cost of the required medical certificate. There were few shelters for battered women in the country, and many returned to the home of their parents, where parents often pressured them 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 (CECJ), set up in several regions by the Ministry of Population, Social Protection, and Promotion of Women with the support of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). These centers counseled victims on where to go for medical care, provided psychological assistance, and helped them start legal procedures to receive alimony from their abusers.
During 2015 the CECJ received 1,103 cases of violence, 917 of which involved female victims of physical, economic, and moral domestic violence.
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 ($300 to $1,200). The penalty increases to two to five years’ imprisonment plus a fine of two to 10 million ariary ($600 to $3,000) 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.
In July the morality and minor protection unit within the national police, in partnership with UNICEF and a Malagasy telecommunications company, took part in training on prevention of internet-based sexual harassment for dozens of children between the ages of 13 and 18.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals who are 18 and older have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, but they often lacked the information and means to do so.
According to the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality ratio was 353 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Major factors that contributed to high maternal mortality included the distance from and high cost of health centers, low quality of hospital services, chronic maternal malnutrition (including anemia), lack of adequate spacing between pregnancies, and the high rate of unsafe abortions. Although marriage under the age of 18 is prohibited except in extreme circumstances, and then only with concurrence of both parents and legal authorities, both marriage and pregnancy under the age of 18 were common. Persons under the age of 18, even if married, are not legally allowed to obtain birth control.
The UNFPA estimated 36.4 percent of women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception in 2015. Observers estimated skilled attendance during childbirth at 44 percent, but lower in rural areas, where there were few trained health workers.
Public health clinics provided free contraceptives and family planning information to adults, but such services often were unavailable due to inadequate resources. Religious organizations, NGO clinics, and other private sector organizations provided such services. Social and cultural barriers as well as resource problems also impeded the use of contraceptives.
In April the Ministry of Education signed a partnership with Population Service International to increase understanding of reproductive health for girls in public schools across the country.
Discrimination: While women enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men in some areas, there were significant differences. Women experienced discrimination in employment, transfer of nationality to their children, and 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 did not always observe these provisions. A tradition known as “the customary third” provides the wife with the right to only one-third of a couple’s joint holdings upon dissolution of the marriage, and families occasionally observed this tradition.
A number of NGOs focused on the civic education of women and girls, publicizing and explaining legal protections for women. Illiteracy, cultural traditions, societal intimidation, and lack of knowledge prevented many women from lodging official complaints or seeking redress when authorities violated their rights.
Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents, although children born to a citizen mother and a foreign father must declare their desire for citizenship by age 18. Mothers may confer nationality on children born in wedlock only if the father is stateless or of unknown nationality. The country had no uniformly enforced birth registration system, and unregistered children typically were not eligible to attend school or obtain health-care services. UNICEF worked with the government to provide birth certificates for newborn children and children who did not receive a certificate at birth. According to a 2010 UNICEF study, 80 percent of children under the age of five had their births registered. The Ministries of Interior, Health, and Justice worked with UNICEF to reduce the number of unregistered children in targeted regions.
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 various registration and other 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. Beginning in 2014, the World Bank supported a three-year project, carried out by the Ministry of Population, to provide financial support to families to improve access to education. The program was intended to cover 39,000 families in several regions and provide money to vulnerable families in exchange for a commitment to send their children to school.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was a problem, including the rape of babies and toddlers. The press reported more than 15 cases of child rape, with most victims under the age of 12; the youngest was three years old. During 2015 the Union of Social Workers dealt with 40 cases of child abuse involving victims between the ages of three months and 18 years. In 2015, drawing on data from the national police and the Ministry of Population, UNICEF reported 417 cases of rape and 828 other cases of child abuse. 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.
The Vonjy Center, in the maternity wing of Befelatanana Public Hospital, continued to operate. Funded by UNICEF, the center received and treated minors who were victims of rape. The center also offered medical consultation, coverage of medical expenses and delivery in case of pregnancy, treatment for the psychological impact of rape, and support from the Morality and Minor Police to record complaints. The center encouraged victims to persuade their parents to file charges against perpetrators.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage without parental consent is 18 for both boys and girls. Nevertheless, according to UNFPA, child marriage remained very common, particularly in rural areas and in the south. An estimated 41 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before 18, and 12 percent were married before 15, according to UNICEF surveys in 2008-14.
As confirmed by the UN special rapporteur on modern forms of slavery during her mission to the country in 2012, early forced marriage remained a concern in many communities, where parents forced girls as young as 10 to marry. She noted that victims of such arrangements were also likely to be victims of domestic servitude and sexual slavery.
According to a 2013 report by the UN special rapporteur, the practice of “moletry,” in which girls are married off at a younger age in exchange for oxen received as a dowry, 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. The parents hold a written agreement for one year that they may prolong. If a child is born after the first year and the marriage contract has expired, the girl–or, if she is very young, her mother–will be responsible for raising the child. If the girl has been unfaithful or the marriage does not last the full year, parents return the dowry, without any stigma for either side. The wife must stay the contracted year, even in the case of domestic violence, in which case the girl’s parents receive more money or jewels.
The UN special rapporteur also criticized the practice of “valifofo,” or arranged marriage. She noted in places like Ihorombe, in the Bara community, when a girl reaches the age of 10, she is separated from other family members and may receive male visitors without obtaining approval from her male relatives. In the Bara community, the parents betroth a girl at birth, and the parents receive 10 oxen. The man may take the girl at age seven or ask her parents to raise her until she is age 12, at which time parents take her to the husband’s home.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The recruitment and incitement to prostitution generally carries a penalty of two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 10 million ariary ($3,000). Antitrafficking legislation, however, provides a penalty of forced labor for the recruitment and incitement to prostitution involving a child under the age of 18, the sexual exploitation of a child under 15, and the commercial exploitation of a child under 18. Both the penal code and antitrafficking laws address pornography, specifying penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment and fines up to 10 million ariary ($3,000). Authorities rarely enforced the provisions. There is no minimum legal age for consensual sex.
The sexual exploitation of children, sometimes with the involvement of parents, remained a significant problem. The problem was particularly acute in Antananarivo and coastal cities, including Toamasina, Nosy Be, Diego Suarez, and Mahajanga. During her 2013 mission, the UN special rapporteur called the “exponential growth” of child prostitution and sex tourism in the country “alarming.”
In 2013, in the latest report available, the NGO Ending Child Prostitution and Trafficking in Madagascar documented 1,132 children in prostitution in Antananarivo; more than one third claimed to have been initiated into prostitution during the previous year. The NGO also reported criminals initiated most children in prostitution in the coastal cities of Mahajanga and Nosy Be at between the ages of 13 and 15. In 40 percent of the cases, the children had their first sexual encounter as sex workers, and their parents often were aware of their activities.
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.
The Ministry of Population operated approximately 450 multisector networks covering 22 regions throughout the country to protect children from abuse and exploitation. The ministry collaborated with UNICEF to identify child victims and provide for their access to adequate medical and psychosocial services. In collaboration with the gendarmerie, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Population, UNICEF trained local law enforcement officials and other stakeholders in targeted regions on the rights of children.
Several cultural and traditional practices resulted in the sexual exploitation of young women and girls. For example, in some remote areas, the traditional practice of “Tsenan’ampela” (girl markets) continued. Starting at age 13, girls go to cattle markets, where they try to attract cattle owners and negotiate a price for a “marriage,” which can last for a night or the duration of the market (from Friday to Monday), according to the UN special rapporteur’s 2013 report. Such girls generally were paid up to 10,000 ariary ($3) a night and returned home after the market.
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/childabduction/english/legal/compliance.html.
The Jewish community was small, and 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 physical and mental disabilities, although there is no specific mention of sensory and intellectual disabilities. The law broadly defines the rights of persons with disabilities and provides for a national commission and regional sub-commissions to promote their rights. By law persons with disabilities are entitled to receive health care and education and have the right to training and employment; the law does not address air travel or access to the judicial system. 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. According to a comprehensive study commissioned by a local NGO, in addition to excluding the specific rights of women and children with disabilities, the legal framework covering disabilities lacks key themes, such as accessibility, autonomy, personal mobility, equality, access to justice, the ability to participate in public life and politics.
Access to education and health care for persons with disabilities also was limited due to lack of adequate infrastructure, specialized institutions, and personnel. Nevertheless, disability advocates reported there were more than 60 integrated classrooms across the country that included children with mental disabilities. Local officials also accommodated students with sensory disabilities during official high school examinations. With the financial support of a French organization, the minister of education signed an agreement with Handicap International in February for the inclusion of 2,173 vulnerable children, including 503 children with disabilities, into the public schools in the regions of Diana and Analanjirofo. The program included specialized training for teachers from primary public schools to receive those children.
Persons with disabilities encountered discrimination in employment. They were also were more likely to become victims of abuse, sometimes perpetrated by their own relatives. For example, the leader of an association of women with disabilities reported in 2015 that two of their members had forcible tubal ligations ordered by their parents to prevent them from having more children, since the parents considered them burdens on their families.
The electoral code provides that individuals with disabilities be assisted in casting their ballots, but it contains no other provisions to accommodate voters with disabilities.
The Ministry of Population is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and includes a directorate in charge of persons with disabilities and elderly persons. The ministry appointed a woman with disabilities to lead the directorate.
In partnership with Handicap International, local governments also participated in an inclusive communal development program. The communes of Toamasina and Toliara significantly improved the accessibility of markets and other public places for persons with disabilities.
The Ministry of Population announced a five-year national inclusion plan on disability in 2015. The plan was to serve as a toolkit for all public and private actors and entities to include disability rights in their respective programs.
None of the 18 tribes in the country constituted a majority. There were also minorities of Indo-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 ($600 to $3,000) for acts that are “indecent or against nature with an individual of the same sex under the age of 21,” which is understood to include all sexual relations. There is no law prohibiting same-sex sexual conduct for those over age 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, although there were no official statistics. There are no specific antidiscrimination provisions that apply to LGBTI persons. No laws prevent transgender persons from identifying with their chosen gender.
There were reports of official discrimination and that local officials, particularly law enforcement personnel, either abused LGBTI persons or failed to protect them from societal violence. Health officials also reportedly denied services to LGBTI persons or failed to respect confidentiality agreements.
Sexual orientation and gender identity were not widely discussed, with public attitudes ranging from tacit acceptance to violent rejection, particularly of transgender sex workers. Members of this community faced considerable social stigma and discrimination, often within their own families and particularly in rural areas. Relatives ostracized many and refused them burial in the family tomb. LGBTI individuals often faced discrimination in hiring.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Providers in the health-care sector 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. Crowds killed, beat, burned, or otherwise injured suspected criminals or accomplices, and the media reported 86 mob killings between January and December. Authorities sometimes arrested the perpetrators, but fear of creating renewed anger hindered effectiveness of the prosecution.
On March 1, in Maroantsetra, gendarmes arrested a cattle owner for allegedly having taken part in a mob killing of a cattle rustler in November 2014. In response, on March 3, a group of angry villagers assaulted and sacked the prosecutor’s office and began marching to the prison to release the imprisoned cattle owner. To avoid a prison break, the local magistrate issued an order to release him.
On March 31, an angry mob in Bealanana beat to death two alleged thieves, who had been arrested by gendarmes, and cut their dead bodies into pieces.
Persons with albinism in the country also suffer witchcraft-related attacks. For example, on October 17, the body of a 28-year-old woman with albinism was found in Betioky, in the south, with the eyes removed. In November a priest with albinism who escaped kidnappers reported they had intended to sell him for 60 million ariary ($18,000), presumably so his body parts could be used in witchcraft.