Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape in general but does not specifically refer to 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 rapist’s occupation put the individual in contact with children. Rape of a child or a pregnant woman was punishable by hard labor. An additional two to five years’ imprisonment could be added in the case of rape with assault and battery, although the authorities did not always enforce these penalties. In 2008 the Morals and Minors Brigade, a department in the Ministry of Interior, reported receiving 10 to 12 rape-related complaints a day countrywide. There were 217 cases of rape reported in 2008 in Antananarivo; 130 were investigated. The Union of Social Workers recorded cases at the Public Hospital of Befelatanana in Antananarivo from January to July and found 91 cases of rape out of 353 cases of sexual abuse. The majority of the victims were between the ages of 10 and 18. These figures greatly underestimated the extent of rape nationwide, but no reliable figures were available.
The law prohibits domestic violence, and it is punishable with two to five years in prison and a fine of four million ariary ($1,800), depending on the severity of injuries and whether the victim was pregnant, but it remained a widespread problem. In 2007 the government’s National Institute for Public Health estimated that 55 percent of women were victims of domestic violence. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated in 2006 that one-third of women in the southern and southeastern region would suffer from violence at some point. A 2007 Ministry of Health survey on conjugal violence, conducted in collaboration with two NGOs, found that of 400 women surveyed in Antananarivo, 45 percent were subjected to psychological violence and 35 percent to physical violence. Police and legal authorities generally intervened when physical abuse was reported. The Ministry of Health continued working with NGOs in Antananarivo and Fianarantsoa to provide victims with legal advice. Statistics on the number of domestic abusers prosecuted, convicted, or punished were unavailable. Anecdotal evidence from NGO-run welcome centers indicated that the political crisis and its related social and economic impact correlated with a rise in the incidence of domestic violence, with two- or three-fold increases in cases reported.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is against the law. Penalties ranged from one to three years imprisonment, plus a fine of one to four million ariary ($450 to $1,800). This penalty increases to two to five years’ imprisonment plus a fine of two to 10 million ariary ($900 to $4,500), if the victim was forced or pressured into sexual acts, or punished for refusing such advances. However, the practice was widespread, particularly in export processing zone (EPZ) factories. The UNFPA estimated that 50 percent of women working in EPZs were victims of sexual harassment. In past years the authorities enforced sexual harassment laws when cases were brought to court; however, there were no reported court cases during the year.
Sex Tourism: Sex tourism was an increasing problem with the growth of the tourism industry before the 2009 coup, and the economic crisis and lack of legitimate employment opportunities since the coup. The de facto authorities continued their national awareness campaign (begun by the Ravalomanana government before the coup) by posting signs throughout airports and hotels, including a full-page in the customs booklet given to arriving international passengers that warns against engaging in sex tourism.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals freely exercised their reproductive rights with no legal or policy discrimination or coercion. Citizens had free access to contraceptives and family planning information at public clinics, and services were also available in the private sector. According to the UNFPA, the modern contraceptive use rate was 28 percent. Skilled attendance during childbirth was estimated at 51 percent but was lower in rural areas where there were few trained health workers and people were unable to access reproductive health and maternity services. All delivery services, including caesarean sections, were free in government health facilities. A variety of programs were instituted to expand the availability of quality care, but these were limited given the constraint on resources. A National Statistics Institute survey issued in June 2010 concluded that the maternal mortality ratio (the ratio of the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) was 498, compared with 269 deaths in the 2004 report. The major factors that contributed to a high maternal mortality ratio were the distance from and high cost of health centers, the low quality of hospital services, maternal chronic malnutrition including anemia, high rates of adolescent pregnancy, and the lack of adequate spacing between pregnancies. Men and women had equal access to diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections. While there were no legal barriers to accessing these services, there were enormous infrastructure inconsistencies. Some social and cultural barriers also limited access.
Discrimination: Women generally enjoyed the same legal status as men. Under the law, wives have an equal voice in selecting the location of the couple’s residence and generally received half the couple’s assets if the marriage ended. While widows with children inherit half of joint marital property, a husband’s surviving kin have priority over widows without children, leaving them eighth in line for inheritance if there is no prior agreement, and potentially leaving them with none of the estate or a very small portion of it. In practice these provisions were not always observed.
A tradition known as “the customary third,” which provided the wife with the right to only one-third of a couple’s joint holdings, was occasionally observed. There was no special governmental office to ensure the legal rights of women.
There was relatively little societal discrimination against women in urban areas, where many women owned or managed businesses and held management positions in private businesses or state-owned companies. In rural areas, where most of the population was engaged in subsistence farming, more traditional social structures tended to favor entrenched gender roles. While there was little discrimination in access to employment and credit, women often did not receive equal pay for substantially similar work. Women were not permitted to work in positions that might endanger their health, safety, or morals. According to the labor and social protection codes, such positions included night shifts in the manufacturing sector and certain positions in the mining, metallurgy, and chemical industries.
A number of NGOs focused on the civic education of women and girls and publicized and explained their specific legal protections; however, due to illiteracy, cultural traditions, societal intimidation, and a lack of knowledge of their rights, few women lodged official complaints or sought redress when their legal rights were violated or ignored.