Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents, although children born to a citizen mother and a foreign father must declare their desire for citizenship by age 18. The country has no uniformly enforced birth registration system, and unregistered children have historically not been eligible to attend school or obtain health-care services. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) worked with the government to provide birth certificates for both newborn children and those who did not receive a certificate at birth. According to a 2010 UNICEF study, 80 percent of children under age five had their births registered. The ministries of interior, health, and justice continued to work with UNICEF during the year to reduce the number of unregistered children in targeted regions, but no formal audit was concluded to determine results.
Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free public education for all citizen children and makes primary education until age 16 compulsory. Nevertheless, parents were increasingly required to pay various registration and other fees to subsidize teacher salaries and to cover the cost of basic supplies and furnishings. As a result education was inaccessible for many children. During the year, however, the government reduced fees for education and increased subsidies for some children. According to UNICEF, boys and girls generally had equal access to education, though girls were more likely to drop out during adolescence.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was a problem, including the rape of babies and toddlers. The press reported more than 35 cases of child rape, with most victims under age 10. During the year the Union of Social Workers reported 425 cases of sexual abuse (most involving children) and 398 other cases of child abuse in Antananarivo alone. The victims were between the ages of three months and 18 years. Government efforts to combat child rape were limited, focusing primarily on child protection networks, which addressed the needs of victims and, in some cases, helped raise public awareness.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage without parental consent is 18 years for both boys and girls. Nevertheless, according to the UN Population Fund’s country profiles, child marriage remained very common, particularly in rural areas and in the south. An estimated 48 percent of women between ages 20 and 24 years were married before 18 years, and 14 percent were married before age 15, according to 2000-09 UNICEF data. 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 girls as young as age 10 were forced to marry. She noted, “Victims of such arrangements are also likely to be victims of domestic servitude and sexual slavery.”
In December the government passed antitrafficking legislation that prescribes a penalty of six months to two years imprisonment, a fine of 500,000 to two million ariary ($200 to $800), or both for forcing someone to marry. Child trafficking for purposes of forced marriage carries a penalty of five to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of two million to 10 million ariary ($800 to $4,000).
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. Moletry obliges an underage girl to behave irreproachably throughout the probationary one-year term of the marriage contract on pain of losing the agreed dowry. The parents of a boy (usually around age 15) look for a spouse for their son (girls may be as young as age 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, the dowry is returned, 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 to appease them.
The UN special rapporteur also criticized the practice of “valifofo,” or arranged marriage, in her 2013 report. 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 can receive male visitors without need for approval from her male relatives. A suitor can take the girl from the age of seven years or ask her parents to raise her until she is 12 years old, at which time she will be taken to the husband’s home.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: 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 a 2013 report by the UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery. Such girls generally were paid up to 10,000 ariary ($4) a night and returned home after the market.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: In general recruitment and incitement to prostitution carry a penalty of two to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to 10 million ariary ($4,000). Antitrafficking legislation passed in December, however, provides a penalty of forced labor for the recruitment and incitement to prostitution involving a child under age 18, the sexual exploitation of a child under age 15, and the commercial exploitation of a child under age 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 ($4,000). 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 concern. The problem was particularly acute in Antananarivo and coastal cities, including Toamasina, Nosy Be, Diego Suarez, and Mahajunga. During her 2013 mission, the UN special rapporteur called the “exponential growth” of child prostitution and sex tourism in the country “alarming.”
In 2013 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 most children in prostitution in the coastal cities of Mahajanga and Nosy Be were initiated into sexual activity between the ages of 13 and 15 years old. In 40 percent of the cases, the children had their first sexual encounter as sex workers, and in many cases their parents were aware of their activities.
Young rural girls working as housekeepers in the capital were often abused or raped by their employers. If they left their employers, they typically were not paid. Rather than return empty-handed to their families and villages, they often remained in the cities in prostitution.
The ministry of population and social affairs operated approximately 450 multi-sector networks covering 22 regions throughout the country to protect children from abuse and exploitation. The ministry collaborated with UNICEF to identify child victims and ensure their access to adequate medical and psychosocial services. In collaboration with the ministries of justice and population and the gendarmerie, UNICEF continued to train 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 throughout the year. 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 to place abandoned children with parents or other relatives first. Many children were placed 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. For information see the Department of State’s report on compliance at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/english/legal/compliance.html.