Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
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 ($1,100), 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. Various media articles reported during the year a general reluctance of victims to report domestic violence. Women filing legal actions against their husbands faced criticism from their families and communities.
On January 14, a pastor in a local evangelical church in Sambava reportedly raped a church member who had lost her child at birth two months earlier. When the victim complained to her mother-in-law, the news spread rapidly, and the pastor fled to his own village, fearing mob violence. After the intervention of church board members, neither the victim nor her husband reported the incident to the police. There were no reports of legal action against the offender.
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 United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). 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 2016 the government adopted a national strategy to oppose gender-based violence, which includes domestic violence, but implementation was limited to raising public awareness on the one national radio channel.
In April the UNFPA appointed First lady Mialy Rajoelina ambassador against gender-based violence in the country. In July the first lady, along with UNFPA, donated equipment to the Proximity Female Brigade within the national police. The mission of this unit included investigation of gender-based violence and raising public awareness of the issue.
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 ($270 to $1,100). The penalty increases to two to five years’ imprisonment plus a fine of two to 10 million ariary ($540 to $2,700) if criminals forced or pressured the victim into sexual acts or punished the victim for refusing such advances. Authorities enforced the law, but sexual harassment was widespread.
In 2018 BIANCO, in collaboration with UNDP, conducted a study on sexual harassment and corruption. The results of the study revealed sexual harassment qualified as gender-based corruption and prevailed in all professional sectors, including in universities. Victims of harassment, however, generally did not complain, due to fear or shame. At a workshop connected to the study, students testified 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, which resulted in the setting up a prevention committee to receive anonymous complaints, protecting the confidentiality of victims’ identities and conducting public awareness campaigns.
Labor union members reported sexual harassment prevailed in many sectors. There were reports that some supervisors in manufacturing companies compelled some of their female employees to have sexual relations to renew their contracts or secure promotions. Female teachers reportedly faced similar pressures when trying to negotiate permanent contracts in the public education system. Court rulings generally did not favor victims when they filed complaints.
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, and authorities did not enforce the law effectively. Women experienced discrimination in employment 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 at times gave women a more favored position in the areas of employment and inheritance, but there were no reports of women taking legal action in cases of alleged discrimination.
Birth Registration: Under the 2017 nationality code, citizenship derives from one’s parents. The law does not confer nationality on children born in the country if both parents are noncitizens. It does provide for a minor’s right to obtain citizenship if one of the parents, regardless of their marital status, obtains 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 remained 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 15 cases of child rape, with most victims younger than 12; the youngest was five years old. In June 2018 the Ministry of Population, in partnership with UNICEF, published a study on violence against children in the country. The study revealed violence against children, including physical violence, sexual abuse, and rape, occurred in all environments: family, school, social circles, and working places. It found abuse was rarely reported due to lack of confidence in the justice system, precarious economic conditions, a desire to avoid social discord in the community, and intimidation. 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 raised small children in dangerous conditions and environments and forced children as young as three years old to beg on the streets. Sometimes babies were “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 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 victims of child abuse were returned to the home where the abuse occurred due to a lack of other 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 at a young age in exchange for oxen received as a dowry, reportedly continued. The parents of a boy (approximately 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.
According to the results of a 2018 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 37 percent of women between ages 20 and 49 married before the age of 18. The rate for men was 12 percent. Five regions presented the highest rate of early marriage for both men and women, with 60 percent for Atsimo Atsinanana, 66 percent for Atsimo Andrefana, 54 percent for Melaky, 51 percent for Betsiboka, and 54 percent for Sofia. Rural areas were more affected, with 44 percent married before age 18, and 15 percent before age 15. In urban areas 29 percent of women married before age 18 and 7 percent before age 15.
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 sexual exploitation of a child younger than 18. Both the penal code and antitrafficking laws specify penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment and fines up to 10 million ariary ($2,700) 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 2017 the national gendarmerie officially launched a 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. The gendarmerie, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Population, and UNICEF trained local law enforcement officials and other stakeholders in targeted regions on the rights of children. The country was a destination for child sex tourism.
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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
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 tensions between citizens of highland and coastal descent, especially in politics.