Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but these “may be limited by 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 law includes several provisions limiting freedom of speech and expression, including broad powers of the government to deny media licenses to political opponents, seize equipment, and impose fines. There were cases of government intimidation and harassment of individuals for their online activities criticizing the government.
Freedom of Expression: In accordance with the constitution, the law restricts individuals’ ability to criticize the government in public.
The government arrested journalists and activists who denounced the misbehavior of public figures.
In a February 1 communique, the National Assembly president indirectly warned the opposition members of parliament against expressing their opinions in public. She stated that it was “her duty” to remind parliamentarians that parliamentarian immunity did not apply to speeches made by members of parliament in a public place or in media, and that they could be sued. She added that her message was in response to the complaints of the administration, the ministries, the politicians, and ordinary citizens regarding the actions of some members of parliament.
On June 15, the cybercriminality division of the gendarmerie summoned Ravo Nambinina Rasoamanana, a former agent of the Ministry of Public Health, for a hearing on charges of spreading false news and defamation. The previous month, the defendant had published on his Facebook page anomalies in the management of public funds within the Ministry of Public Health. A court notice published in September indicated that he was accused of acts that may compromise public security, lead to serious political trouble, or incite hatred of the government or infringement of the laws.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Private media were active and expressed a wide variety of views but not without restriction. The law contains several articles limiting press and media freedoms. For example, the law requires the owner of a media company to be the chief publisher. The law also may permit candidates for political office, who are also media owners, to use their outlets to advocate against opponents.
The law 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 law. The law allows only state-owned radio and television stations the right to broadcast nationally, although this limitation was not always enforced.
The country had numerous private 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. Media owners in the country were generally politicians or wealthy individuals. The business and political interests of the owner shaped the editorial perspectives of these outlets thereby limiting the independence of journalists. Organizers of official events often invited only state-owned or ostensibly progovernment media outlets, and state-owned radio and television channels allegedly received unwritten orders from the minister of communication as to whom and what may appear on air.
On May 3, during the celebration of the World Press Freedom Day, the president of the national journalist association OJM, which provides accreditation to journalists, stated there was not yet a free press in the country. The minister of communication and culture responded free expression and free press still existed in the country and that only programs that undermined public order and national unity had been suspended during the declared national health emergency.
On October 3, several journalists opposing the election for the president of the journalist association OJM made a joint statement criticizing the Ministry of Communication and Culture’s meddling in the management of the association. At the end of the year, OJM was organizing elections for its leadership and the only candidate approved by the Ministry of Communication and Culture to run for president was the chief editor of the national radio channel. Media watchdog Ilontsera and the nonprofit organization CRAAD-OI (Research and Center for Development Alternatives in the Indian Ocean) criticized the OJM election as a sham and criticized the ministry for preventing equal access for candidates wishing to run in the election. For its part the ministry alleged some opposition members of parliament included controversial text in the Communication Code preventing equal access for candidates.
Violence and Harassment: There were multiple reports of journalists being harassed for criticizing the government and public services.
In February in the southeastern town of Ankilimanilike, community leaders, with the support of the local authorities, ordered the arrest and detention of two journalists from a local private radio station. The community falsely accused the journalists of spreading false news reports concerning the disappearance of children in the locality and forced the journalists to pay 275,000 ariary ($72) and eight zebus each. After three days of detention the journalists were released because of the advocacy of members of the regional journalists’ association (see section 1.d.).
On May 31, the union of journalists issued a communique denouncing an increase in threats against journalists. The communique stated: the communication director of the presidency made verbal threats to a journalist from the Basy Vava newspaper who wrote an article on public fund embezzlement; that security forces forced journalists from the Tia Tanindrazana newspaper and the MBS TV channel to delete images on their cameras that could discredit the government; a parliamentarian attempted to punch a journalist in Antsohihy; and a gendarme physically assaulted a journalist from Viva TV channel in Ampasika Antananarivo.
In June, France 24 correspondent and Pulitzer Prize-winning Malagasy journalist Gaelle Borgia was the target of a smear campaign by high-ranking politicians and government officials on social media after she filmed and published a documentary showing persons in the southern region of the country cooking and eating cowhides from scraps of shoes due to local famine conditions. The governor of Androy region issued a statement accusing the journalist of spreading false news. The state-owned television channel TVM later published interviews with persons testifying that the journalist bribed them into being filmed eating shoes. Several days later Borgia published another video featuring the same individuals acknowledging that they had been coerced under the threat of violence to speak out against Borgia’s reporting. Reporters Without Borders condemned the attempts to discredit Borgia and correspondents from international media outlets issued a joint statement calling for the end of cyberharassment against journalists. On June 29, the acting director of TVM reacted to the international press statement and said he was dismayed by the allegations against TVM journalists working in the southern part of the country. He also stressed that Gaelle Borgia or any correspondents from other media outlets had never been prevented from carrying out a field visit in the southern region or accessing information sources.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship due to retaliation from those targeted by their publications. Authors generally published books of a political nature abroad.
On February 5, satellite television companies stopped broadcasting programs on MBS, a private television channel belonging to former president Marc Ravalomanana who was also a leading opposition figure. This measure prevented the television channel from broadcasting nationally. The minister of justice told the press that the government ordered the satellite television companies to suspend their contracts with MBS because the channel was accused by the government of inciting hate and spreading fake news and defamatory speeches. The minister stressed MBS had the right to oppose the suspension. MBS took the case to litigation at year’s end, MBS remained unavailable on satellite television channels.
On April 22, the government issued a decision ordering the suspension of all audiovisual programs that may hamper the public order and security, citing a COVID-19 pandemic state of emergency for five regions. The decision listed 10 live call-in shows and television debates broadcasted by private stations. The decision triggered strong reactions from the union of journalists and other civil society organizations who condemned the measures as a restriction on freedom of expression. On April 26, the government issued a decision reversing the suspension and allowing the listed programs to resume. The decision followed a meeting among several media managers with the minister of communication during which media managers signed a letter promising to avoid speeches that may disrupt public order. A few radio and television stations close to the opposition did not take part in the meeting and did not sign the engagement letter but were allowed to resume broadcasting their programs. On April 26, the journalist association OJM and media outlets contesting the April 22 decision submitted requests to the State Council to suspend and cancel this decision. In its May 4 hearing, the State Council decided there was no need to rule on these requests because the government already repealed the suspension decision. Reporters Without Borders reacted to the case and called on authorities to let journalists perform their work freely, stating the cancellation of the April 22 suspension was only a first step.
According to the head of OJM, the government used a state of health emergency to restrict access to information, especially concerning COVID-19.
Libel/Slander Laws: Although defamation is not a criminal offense in the communications code, a separate cybercrime law allows for the charge of criminal defamation for anything published online. It is unclear whether the cybercrime law, which provides for prison sentences for online defamation, has precedence over the communications code, since all newspapers are also published online. Fines allowed for offenses under the communications code are many times higher than the average journalist’s annual salary (see also subsection on Internet Freedom).
There were several reports of government authorities using libel, slander, or defamation laws to restrict public discussion. Journalists and citizens faced police investigation and legal prosecution for defamation and infringement of public order for posting criticism of government performance and public services on social media.
In September a story emerged on social media alleging the minister of communication and culture was having an extramarital affair and her husband attempted to shoot her lover. The story was widely reported across social media and in the traditional press, but it then went almost completely silent after the minister alleged defamation. Although one tabloid continued to publish stories attacking the minister, the responsiveness of most media outlets to her claim of defamation indicated the minister’s influence over and censorship impact on most media.
National Security: Authorities cited the need to protect national security when engaging in legal actions against journalists and political opponents.
On February 9, L’Express reported that the gendarmerie summoned Vonison Andrainjato, a journalist and host of Miaramanonja on charges of defamation and spreading of false news intended to harm the public order. On February 10, the outlet reported that Andrainjato did not show up at the gendarmerie station because he did not receive a convening notice.
The gendarmerie criminal research section of Fiadanana Antananarivo summoned former mayor Guy Maxime Ralaiseheno for a hearing on February 15. Ralaiseheno was one of the regular speakers on the opposition joint radio program Miaramanonja and was charged with spreading news that harmed the public order and that may incite hatred against the government. On February 17, L’Express reported that the defendant did not show up at this hearing.
On February 16, two journalists from the audiovisual company VIVA, which is owned by the president, were summoned at the gendarmerie criminal research section of Fiadanana Antananarivo where they too were accused of spreading news harmful to public order.
There were no known updates on these cases at the end of the year.
Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Media: On August 24, UNESCO donated video conference equipment for five communication and cultural centers that the Ministry of Communication and Culture established in Antsiranana, Toamasina, Mahajanga, Toliara, and Fianarantsoa. With the goal of establishing a press room in each center, the equipment is made available to journalists working in those localities to improve their access to information, promote fair access to information for all journalists, and contribute to the improvement of their working conditions. Every center includes a conference room and an office where journalists may attend training sessions and online conferences. With the support of various donors, the Ministry of Communication and Culture organized six monthly capacity building sessions for journalists ending in August. The first cohort was composed of 40 journalists, but 90 percent of them worked for state-run media.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted peaceful assembly.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, but authorities often restricted this right. The government required all public demonstrations to have official authorization from municipalities and police prefectures, but these authorities rarely gave authorization to requests by political opposition parties. Security forces regularly impeded opposition gatherings throughout the country and used excessive force to disperse demonstrators.
During the year security forces several times used tear gas and discharged their weapons into the air to disperse demonstrations by university students, supporters of political opponents, street vendors, and other groups.
On February 20, security forces blocked access to the Analakely area of Antananarivo to prevent a political rally organized by the opposition. Persons wearing red, the color of the opposition, were stopped and questioned by security forces. The security forces arrested 11 persons during the confrontation (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).
c. Freedom of Religion
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not always respect these rights.
In-country Movement: There were numerous incidents of security forces setting up roadblocks and preventing private and public transportation to locations where the political opposition organized rallies and other events for their supporters. The government sometimes used COVID-19 pandemic related movement restrictions to justify denying opposition groups permission to assemble. In early April the government suspended internal flights and ground transportation to and from several regions identified as most affected by COVID-19 proliferation. By the beginning of June, the government relaxed these measures and allowed interregional travel.
In June the gendarmes stopped the motorcade of former president Marc Ravalomanana apparently without cause on three successive days while he was visiting public places on the outskirts of Antananarivo. Ravalomanana denounced the deliberate targeting of him and his vehicle, but the head of the gendarmerie stated the former president was not exempt from sanctions for violating traffic regulations.
Foreign Travel: The law 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, citizens may be prevented from leaving the country to work abroad at the discretion of border agents.
The government health emergency measures to prevent the proliferation of COVID-19 included travel restrictions within, to, and from the country. In April the government announced the suspension of international flights departing from Nosy Be, the only airport that remained open to tourists during COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, thus totally closing the country’s borders to air travel. In May the government announced a partial reopening of borders by allowing travel into and out of the country by diplomats, participants in international sport competitions, civil servants with official orders, and persons travelling for family emergency reasons. By the end of the year, the borders reopened for other travel purposes but with limited flight availability.
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported several hundred internally displaced persons at the beginning of the year due to cyclones, but they were able to return to their homes relatively quickly. International organizations recorded a high number of internally displaced persons fleeing drought and famine in the southern region of the country, with estimates close to 2,000 individuals as of March, although the actual number was reportedly significantly higher.
The office of the governor of the Androy region assisted in setting up a site for displaced persons in Fort Dauphin. In January the Ministry of Population provided a temporary shelter in Fianarantsoa for inhabitants from the southern region who were forced to relocate to other regions.
There was no known further assistance provided by the government and the country did not have any policy or mechanism in place to assist internally displaced persons.
The UN Population Fund assisted survivors in isolated cases of gender-based violence identified in the displacement site of Fort Dauphin.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government generally did not interfere with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations assisting the small number of refugees in the country. The government, however, did not cooperate with a UNHCR request to not refoul a Comorian person with UNHCR-granted refugee status.
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.
Refoulement: Inssa Mohamed is a Comorian national who was a businessman and opposition politician. Following his arrest and the alleged harassment of his family by authorities, Mohamed escaped from detention and fled Comoros to the country in 2019 where he sought refugee status from UNHCR. While he was in the country in April 2020, the Comorian Government charged Mohamed with conspiracy to assassinate the Comorian president. UNHCR was unable to complete an assessment of his case prior to the government returning him to Comoros in July 2020 to face incarceration and criminal charges. Mohamed was imprisoned in the Moroni central prison, from which he escaped in December 2020 and returned to Madagascar. Once back in the country, he revived his request for international protection and the UNHCR granted him refugee status. In January authorities arrested Mohamed and placed him in detention pending deportation to Comoros. UNHCR and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights requested Mohamed not be returned to Comoros; however, on January 28, authorities deported him to Comoros, where Comorian authorities imprisoned him.
Freedom of Movement: Refugees and asylum seekers reported that UNHCR-issued asylum seeker certificates were not recognized by government officials, especially security forces. Police frequently detained some asylum seekers and tore up their documents, rendering them more 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. A refugee reported that an online training platform refused to deliver a certificate after a training session he attended because it did not recognize a UNHCR certificate as a valid ID.
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 received was insufficient because they could not work and received no government support. Health care and education was generally unaffordable for refugees. Hospitals and service providers charged refugees higher rates as foreigners. Refugees and asylum seekers sometimes had trouble withdrawing funds sent from overseas because the banks refused to recognize their asylum seeker certificate as a valid form of ID.
g. Stateless Persons
The law gives 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 law grants women the right to transmit nationality to their children regardless of a woman’s marital status. The loss of citizenship for any reason mentioned in the law does not affect the spouse and the children of the deprived person.
The provisions of the previous nationality code resulted in as many as 15,000 stateless persons from the minority Muslim community, many belonging to families that had lived in the country for generations. Muslim leaders estimated the previous law 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.
Requests for nationality certificates continued. Statelessness remained a problem 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 the country’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 citizen and may request citizenship before the wedding date, but women may not confer citizenship on a stateless husband. Stateless persons continued to have difficulty accessing education, health care, employment, and buying land, and lived in fear of arrest.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and spousal rape but does not address the gender of rape survivors. Penalties upon conviction 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 violence perpetrated within the family and society, as well as violence perpetrated or tolerated by the state, including sexual harassment. Penalties range from six months to five years of imprisonment with fines.
The law prohibits domestic violence, which remained a widespread problem. Domestic violence is punishable upon conviction by two to five years in prison and substantial fines, depending on the severity of injuries and whether the survivor was pregnant. There were few shelters for battered women in the country, and many returned to the home of their parents, who often pressured survivors to return to their abusers. Various media reported a general reluctance of survivors to report domestic violence. Women filing legal actions against their husbands faced criticism from their families and communities.
Multiple sources reported a sharp increase of cases of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
To respond to those findings, in August the Ministry of Population with the support of donors launched a one-year project to raise awareness on gender-based violence and to assist gender-based violence survivors in Antananarivo, Toamasina, and Mahajanga. The program aimed to sensitize 20,000 women and girls to the threat of gender-based violence, to assist 4,000 survivors (including persons with disabilities), and to rehabilitate five advisory centers that counseled survivors on where to go for medical care, provided psychological assistance, and when appropriate helped them start legal procedures to receive alimony from their abusers. The Proximity Female Brigade within the national police conducted investigations of gender-based violence and raised public awareness of the problem.
The newspaper Les Nouvelles reported that on March 23, a man living in Antohomadinika Antananarivo beat and seriously injured his, then took her to a public hospital and disappeared. The survivor died later that day and medical staff informed her family. During the investigation members of the neighborhood testified that the man was an alcoholic and often quarreled with his wife, but nobody stepped in. Authorities took no known action in the case.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is against the law, and penalties upon conviction range from one to three years of imprisonment and include fines. The penalty increases to two to five years’ imprisonment plus larger fines if criminals forced or pressured the survivor into sexual acts or punished the survivor for refusing such advances. Authorities enforced the law, but sexual harassment was widespread.
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 survivors when they filed complaints.
NGOs engaged in the fight against gender-based violence reported that sexual harassment was prevalent in public universities. Some professors compelled their female students to have sexual relations with them by threatening not to validate their exams. Survivors were generally reluctant to report and file legal actions due to reprisals and to avoid the social stigma that would come from being involved in such an incident.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Some members of disability rights NGOs, however, reported that some families discouraged girls with disabilities from having children and may have compelled them to have a sterilization procedure to prevent them from getting pregnant.
The law allows universal access to family planning and reproductive health services and products, including for minors. The law states that every individual has the right to start a family; to determine freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children; and to have the means and access to information to exercise these rights free of discrimination or coercion. The law provides penalties related to abortion. Social and cultural barriers, resource problems, and access to youth-friendly services impeded the use of contraceptives. Obstacles included fear of side effects, lack of support from family members, and fear of family and community judgment. According to the 2018 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey carried out by the National Statistics Institute with support from UNICEF, the modern contraceptive prevalence rate among women who were married or in union was approximately 41 percent. The proportion of deliveries in health facilities was 39 percent (58 percent in urban areas and 34 percent in rural areas) and the rate of births attended by skilled personnel was 46 percent (72 percent in urban areas and 40 percent in rural areas).
A formal procedure for post-abortion care was in use at all public and private health centers covering maternal health and there was no report of denied access to such care.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services to survivors of sexual violence. Specialized centers collaborated with private pharmacies to provide free contraceptives to the sexual violence survivors they assisted.
According to data collected in 2018 and released in 2020 by the National Statistics Institute, the estimated maternal mortality rate was 408 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births (308 in urban and 425 in rural areas). The country’s adolescent fertility rate was 151 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19. Major factors that contributed to high maternal mortality included: lack of autonomy to seek care, geographical and financial barriers to access health centers, the low quality of hospital services, chronic maternal malnutrition (including anemia), lack of adequate spacing between pregnancies, and a high rate of unsafe abortions. The high adolescent pregnancy rate also contributed to elevated rates of maternal deaths.
As discussions between parents and children regarding menstruation remained taboo in many communities, a lack of knowledge prevented many girls from having adequate hygiene. The lack of appropriate hygiene facilities in schools combined with many families’ inability to afford necessary menstruation-related materials impeded the ability of many girls to attend school during their periods and negatively affected their performance.
Many public and private schools banned pregnant girls and adolescent mothers from attending school because they considered them a bad example for other students. In addition the adolescent mothers themselves were often reluctant to continue going to school during their pregnancy and after childbirth because of social stigma and due to being teased.
Discrimination: While women enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men in some areas, there were significant differences in others, and authorities did not enforce the law effectively. Women experienced discrimination in employment and inheritance. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations or tasks deemed dangerous and in industries such as construction, agriculture, and transportation. While widows with children inherit half of joint marital property, a husband’s surviving kin have priority over widows without children, leaving the widow further down in line for inheritance absent any written agreement to the contrary. 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.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The Constitution states in its foreword the necessity of living together in an environment with no discrimination, including discrimination based on ethnic origins. The Constitution prohibits the establishment of associations or political parties promoting totalitarianism or segregation based on ethnic origins.
None of the 18 tribes in the country had a membership that constituted most of the population. There were also minorities of Indian, Pakistani, Comorian, and Chinese heritage. Ethnicity, caste, and regional solidarity often were considered in hiring decisions and were 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 among citizens of highland and coastal descent, especially in politics. The government made efforts to address these problems by appointing diverse candidates from different regions as members of government and to other public institutions.
In June the president announced the adoption of the Development Plan for the Deep South, a region deeply affected by drought and the resulting famine and home to specific tribes like the Antandroy and the Antanosy. The migration of members of those groups to other regions, fleeing starvation, resulted in social tensions with inhabitants of their destination localities related to resources for survival. Such tensions sometimes resulted in ethnic hostilities. The emergence plan seeks to address problems affecting the region like food insecurity, unemployment, community resilience, infrastructure, and social well-being. By the end of the year, the government did not reveal the detailed contents of the plan and there were no known concrete steps towards its implementation apart from the president’s call for donors’ contributions.
Birth Registration: By law 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. Authorities generally adjudicated birth registration on a nondiscriminatory basis.
Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free public education for all citizen children and makes primary education until the age 16 compulsory. Despite multiple statements by officials asserting that public education is free, some public-school principals continued to require parents 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. Girls faced difficulties remaining in schools during their periods, when pregnant, and after childbirth (see the subsection Women – Reproductive Rights).
Child Abuse: Child abuse, including rape, was a problem. The press reported most child survivors of rape were younger than 12; the youngest was age three. A 2018 study on violence against children produced by the Ministry of Population in partnership with UNICEF revealed violence against children, including physical violence, sexual abuse, and rape, occurred in all environments: family, school, social circles, and workplaces. The study 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 stated they had reported cases of child abuse to police, while 19 percent had reported sexual abuse to police or gendarmerie. Survivors’ families often agreed to mediated arrangements involving financial compensation by the wrongdoers and occasionally forced marriage of the survivor with the rapist.
Media articles reported during the year a continued increase of child abuse and child rape in several regions. Most of the survivors were girls, and in most cases the offenders were male family members. In some towns and cities, particularly in Antananarivo, homeless women raised small children in dangerous conditions and environments and forced children as young as age three 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.
Media continued to report government efforts to raise public awareness of child rape and efforts to combat it led to an increase in the number of prosecutions of child rape cases.
Government efforts to combat other forms of child abuse were limited and focused primarily on child protection networks, which addressed the needs of survivors and helped raise public awareness. With the support of UNICEF, the cities of Antananarivo, Toamasina, Mahajanga, Nosy Be, Toliara, and Tolagnaro hosted one-stop survivor support centers, called Vonjy Centers, in public hospitals. These centers received child survivors of sexual abuse, including rape and sexual exploitation. In addition to medical care, these centers provided psychological support through social workers assigned by NGOs. Police from the minors and child protection brigade recorded survivors’ 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 survivors who needed placement. Some officials, however, reported survivors of child abuse were sometimes returned to the home where the abuse occurred due to a lack of other options.
Child, 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. Affected girls were as young as 12.
According to the results of the 2018 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 37 percent of women between ages 20 and 49 married before the age 18 and 13 percent before age 15. The rate for men was 12 percent. 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 married before age 15.
The Ministry of Population with the support of donors continued to implement the national strategy against child marriage that was adopted in 2018. To achieve some of its main goals, the ministry facilitated the activities of NGOs including community dialogues, dissemination of the legislation related to child marriage, and public awareness campaigns on the harmful effects of early marriage and early pregnancy in the regions of Menabe, Sofia, and Diana.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits recruitment and incitement to commercial sexual exploitation 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. There is no specific mention of the sale or offering of children for commercial sexual exploitation. The law specifies penalties for perpetrators of child pornography. Authorities rarely enforced the provisions. Traffickers continue to exploit girls as young as age 13 in child sex tourism in coastal areas.
Child sex trafficking and child sexual abuse, 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 the girls 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.
The national gendarmerie operated a morals and minors protection unit with responsibility for protecting children, including rape survivors, in rural areas not covered by the national police’s morals and minors brigade. The Ministry of Justice, collaborating with UNICEF and telecommunications companies, operated the Arozaza (protect the child) website to combat online sexual exploitation of minors and deter potential abusers. The website included a form to report child endangerment or online pornography. Since 2020 the website allowed police or other governmental entities to intervene immediately once a report was filed on the platform.
An online portal allowing individuals worldwide to anonymously and safely report images and videos of sexual abuse of Malagasy children found on the internet (launched by the Internet Watch Foundation in collaboration with the Ministry of Population and UNICEF) was operational since 2020. The reported contents were to be analyzed and removed by the Internet Watch Foundation, not precluding prosecution, because the data would be shared with authorities.
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 survivors and provide access to adequate medical and psychosocial services. The gendarmerie, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Population, and UNICEF trained local authorities 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 of the country against giving birth to twins also contributed to the problem. A provision in the law prohibits traditional practices which harm human rights including infanticide.
Displaced Children: Although child abandonment is against the law, it remained a 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 government 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 .
The Jewish community consisted of approximately 360 members; there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
Persons with Disabilities
Persons with disabilities could access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. 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 were 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.” The government did not always provide government information and communication in accessible formats.
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.
Very few schools had the skills and training to accommodate learners with disabilities, a matter that was raised in May during a workshop organized by a disability rights NGO. Parents of children with disabilities complained that the cost of attending specialized schools and centers was prohibitively high, limiting the access to education for children with disabilities. While no official statistics were available, the number of children with disabilities who participated in the official end of primary education exam (73 of 546,365 candidates nationwide) was noticeably higher that those who sat for the end of official secondary education exam (28 of 325,253 candidates nationwide).
An online local press outlet reported in a documentary that during the official exams the Ministry of Education made available special equipment to accommodate candidates with disabilities. Those measures included offering special typewriters and examination papers for blind candidates, assigning sign language translators for the deaf candidates, dedicating separate rooms as needed, allocating additional time to complete the exams, and specific instructions to the graders. Persons with disabilities encountered discrimination in employment. They were also more likely to become survivors of various types of abuse, sometimes perpetrated by their own relatives.
Members of disability organizations reported that families compelled some of them to undergo sterilization procedures to prevent them from getting pregnant.
In February the newspaper Les Nouvelles reported that a traditional healer sexually abused a girl age 17 with a mental disability in Sambava. Seeking to heal her daughter, the mother contacted a local healer who proposed taking the girl for a bath in a sacred lake. He reportedly then took her there and raped her. There was no known legal action taken against the offender.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and defines persons with disabilities as those presenting a congenital or acquired deficiency in their physical, mental, or sensory capacities. The law also provides for a national commission and regional subcommissions to promote their rights, but none had been set up.
During the year disability rights activists continued to comment that government measures adopted to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis did not consider the diversity and vulnerability of the population, thus depriving persons with disabilities of many of their fundamental rights.
The law provides that individuals with disabilities should be assisted in casting their ballots, but it contains no other provisions to accommodate such voters. In 2019 the head of a disability rights federation told media that persons with disabilities believed they were excluded from the electoral process since many of the voting materials were not customized for them.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Healthcare providers subjected persons with HIV and AIDS to stigma and discrimination. HIV and AIDS patients have the right to free health care, and the law specifies sanctions against persons who discriminate against or marginalize persons with HIV and 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.
In 2020 the newspaper Les Nouvelles reported that HIV-positive persons continued to be stigmatized.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
A known transgender person published on her Facebook page a video message reporting that on the night of August 4, she was victim of a robbery as she left a drugstore in Analakely, Antananarivo. When she went to the nearest police station to report the crime, the police officers on duty refused to assist her and mocked her. Authorities took no known actions against the officers.
The law provides for a prison sentence of two to five years and fines upon conviction of committing “indecent or against nature with an individual of the same sex younger than 21” acts, which are understood to include sexual relations. Authorities enforced this law. No law prohibits same-sex sexual conduct for those older than 21. Members of the LGBTQI+ 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.
No specific antidiscrimination provisions apply to LGBTQI+ persons. There were no reports of discrimination in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services. No laws prevent transgender persons from identifying as their chosen gender.
As evidenced by comments in occasional news items involving well known LGBTQI+ personalities, members of the community often continued to face considerable social stigma and discrimination within their own families, particularly in rural areas.
The Ministry of Interior ordered the cancellation of an evening event that members of the LGBTQI+ community organized in an Antananarivo bar for July 3 to celebrate Pride Month. The event had taken place in the same location during previous years. Authorities cancelled the event because they claimed it was an incitement to debauchery and offense to morals. The owner of the pub where the event was to be held stated that authorities threatened to close the establishment if the event was held. A group of civil society organizations and LGBTQI+ organizations issued a communique denouncing the persistent stigma affecting the LGBTQI+ community. It denounced what it called uneven enforcement of relevant laws which it claimed failed to crack down on hate speech targeting the LGBTQI+ persons on the social media. In a televised interview, the director of culture at the Ministry of Communication defended the government’s position on cancellation of the event, stating that the law does not recognize LGBTQI+ rights.
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 if security forces did not arrive in time to halt the violence. Authorities sometimes arrested the perpetrators, but fear of creating renewed anger hindered prosecution. Some media and other observers believed the law was more likely to be enforced against perpetrators when it was in the interests of authorities or security forces. Groups of villagers in several localities assaulted police or gendarmerie stations.
Early on September 17 in Befotaka, in the southeast region, 41 presumed bandits and four villagers died during an armed confrontation between villagers and a group of approximately 120 armed bandits who attacked two villages in the area. After the attacks the villagers pursued the perpetrators, leading to a lengthy armed confrontation that ended only after the arrival of four gendarmes. The minister of defense denounced the confrontation and condemned the intervention of vigilantes in affairs that the minister claimed should be handled by authorities. The CNIDH announced it had launched an independent investigation to establish the facts and issue recommendations to ensure human rights were better protected in such incidents.
Persons with albinism in the southern region of the country were increasingly the object of killings and kidnappings. Media reported several cases of abduction of children with albinism during the year and in December the beheading of an age 72 man with albinism in Ambohimahasoa. In October the Court of Toliara placed in pretrial detention six suspects including the mayor of Bezaha for the kidnapping and attempted trafficking of a 12-year-old child with albinism they attempted to sell for 500 million ariary ($131,000).