Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and spousal rape, but does not address the gender of rape victims. 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. In January the government adopted a law against gender-based violence. The new legislation covers violence perpetrated within the family and society and violence perpetrated or tolerated by the state, including sexual harassment. Penalties range from six months’ to five years’ imprisonment with fines.
The law prohibits domestic violence, which remained a widespread problem. Domestic violence is punishable by two to five years in prison and substantial fines, 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 reported a general reluctance of victims to report domestic violence. Women filing legal actions against their husbands faced criticism from their families and communities.
Government efforts to confront gender-based violence included a Ministry of Population survey on the impact of COVID-19 on such violence. The majority of respondents reported psychological and physical violence, and that fathers and husbands were the offenders. A minority of respondents reported cases of rape, violent behavior within families, and sexual aggression. Most respondents mentioned fear and cultural pressure to remain silent and tolerate violence as reasons not to report incidents.
Multiple sources reported a sharp increase of cases of domestic violence during the COVID-19 crisis. On June 4, the director general of the National Police reported that cases of domestic violence significantly increased since the beginning of the lockdown period in March. On June 10, media reported that a gender-based violence hotline had five times more cases than before the COVID-19 crisis.
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 UN Population Fund. These centers 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.
Starting in January the government set up a mechanism to streamline the prosecution of gender-based violence. In addition the government broadcasted a weekly program on public and private television channels to raise public awareness of this violence and describe the services available to support victims. The government provided special training for judges to implement the mechanism.
On January 24, a group of men, including three gendarmes, either participated in or condoned the rape of a girl age 12 in Milenake. The morals and minor police began an investigation; results were not available at year’s end.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is against the law, and penalties range from one to three years’ imprisonment and include fines. The penalty increases to two to five years’ imprisonment plus larger fines 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.
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.
The Ministry of Population COVID-19 survey in August reported that 35 percent of women receiving assistance were victims of sexual harassment by humanitarian officials distributing the aide.
Reproductive Rights: 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 refers to the penal code for penalties related to abortion. Public health centers provided free contraceptives, family-planning services, and reproductive health counselling to adults. The Ministry of Youth managed “youth corners” where young people could receive free reproductive health counseling and services. In addition, faith-based organizations, NGO clinics, and other private-sector organizations provided such services. Social and cultural barriers, resource problems, and access to 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 surveys 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 childbirths attended by skilled personnel was 46 percent (72 percent in urban areas and 40 percent in rural areas).
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 geographical barriers and the high cost of 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.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
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.
Birth Registration: Under the 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 of 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. Some inhabitants of areas heavily affected by COVID-19 reported that schools denied admission of their children.
Child Abuse: Child abuse including rape was a problem. The press reported most child victims 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. 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 police, while 19 percent had reported sexual abuse to 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.
The government increased efforts to combat child rape. Following the promulgation of the gender-based violence law in January, the Ministry of Justice announced strengthened measures against child rape offenders. The ministry raised public awareness of the duty to report child rape and discouraged persons from using informal arrangements between victims’ families and offenders to resolve child rape cases. In November media reported these efforts 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 victims and helped raise public awareness. With the support of UNICEF, the cities of Antananarivo, Toamasina, Mahajanga, Nosy Be, Toliara, and Tolagnaro 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. 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 victims’ 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, however, reported victims of child abuse were sometimes returned to the home where the abuse occurred due to a lack of other options.
In September the Court of Fenerive Est reported an increase in child rape since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. In most cases the offenders were persons close to the victims. Incidents of gang rape and the number of minor offenders also increased. The court organized workshops in the four districts covered by the jurisdiction to raise public awareness of the problem.
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 may be as young as 12.
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. 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. There were no reports of government efforts to prevent child marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law 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. There is no specific mention of the sale or offering of children for prostitution. The law specifies penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment and fines for perpetrators of child pornography. Authorities rarely enforced the provisions. There is no minimum legal age for consensual sex. The country was a destination for child sex tourism.
Commercial sexual exploitation of children 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 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, operated a website called Arozaza (protect the child) to combat online sexual exploitation of minors and deter potential abusers. The website included a form to report child endangerment or online pornography. On July 1, media reported improvements to the website allowing police or other governmental entities to intervene immediately once a report was filed on the platform.
On August 13, in collaboration with the Ministry of Population and UNICEF, Internet Watch Foundation launched an online portal allowing individuals worldwide to anonymously and safely report images and videos of sexual abuse of Malagasy children found on the internet. The reported contents would be analyzed and removed by the Internet Watch Foundation, not precluding prosecution, as 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 victims 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 January gender-based violence 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.
Institutionalized Children: On August 13, the Court of Fianarantsoa placed a man in pretrial detention for sexual abuse and rape of four minor girls in an orphanage where he was working. As of September the trial had not taken place.
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.
The Jewish community consisted of approximately 360 members; there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with Disabilities
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. 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.”
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.
Persons with disabilities encountered discrimination in employment. They were also more likely to become victims of various types of abuse, sometimes perpetrated by their own relatives.
In June the Antananarivo municipality collaborated with a women’s federation to support women with disabilities, allotting 80 sewing-factory positions to women with disabilities and providing free stalls in municipal market places for them to sell their products without paying taxes.
In September the head of a disability rights group stated the government’s strategy to address the COVID-19 emergency was not inclusive. While persons with disabilities were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, they did not receive appropriate consideration. Many persons with disabilities were “at will” workers or were working in the informal sector, upon whom the pandemic restrictions had a strong impact. During the COVID-19 census to extend government support to the most vulnerable persons, the surveyors did not consider disability as a factor of vulnerability.
In October the head of a platform for persons with disabilities stated that the lack of accessibility for persons with disabilities was a persistent problem. Humanity and Inclusion, a local NGO that assisted the government in addressing accessibility problems, reported public infrastructure did not provide adequate accessibility for persons with disabilities.
The electoral code provides that individuals with disabilities should be assisted in casting their ballots, but it contains no other provisions to accommodate such voters. In May 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.
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
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. The government made efforts to address these problems by appointing diverse candidates from different regions as members of government and to other public institutions.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law provides for a prison sentence of two to five years and fines for acts that are “indecent or against nature with an individual of the same sex younger than 21,” which is understood to include sexual relations. Authorities enforced this law. No law prohibits same-sex sexual conduct for those older than 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 for such acts, although there were no official statistics.
No specific antidiscrimination provisions apply to LGBTI persons. There were no reports of discrimination in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services. No laws prevent transgender persons from identifying with their chosen gender.
As evidenced by comments in occasional news items involving well known LGBTI personalities, members of the LGBTI community often continued to face considerable social stigma and discrimination within their own families, particularly in rural areas.
On March 10, the Court of Antananarivo committed a member of the LGBTI community, age 33, to pretrial detention. The mother of her age 19 girlfriend sued her for corruption of a minor. The Court granted the defendant a temporary release in early April after the intervention of organizations and activists.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Health-care providers subjected persons with HIV or 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 or 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 August the newspaper Les Nouvelles reported that persons infected by HIV continued to be stigmatized.
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 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.
Children with albinism in the south of the country were increasingly the object of kidnapping. Media reported five cases of albino child abduction between January and September.
In May inhabitants of areas with COVID-19 cases reported being subject to discrimination and stigma. A woman working as a housekeeper in Antananarivo said her employer dismissed her because of her residing in an area with a high infection rate. In Toamasina inhabitants of infected areas, especially employees of a company considered a COVID-19 hotbed, were victims of stigmatization, even if most of them had not been at their workplace for several weeks. Some tenants reported being harassed by their landlords to leave their apartments and had difficulty finding new homes. Authorities made little effort to respond to these incidents.
On June 18, a group of villagers in Safotaka beat to death a man who had allegedly killed another man. The families of both men signed an agreement not to bring the case to court. The three gendarmes assigned to investigate the incident were accused of attempting to extort $1,000 from one victim’s family.