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 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
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.
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.
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).