Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents, although children born to a citizen mother and a foreign father must declare their desire for citizenship by age 18. The country had no uniformly enforced birth registration system, and unregistered children historically were not eligible to attend school or obtain health-care services. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) worked with the government to provide birth certificates for newborn children and children who did not receive a certificate at birth. According to a 2010 UNICEF study, 80 percent of children under age five had their births registered. The Ministries of Interior, Health, and Justice worked with UNICEF to reduce the number of unregistered children in targeted regions.
Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free public education for all citizen children and makes primary education until age 16 compulsory. Nevertheless, parents were increasingly required to pay various registration and other fees to subsidize teacher salaries and to cover the cost of basic supplies and furnishings. As a result education was inaccessible for many children. According to UNICEF boys and girls generally had equal access to education, although girls were more likely to drop out during adolescence. In September the World Food Program--in collaboration with the government--launched School Canteens in Urban Areas to establish food canteens in all public primary schools in Antananarivo.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was a problem, including the rape of babies and toddlers. The press reported more than 20 cases of child rape, with most victims under age 14; the youngest was five months old. During 2014 the Union of Social Workers reported 425 cases of sexual abuse (most involving children) and 398 other cases of child abuse in Antananarivo alone. The victims were between three months and 18 years of age. Government efforts to combat child rape were limited, focusing primarily on child protection networks, which addressed the needs of victims and helped raise public awareness.
In March authorities inaugurated the Vonjy Center in the maternity wing of Befelatanana Public Hospital. Funded by UNICEF the center receives and treats minor victims of rape. The center also offered medical consultation, coverage for medical expenses and delivery in case of pregnancy, and treatment for psychological problems incurred by the rape. The center encouraged victims to persuade their parents to file charges against perpetrators.
On March 13, during the celebration of Women’s Day, the Ministry of Public Health announced that 83 doctors had received specialized training to assist rape victims by providing primary care and collecting samples and tests for use as evidence in legal proceedings.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage without parental consent is 18 years for both boys and girls. Nevertheless, according to the UN Population Fund, child marriage remained very common, particularly in rural areas and in the south. An estimated 48 percent of women between ages 20 and 24 were married before 18, and 14 percent were married before 15, according to 2000-09 UNICEF data. As confirmed by the UN special rapporteur on modern forms of slavery during her mission to the country in 2012, early forced marriage remained a concern in many communities, where parents forced girls as young as age 10 to marry. She noted, “Victims of such arrangements are also likely to be victims of domestic servitude and sexual slavery.”
In collaboration with UNICEF and UNFPA, the government launched a national campaign in June to raise awareness about the dangers of early marriage.
In December 2014 the government passed updated antitrafficking legislation that broadens the scope of the previous legislation to cover sexual exploitation, labor trafficking, forced labor, forced begging, and debt bondage. Penalties for trafficking offenses range from two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of one to 10 million ariary ($304 to $ 3,040). Trafficking crimes against children are punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of two million to 10 million ariary ($608 to $3,040).
According to a 2013 report by the UN special rapporteur, the practice of “moletry,” in which girls are married off at a younger age in exchange for oxen received as a dowry, continued. The parents of a boy (usually around age 15) look for a spouse for their son (girls may be as young as age 12), after which the parents of both children organize the wedding. The parents hold a written agreement for one year that they may prolong. If a child is born after the first year and the marriage contract has expired, the girl--or, if she is very young, her mother--will be responsible for raising the child. If the girl has been unfaithful or the marriage does not last the full year, parents return the dowry, without any stigma for either side. The wife must stay the contracted year, even in the case of domestic violence, in which case the girl’s parents receive more money or jewels.
The UN special rapporteur also criticized the practice of “valifofo,” or arranged marriage. She noted in places like Ihorombe, in the Bara community, when a girl reaches age 10, she is separated from other family members and may receive male visitors without obtaining approval from her male relatives. In the Bara community, the parents betroth a girl at birth, and the parents receive 10 oxen. The man may take the girl at age seven or ask her parents to raise her until she is age 12, at which time parents take her to the husband’s home.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Several cultural and traditional practices resulted in the sexual exploitation of young women and girls. For example, in some remote areas, the traditional practice of “Tsenan’ampela” (girl markets) continued. Starting at age 13, girls go to cattle markets, where they try to attract cattle owners and negotiate a price for a “marriage,” which can last for a night or the duration of the market (from Friday to Monday), according to the UN special rapporteur’s 2013 report. Such girls generally were paid up to 10,000 ariary ($3) a night and returned home after the market.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: In general recruitment and incitement to prostitution carry a penalty of two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 10 million ariary ($3,040). Antitrafficking legislation passed in December 2014, however, provides a penalty of forced labor for the recruitment and incitement to prostitution involving a child under age 18, the sexual exploitation of a child under 15, and the commercial exploitation of a child under 18. Both the penal code and antitrafficking laws address pornography, specifying penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment and fines up to 10 million ariary ($3,040). Authorities rarely enforced the provisions. There is no minimum legal age for consensual sex.
The sexual exploitation of children, sometimes with the involvement of parents, remained a significant problem. The problem was particularly acute in Antananarivo and coastal cities, including Toamasina, Nosy Be, Diego Suarez, and Mahajunga. During her 2013 mission, the UN special rapporteur called the “exponential growth” of child prostitution and sex tourism in the country “alarming.”
In 2013 the NGO Ending Child Prostitution and Trafficking in Madagascar documented 1,132 children in prostitution in Antananarivo; more than one third claimed to have been initiated into prostitution during the previous year. The NGO also reported criminals initiated most children in prostitution in the coastal cities of Mahajanga and Nosy Be into sexual activity between ages 13 and 15. In 40 percent of the cases, the children had their first sexual encounter as sex workers, and their parents often were aware of their activities.
Employers often abused and raped young rural girls working as housekeepers in the capital. If they left their work, employers typically did not pay them, so many remained rather than return empty-handed to their families and villages.
The Ministry of Population and Social Affairs operated approximately 450 multisector networks covering 22 regions throughout the country to protect children from abuse and exploitation. The ministry collaborated with UNICEF to identify child victims and provide for their access to adequate medical and psychosocial services. In collaboration with the gendarmerie, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Population and Social Affairs, UNICEF trained local law enforcement officials and other stakeholders in targeted regions on the rights of children.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Media reports documented several deaths of newborns abandoned in gutters and dumpsters. A traditional taboo in the southeast against giving birth to twins also contributed to the problem.
In February the gendarmerie of Ambohimanga, Antananarivo, summoned approximately 140 young women for investigation and examination by a midwife after authorities discovered the body of a newborn baby. A 16-year-old girl confessed, saying she had to get rid of the baby after her boyfriend abandoned her.
Displaced Children: Although child abandonment is against the law, it remained a significant problem. There were few safe shelters for street children, and governmental agencies generally tried first to place abandoned children with parents or other relatives. Authorities placed many children in private and church-affiliated orphanages outside the regulated system.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For information see the Department of State’s report on compliance at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/english/legal/compliance.html.