Committee on the Rights of the Child considers report of Madagascar

20 January 2012

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has considered the combined third and fourth periodic report of Madagascar on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Rakotomaharo Rajemison, Permanent Representative of Madagascar to the United Nations Office at Geneva, reading out the statement of the Minister of Justice who could not attend, said Madagascar had been shaken by two political crises in 2002 and in 2009 but remained committed to the promotion and protection of children’s rights. The Convention had superiority over domestic law. The Government intended to implement the two Optional Protocols of the Convention, both of which Madagascar had ratified. The new Law on the Rights and Protection of Children was based on the Convention; trafficking of persons and sex tourism had become criminal offences, the minimum age of marriage had been raised to 18 and substantial progress had been made in reducing infant and child mortality rates and malaria infections. However key challenges for the Government remained, including reduction of neo-natal mortality, prevention of trafficking of persons, education provisions for rural children, justice for minors and prevention of child marriages.

Hadeel Al-Asmar, the Committee Expert acting as Rapporteur for the report of Madagascar, said the Committee was highly conscious of the current and unfolding political challenges in Madagascar. The condition of the Malagasy population, already a cause for much concern prior to 2009, had clearly deteriorated over the last two years, and families had been affected by an increase in poverty rates. The State apparatus had completely collapsed, and there were major challenges to ensure respect for the rule of law, to combat high level corruption within the judiciary and to counter the dramatic reduction in education and health sector budgets and the increase in cases of sexual violence, illegal labour and other forms of exploitation of children.

Bernard Gastaud, the Committee Expert acting as Co-Rapporteur for the report of Madagascar, said that Madagascar had a high proportion of children, which made it extremely important not only to implement the Convention there, but to assess its implementation. It was good that the fight against child labour had been stepped up, although so far it had barely dented the situation. Measures had been taken to tackle impunity but perpetrators of crimes against children were still barely punished.

Experts also asked questions about child labour, teenage pregnancy and forced underage marriage, and sexual exploitation of girls including forced prostitution. Juvenile justice, illegal adoptions, exploitation of Madagascar’s natural resources by foreign firms, freedom of information and racial discrimination were also among the topics raised.

In concluding remarks, Ms. Al-Asmar said the Government was working under difficult circumstances, but they were doing very well raising awareness, holding workshops and targeting different people working with and for children. Well-structured plans built on solid information with a good budget were needed, covered by strong legislation.

Mr. Gastaud said that remaining issues of concern were the political and financial crisis, the predominance of violence against children, forced marriages for girls, forced labour, lack of care, environmental issues, discrimination and corruption.
Mr. Rajemison said he hoped his delegation’s answers had shown the desire of the Government to promote and protect human rights in Madagascar. There had been progress, but the Government knew a great deal was yet to be done, transparently, and in partnership with the United Nations and international partners.
The delegation of Madagascar included representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Population and Social Affairs, the Interministerial Committee for the Drafting of Reports on Human Rights and of the Permanent Mission of Madagascar to the United Nations Office at Geneva. The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Madagascar towards the end of its session which will conclude on 3 February.
The next meeting of the Committee will take place at 10 a.m. on Monday, 23 January when the Committee will examine the combined third and fourth periodic report of Togo (CRC/C/TGO/3-4).
Report of Madagascar

The combined third and fourth periodic report of Madagascar can be read via the following link: (CRC/C/MDG/3-4).

Presentation of the Report

RAKOTOMAHARO RAJEMISON, Permanent Representative of Madagascar to the United Nations Office at Geneva, relayed to the Committee the apologies of the Minister of Justice, who had been due to lead the delegation but had been prevented from attending by obligations in Madagascar. Mr. Rajemison read the Minister’s speech on her behalf. Madagascar had been shaken by two political crises, in 2002 and in 2009, but the appointment of a consensus Prime Minister and a new parliament, and planned democratic and transparent elections, meant that Madagascar was on the road to peace. Madagascar was committed to the promotion and protection of children’s rights, and ensured that the Convention was superior to domestic law and could be convoked in courts. Violations of child rights could be brought before a court and also non-judicial structures such as the National Human Rights Council and over 700 community bodies. The Government intended to implement the Optional Protocols of the Convention, both of which Madagascar had ratified.

On the road to the eradication of discrimination and violations against children, domestic laws had been reformed, while the new Law on the Rights and Protection of Children was based on the structure of the Convention. Trafficking of persons became a criminal offence in a 2008 law which also criminalised sex tourism; both for perpetrators and any person who did not report known instances of sexual tourism or trafficking. The minimum age of marriage had been increased from 14 and 17 years for girls and boys respectively to 18 years for both sexes. Substantial progress had been made in reducing infant and child mortality rates; in fact the rate of mortality in under five year olds had reduced by half, while the rate of malaria infections for the same group had also significantly fallen. In partnership with the International Labour Organization a National Plan of Action to prevent child labour had removed over 20,000 child workers and reintegrated them into the education system, literacy programmes or vocational training.

Given the large area and population of Madagascar (currently 20 million, compared to 15 million in 2001), the Government faced immense challenges. Key problems were the reduction of neo-natal mortality, prevention of trafficking, education provisions for rural children, justice for minors and prevention of child marriages. Madagascar’s limited financial means meant that, despite good intentions, there were not enough resources to help children with disabilities go to school. However, access to juvenile justice was a key area where progress had been made, and a new Office for Juvenile Judicial Assistance would be opened in 2012. Madagascar thanked its many non-governmental organizations and United Nations agency partners for their invaluable assistance in every area of reform, and requested that their support continue in the future.

Questions from the Experts

HADEEL AL-ASMAR, Committee Member acting as Rapporteur for the report of Madagascar, said the Committee was highly conscious of the current and unfolding political challenges in Madagascar, which was currently led by a transitional government, and the negative impact that that instability had on the implementation of relevant programmes and policies for children. The condition of the Malagasy population, already a cause for much concern before 2009, had clearly deteriorated over the last two years, and families had been affected by an increase in poverty rates from 68.7 to 76.5 per cent, especially among the rural population. Moreover, the State apparatus had completely collapsed, with major challenges being the lack of commitment to ensure good governance and respect for the rule of law; the high level corruption within the judiciary and administrative systems; the lack of an independent monitoring system in institutions; a profound lack of coordination for policies, laws and programmes targeting children; and the dramatic reduction in education and health sector budgets.

Ms. Asmar said that cases of sexual violence, illegal labour and other forms of exploitation of children had increased, but there was no accountability for perpetrators or rehabilitation and compensation for child victims. She asked the delegation for information on budget cuts in the health and education sectors, about the use of corporal punishment in homes and alternative care institutions as a ‘behavioural tool’, and what was being done to help de-institutionalized children.

BERNARD GASTAUD, Committee Member acting as Co-Rapporteur for the report of Madagascar, said that Madagascar had a high proportion of children, which made it extremely important not only to implement the Convention there, but to assess its implementation. It was good that the fight against child labour had been stepped up, although so far it had barely dented the situation. Measures had been taken to tackle impunity but perpetrators of crimes against children were still barely punished. The rights to life, education and health were key challenges, and there was insufficient data available. A significant gap existed between rural and urban populations in the standard and cost of living and their access to health care and education.

Mr. Gastaud said that there appeared to be no dissemination of the Convention at all, so children were victims twice over. They were simply unaware of their rights. The Convention was entirely unknown to teachers, magistrates and judges. There were no training programmes, awareness-raising posters and leaflets, or media campaigns. Was there any updated information on children and their needs? Regarding young people’s participation in public life, were the youth councils still operational in the one region they existed, and had they been rolled out to schools and communities across the country?

A Committee Expert said that acts of racial violence had been committed against Indian and Pakistani communities, and against the descendents of slaves. This was exacerbated because there was no definition of racism in national legislation. She also said that the age of marriage had been raised to 18 for girls and boys, but courts could authorize marriage for children under 18 years with the specific consent of the child. What was the minimum age at which the courts could not authorize marriage? Children who had been born on ‘a highly negative day’ or were twins were discriminated against. The Government attempted to tackle that discrimination, particularly with dialogue with local and traditional leaders, but could they do more?

An Expert pointed out that when Madagascar ratified the United Nations human rights treaties they did so without reservations, but now they had entered a reservation to the section on the right to education in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. That certainly affected the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Madagascar. Did the State party intend to lift that reservation?

Only children born to Malagasy fathers could become Madagascar nationals. If a child was born to a Malagasy mother they had to wait until they were 18 and then go through a laborious citizenship process to become nationals of Madagascar. Many sources had brought the Committee’s attention to this issue, which led to children being stateless and being denied their rights. The nationality of a child was the foundation of their rights.

An Expert noted the State party’s efforts to increase birth registration; today a national average of 20 per cent of children were not registered. However in some rural areas such as the far north, only 60 per cent of infants were registered at birth. What was being done to accelerate the registration of children and remove geographical disparities?

There was no reference to freedom of religion in the State Party report. There were reported incidents of parents refusing medical treatment for their children on the grounds of religious objection, that some schools favoured children of one religion over another, that children were not free to wear religious clothing, and also that the teaching of religion in schools was not free and equal.

It was public knowledge that the 2009 political crisis, and related governance and economic difficulties, gave rise to another crisis, of the freedom of the press. The Committee had received several reports of persecution of journalists, the closing of radio stations, and in general the space to express views – for professionals, the public, and in particular children – had been closed. What was being done to restore freedom of expression and access to appropriate and free information for children and adolescents?

It was an internationally well-known fact that the environment and resources of Madagascar were considered to be a human good, an Expert said. Naturalists, environmentalists and scientists had long valued Madagascar. Sadly exploitation of Madagascar’s natural resources had increased, particularly through mining, deforestation and timber exports. The exploitation had an indirect impact on the people of Madagascar in areas of health, housing, access to drinking water and others. Furthermore there were allegations of foreign firms using child labour and sexually exploiting and abusing minors.

The Expert referred to an Australian investment in mining in Madagascar, the Toliara Sands Project, which was a subsidiary of Australian company, World Titanium Resources. Did the Government regulate the private and public sectors, and foreign firms (including World Titanium, Rio Tinto and Shell; their investment was valued at $ 6 billion in exploitation of forests?

Response from the Delegation

Regarding the specific allegations of sexual exploitation against the CEO of a foreign company, the delegation said the case was in the initial stages of investigation and it was not possible to give any further information. The law applied to all under the principle of the territorial nature of the law and it was certainly applicable to international companies operating on the territory of Madagascar.

Concerning a question on persisting discrimination against descendents of slaves, the delegation said Madagascar was a country of destination for slaves from other regions, and there were descendents. At that time large-scale agriculture had used slaves, but there were no specific problems of discrimination today towards descendents of slaves. There were, however, problems of widespread poverty which affected all ethnic groups, and made it very difficult for the Convention to be fully realised. It had been alleged that members of the Indian community were victims of attacks and discrimination, but that had ceased following a Government-led operation. There was a law that prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities.

Discrimination against twins comes from traditional leaders who did not extend their blessing to twins and their families, and took newborn twins away from their parents. For parents who decided to keep their twins, if anything bad happened to them, then the traditional leaders would not help them and believed that the family had had their just punishment. In some ethnic communities the word ‘twins’ was not even allowed to be used. Recently the Government, with help from the United Nations Children’s Fund, had managed to open discussions about twins, which would have been impossible just a few years ago.

There was not much case law on the implementation of the Convention yet, but training had been provided on the domestic application of international instruments that covered the Convention. Magistrates and judges may be informed about the legislation but the people in general did not know about their legislative rights. All stakeholders who worked with children, including grassroots workers, were being trained on the Convention. The Convention had now been officially translated into the national languages of Madagascar and been disseminated to all authorities. ‘Open door’ sessions holding dialogues about the Convention and its application had been held.

There were two forms of marriage: regular and customary. For regular marriage, the minimum age had been raised to 18, although in special circumstances (for instance the girl being pregnant) a couple over the age of 15 could receive a court’s permission to marry. Customary or traditional marriage could now be legalised, but traditional leaders were supposed to respect the minimum marriageable age. Sexual activity under the age of 15 was a crime, and the law did not provide for a specific age of consent for children. That age was decided upon under aggravating circumstances.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert said that illegal adoption rates were increasing rapidly, given the low levels of birth registration and poverty. Did the Government intend to ratify international agreements on adoption, such as the Hague 1993 Convention? What was the status of Madagascar’s implementation of the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography?

Although the Government had an inclusive educational approach to integrate children with disabilities in schools, the fact was that only four per cent actually went to school and the other 96 per cent were isolated in their homes. Did the Government know why that was the case? What was being done to decrease the high drop-out rate from schools?

An Expert asked for concrete information on forced marriage and in particular the tradition that was known as Jiromena that involved children taking part in night-time festivities, then being raped at the end of the night. High numbers of children, aged between 12 and 18 years, had been reported as being child prostitutes. There were allegations of girls being sold and forced into marriage at cattle markets to help families survive. That was connected to rising food prices: if a family could not feed itself it would turn to other incomes, and girls were paying the price. Were the local authorities financed well enough to address the issue of child sexual exploitation?

Teenage pregnancy rates were high, and many young girls had sexual relations. The latest official figures showed the number of underage, married girls was increasing, despite the law dictating that the legal marriageable age was 18. Less than eight per cent of sexually active adolescents used any form of contraception. If they were going to give birth to babies in situations of poverty, with huge problems of malnutrition, what was being done to ensure those teenagers, and any children that they may give birth to, were protected? Was the Government’s sexual education programme adequate and effective? Were confidential services available to adolescents, without them being accompanied by their parents, and did the Government have a comprehensive adolescent health policy?

An Expert asked for clarification on the criminal age of responsibility, and the fact that magistrates who heard cases involving adults also dealt with child cases. In the introductory statement the delegation mentioned a youth court – could they provide more information on that? There had been well-known cases of children who had been exploited or sexually abused by foreign firms: what steps were being taken to prosecute perpetrators and support child victims?

What action had been taken to prevent drug use by children, and what liabilities did parents carry in that regard? Were any counselling services available to children in need, and how could children access those services?

Response from the Delegation

A member of the delegation spoke about special judicial provisions for children in Madagascar. In both pre-trial detention and detention, boys were separated from adults, but unfortunately girls were not currently separated from adults. Efforts would be made to separate girls from adults in both pre-trial detention and detention. Children in custody did regularly receive visits from their families, regardless of the difficulties and distances involved.

Improvements in health provisions had led to a decrease in the deaths of children, but neo-natal mortality still caused 50 per cent of child mortalities. Since 2011, the reduction of the neo-natal mortality rate had been a focus but Madagascar needed greater finance resources to fulfil its commitments. The health budget had been reduced because of the financial crisis, but programmes and activities continued, especially in partnership with the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund. Although national goals in vaccination coverage had not been met, the targets were not far off. The Government recently committed to passing a law on vaccinations.

There were sexual and reproductive health programmes to combat early pregnancy, although they did not yet cover the entire country. There were plans to open health centres for young people specialising in teenage pregnancy. A person could go to any health centre in Madagascar to receive free family planning, including contraceptives. Cultural practices tended to favour early pregnancy making prevention a difficult task, but efforts were underway to assist those young mothers and raise awareness of the benefits of family planning.

Breastfeeding was promoted by community health workers, and the Government encouraged all mothers to breastfeed their children during the first two years of life. Unfortunately not all mothers exclusively breastfed their children for the first six months of their life because they had to go to work, but the Government urged employers to make provisions for mothers to breastfeed in the workplace. In December 2011 a new law was passed limiting the marketing of breast milk substitutes.

Follow-Up Question from Expert

An Expert told the delegation he had information that the manufacturer of breast milk substitutes Nestlé had funded meetings of the Paediatric Association in Madagascar. That should be illegal, as it was an indirect way of marketing infant formula or breast milk substitutes to mothers.

Response from the Delegation

A delegate confirmed that Nestlé and other companies producing breast milk substitutes had sponsored Paediatric Association meetings, but that would now be illegal under the new law. Training and capacity building had been given for all involved in family health in order to ensure all children could be breastfed for the first two years of their life.

On international adoptions, in 2004 Madagascar ratified the Hague Convention and it passed a domestic law regulating adoption in 2005. It was true that illegal adoptions had been related to lack of birth registration. There was no longer any trafficking of persons, thanks to the new law.

In 2007 a study into child labour was conducted which showed that children under the age of 15 were found to be working. A three phase National Plan of Action to Combat Child Labour was in place, and featured a programme developed between the International Labour Organization and the Ministry of Education.

Before the 2009 crisis Madagascar had almost achieved the Millennium Development Goal on primary education, almost reaching 90 per cent coverage. The Government began a ‘school kit’ scheme where free uniforms and items needed for school were distributed to families in order to motivate parents to send their children to school. Unfortunately funding for that project was withdrawn due to the political crisis. Teachers were paid as civil servants, however, in rural areas, parents had taken responsibility for part of teachers’ salaries, and sometimes paid them in kind, for example with agricultural produce. That strategy was accepted as it made it possible for children to go to school, as implementing the programme of free primary education was not easy.

The Government’s policy for educating children with disabilities was inclusive education. Specialised centres and training for teachers had been set up, but considerable financial and human resources were needed. Madagascar currently had 11 special needs centres for persons with disabilities: ten private and one public.

To stop child abuse the Government needed the public to inform authorities about abuse. Child victims of abuse needed specialised care and rehabilitation while parents needed social care. In 2011 a National Committee for Coordination on Child Protection was set up, which coordinated specialists from ministries and civil society to coordinate some 700 child protection networks across the country. A free telephone line, number 147, had been established through which people could report cases of child abuse. That line was staffed by three trained operators, and received around 5,000 calls every year.

With regard to reported impunity for offenders carrying out sexual violations against children, the delegation said that in order to be able to implement the Convention, one needed to stress the dissemination of knowledge so offenders could know what punishments their actions would receive. The Committee should note that child abuse cases often received a lot of press coverage. The accused may be tried by the media. A delegate noted that there were no obstacles to prosecuting offenders, even without a complaint from the child victim or his or her family.

Sexual tourism was criminalised under a law which also covered trafficking, sale of children and use of children in pornographic films. That sex tourism existed in Madagascar could not be denied, and it was even more developed in the north and the south. There had been five cases of prosecutions against foreigners for the crime of sexual tourism, specifically paying a child for sexual intercourse. The police and other authorities had joined forces for an intensive campaign to stop sexual tourism; it was hoped that would encourage people to file complaints. Currently, victims and their families refused to file claims. They preferred to keep silent because they feared being targeted. Madagascar was a society that did not easily air its grievances in public, but the campaign aimed to persuade victims’ families to break their silence.

Concluding Remarks

HADEEL AL-ASMAR, Committee Member acting as Rapporteur for the report of Madagascar, said the Government was working under difficult circumstances, but they were doing very well raising awareness, holding workshops, and targeting different people working with and for children. Well-structured plans built on solid information with a good budget were needed, covered by strong legislation. Ms. Al-Asmar hoped that Malagasy children would one day have the better future they deserved.

BERNARD GASTAUD, Committee Member acting as Co-Rapporteur for the report of Madagascar, said remaining issues of concern were the political crisis and the suspension of parliament which meant new laws could not be adopted. Also the financial crisis; without money there could be no improvements, and it was the responsibility of the authorities to provide the funding. Other challenges were the predominance of violence against children, forced marriages for girls, forced labour, lack of care, environmental issues, discrimination and corruption.

RAKOTOMAHARO RAJEMISON, Permanent Representative of Madagascar to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Rapporteurs and the Committee for their insightful comments and questions and hoped his delegation’s answers had shown the desire of the Government to promote and protect human rights in Madagascar. The delegation would take into account all of the Committee’s concluding recommendations. There had been progress, but the Government knew a great deal was yet to be done, transparently, and in partnership with the United Nations and international partners.

JEAN ZERMATTEN, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their participation in the dialogue. He hoped the discussion had been useful.
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