Madagascar has shown a commitment to respecting the rights of children, as a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of Children. The country’s legal system includes legislation on adoption, birth registration and protection of children from child marriage, trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation including sex tourism.
Despite progress on child protection work, major barriers remain. There is a general lack of adequate implementation of laws, thus resulting in impunity of offenders. Traditional harmful practices are still widely present in most communities, with no clear Government commitment to address them. Child abuse and violence, commercial sexual exploitation and child labor and the lack of an adequate juvenile justice system are some of the main protection issues facing Madagascar’s children.
Commercial sexual exploitation of children and mostly girls is on the rise: a significant number of sex workers are children, especially surrounding oil and mining sites. Those who solicit them include foreign tourists and workers, as well as Malagasy men. Child marriage is a concern, with an estimated 34 per cent of girls between 15 and 19 already married or in union. And close to 20 percent of children are not registered at birth, making them more likely to be excluded from basic social services and more vulnerable to abuse. Almost two thirds of children in detention centers are deprived of their liberty without a trial – and they can spend up to one year awaiting a trial.
UNICEF’s program works to ensure that children victims of abuse, violence and exploitation, particularly of commercial sexual exploitation, are identified and benefit from adequate services in targeted regions. The program’s new priorities are to adopt a Child Protection Policy and a National Plan of Action with a specific focus on combatting Violence against Children; to define a minimum package of services for vulnerable children, and to strengthen coordination of Child Protection interventions. To date, 80 per cent of children have their birth registered. Using the equity approach, the program focuses on the 20 per cent of children that are left out.
Communication activities target behavior change linked with traditional practices and child marriage through community dialogues. In 2013 UNICEF trained law enforcement officers on children’s rights, as well as 240 volunteer social workers on psychosocial support, community dialogue and social mobilization.
UNICEF supports the government at decentralized levels to reinforce service delivery interventions to respond to increasing child protection problems, especially children who are left without parental care. A pilot program for foster placement was successfully undertaken in the region of Diego. For children in detention centers, UNICEF has supported the development of diversion mechanisms for children who have committed minor offenses.
A new strategy was recently drafted to engage the National Office of Tourism in an effective campaign against sexual exploitation of women and children. UNICEF’s technical support to develop a code of conduct will help involve the entire industry to reduce and halt violence, abuse and exploitation.
Similarly, the country office is working with two mining companies by providing technical support to develop a Code of Conduct for all their workers and subcontractors. UNICEF is providing technical expertise to Ambatovy on its child protection policy and its awareness campaigns.
UNICEF is taking a lead role on coordinating child protection challenges, and is advocating against discrimination, abuse and violence and the strengthening of the child protection networks. Since 2004, the Government has established more than 750 child protection networks across the country. They gather police officers, judges, medical doctors, representatives from NGO’s, administrative authorities such as mayors and district chiefs. The networks are established at all administrative levels - from the central down to the lowest administrative entity in Madagascar, the fokontany. The networks are platforms that facilitate coordination of all child protection interventions. They also facilitate information sharing and contribute to the referral of cases from one service to another. Close to 2,900 children victims of abuse and exploitation received appropriate care through these networks in 2012.
Thanks to a more hands-on approach to directly ensure that child protection networks respond properly to cases, and to minimize the rates of sexual exploitation with the work we are doing with mining companies, we expect to see a progressive, positive impact in the upcoming year on protection cases.