Human trafficking and sex tourism in Madagascar

Project Monma travelled to Madagascar, a country that remains one of the poorest in the world. Poverty is an important explanation for Madagascar’s high incidence of trafficking and sexual exploitation, particularly of underage girls.

In a UNICEF-sponsored study, presented at the official launch of the national campaign to end child sexual exploitation, findings revealed that between 30 and 50 percent of all sex workers in two of the country’s main cities, Nose Be and Tamatave, were children under the age of eighteen. This campaign was launched in 2003, however, as Project Monma found, the problem of child sexual exploitation is still immensely pervasive.

Speaking to a local man who works in a hotel in Nose Be, he reported that prostitution is rife. He told us of the ease with which one can obtain a fake ID card, which has meant that restrictions on the participation of minors in the sex industry can be easily bypassed. Corruption is one of the primary reasons that young girls and women receive inadequate protection from trafficking and sexual exploitation, both from state officials and from their own relatives.

We heard numerous stories of young girls tricked into prostitution or working abroad, unaware of the realities that they would face. Many of the women who have been trafficked abroad have gone to the Middle East, unprepared, uneducated and vulnerable to violence, sexual exploitation and abuse. The Ministry of Population and Social Protection and Women’s Protection has been established to give information on migration, and to fight against trafficking.
Soloarivel Anntsa from the Ministry of Population and Social Protection and Women’s protection in Antananarivo said that the situation was so bad that they created the ministry to prevent abuse related to migration.

‘When they are sent overseas they think that they are going to have a job but there are cases where they’re not paid. The employers are supposed to give them a return ticket but sometimes they don’t do this. They take their passports and because they don’t know about the country its really difficult for them to go to the police or do anything.’

Many women and girls have gone to the Gulf countries to find work. Madagasy women who have gone to work in Saudi Arabia have reported that they have been threatened and there have been reports of sexual abuse.

However, as we were repeatedly reminded, corruption stalls attempts to resolve the problem. What we found perhaps most shocking is how visible it is. It is a huge business for everyone, including the police.

Poverty is what drives the exploitation; corruption enables it.

In Madagascar exploitation is by foreigners and Madagascy people. In the highlands it is often the families, unable to afford to support the girl or send her to school, they send her to a ‘recruiter’, thinking she is going to be found work. In actual fact, these recruiters are exploiters, placing the girl in a position of vulnerability, not one of employment.

Daniel Silva from the IOM said, ‘its happening all around the country. In Tamatave for example, you find a lot of sexual exploitation of young girls by local men because this is culturally what they prefer.’

Silva reports that to stop the problem there has to be alternatives. ‘There are cases where as soon as the girls turn 12 or 13 the parents put them in French or Italian classes so that they are able to work as prostitutes and speak with the clients. It’s shocking because it’s not hidden. It’s big business for everyone, the hotels owners, the police. There’s no punishment of these men at the moment, its completely unacceptable.’

Little is being done to curb the problem with poverty being big business. Neannie Berthina from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Antananarivo reported that little was being done to stop the problem but she shakes her head, ‘it’s a shame because of this corruption.’

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