An independent United Nations human rights expert Friday encouraged the Government of Madagascar to step up efforts to combat the sexual exploitation of children and ensure that perpetrators are punished.
"The scourge of sexual exploitation of children through prostitution or sex tourism is omnipresent and too often justified by poverty. Its exponential growth, in particular since 2009, underlined by all stakeholders met, is alarming," said Najat Maalla M'jid, the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
"Its actual scope remains difficult to determine, due, among other factors, to reluctance to report and fear of reprisals. The low number of reported cases is very rarely followed by heavy sanctions, as provided by Malagasy law," she stated in a news release issued following her official visit to the country.
During her 15 to 26 July mission, the expert met with various State and local authorities, as well as representatives from UN agencies, the diplomatic community, civil society and the private sector. She also met child victims and went to the main spots of child sexual exploitation in the capital, Antananarivo, as well as in Toliara, Nosy Be and Toamasina.
Maalla M'jid noted the alarming poverty affecting 92 per cent of the population, as a result of successive political crises. This socio-economic precariousness affecting families and communities has considerably increased the number of children out of school and the vulnerability of children to all forms of economic and sexual exploitation, she noted.
She also raised with concern the survival strategy adopted by many parents who encourage their children to enter prostitution.
Madagascar, the expert pointed out, has a relatively complete legal framework but the implementation of these laws is significantly compromised by a lack of effectiveness due to corruption, impunity and difficult access for children to reporting mechanisms ensuring their protection and security.
"Amicable settlements take place at the expense of the rights of children, whose voice is rarely taken into account," the news release stated.
Despite initiatives such as the National Committee for the Protection of Children, Child Protection Networks and centres for legal and psychological counselling, care and assistance to children remains very partial and suffers from a significant lack of resources.
The Special Rapporteur stressed the gravity of the situation and the necessity to act urgently to ensure an integrated protective framework for children.
"It is unacceptable that so many lives of Malagasy children are sacrificed under the excuse of the current political and economic crisis," said Maalla M'jid, who encouraged the international community to support the establishment of integrated child protection and development plans at the local level to efficiently combat all forms of violence, abuse and exploitation of children.
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.