On the “Great Island”, postcard pictures mask a much darker reality that strikes young people full in the face. Young people have very few future prospects. They are doomed to roll up their sleeves at a very early age in mines, on vanilla plantations or on the streets of large cities.
According to UNICEF, 23% of children aged between 5 and 17 are estimated to have an economic activity, often to the detriment of their schooling. Some of them have no other choice but to resort to prostitution. Yet this practice is prohibited by Malagasy law, but takes place in front of everyone and is exploited by certain foreign tourists.
A French NGO against the sexual exploitation of children
However, there is no longer indifference to the situation. The phenomenon is now taken seriously by the Government of Madagascar, which has set up an entity specialized in the fight against sexual tourism and has launched a number of awareness-raising actions in partnership with industry professionals and NGOs.
The French NGO Ecpat is among them. To prevent the sexual exploitation of children in tourist areas, and ultimately eradicate it, it launched a program in 2016 to train or support the Government, local authorities, child protection networks, tourism professionals and victims on this sensitive issue.
The project is called “Escale” and is now tackling the trivialization of the prostitution of minors: The objective: change mentalities among the population to make sure the practice is no longer tolerated, especially when it is related to tourism. In the context of this project, professionals are now encouraged to be vigilant and report any suspicious behavior in hotels.
And the project is paying off. Some 900 companies in the tourism sector have adopted a code of conduct developed by the ministry. It should soon be included in the control procedures of inspectors from the Anti-Tourist Scourge Service.
The right reflexes to adopt
The NGO also directly targets tourists. With the Malagasy Ministry of Tourism, it has just published the Guide for Responsible Travelers. This guide is financed by Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and Air France and has been distributed in a number of tourist areas, including tourist offices, in Antananarivo, as well as in the coastal and tourist regions of Tuléar, Diego, Mahajanga and Nosy Be.
This publication is also not only intended for tourists seeking young prey. It gives everyone 12 reflexes to adopt in a suspicious situation, or when there are interactions with children.
This is a prerequisite to ensure that both tourists and residents stop turning a blind eye to this far from idyllic reality.