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Worst forms of child labour

Battling commercial sexual exploitation of children in Madagascar

The ILO and the EU join forces in an innovative project which uses education to help kids build new lives.

Feature | 30 April 2014
ANTANANARIVO (ILO News) – The child of a large, impoverished family in northern Madagascar, Bernadette T. says she was 13 when she first started “frequenting” men. At 14, she became pregnant.

“After giving birth, I started frequenting a lot of men again, particularly tourists, so I could look after the needs of my family.”

At the age of 16, she was withdrawn from sexual exploitation, thanks to TACKLE, a joint project of the EU and the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC).

“Given the dangers and the risks I had faced, I accepted to give up my previous activities,” she says, adding that she made the decision after consulting her family, who eke out a living burning wood to make charcoal.

As part of TACKLE – which stands for tackling child labour through education – project in the community of Ramena, Bernadette took a three-month literacy course, followed by six months of hotel and tourism training. Now aged 19, she says she earns “a decent living” working for an environmental group.

Martin Antoine Ranaivorarisoa, a member of the Ramena community, says the collaboration between his community and the ILO “was a success as children were withdrawn from commercial exploitation, and their parents, for the most part, could be sensitized to keep their children in, or send them back to school.” Madagascar – like other countries around the world – has long suffered from the scourge of sexual exploitation of children, but with the decline of the country’s economy since 2009 the problem has reached new proportions.

This is the clear message of a December 2013 report by Najat Maalla M’Jid, the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Child prostitution in Madagascar is at an alarming level and has dramatically increased in these past years."
Najat Maalla M’Jid, UN
Reliable figures are hard to come by, but M’Jid said in her report that experts agree “child prostitution in Madagascar is at an alarming level and has dramatically increased in these past years, particularly since 2009”.

In 2013, child protection networks in Madagascar found that almost a quarter of child abuse cases in nine regions of the country were related to sexual offences. The same year, the French NGO ECPAT said, that out of 1,237 prostitutes surveyed in the capital Antananarivo, 1,132 were younger than 18.

Foreign sex tourists count for much of the demand for sex workers.

In 2011, the last year for which official figures are available, 225,000 tourists visited Madagascar, a 15 per cent increase over the previous year. And while most undoubtedly travelled to see the country’s unique flora and fauna and its beautiful beaches, quite a few had sordid motives.

Paving the way for change

To mark World Day Against Sexual Exploitation on March 4, 2014, the ILO office in Madagascar urged the government, the social partners and the people of Madagascar to take strong and effective action to eradicate the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

“The fight is not limited to World Day Against Sexual Exploitation; it should become a daily struggle. The commercial sexual exploitation of children undermines Malagasy society,” says Christian Ntsay, Director of the ILO office in Antananarivo.

With the support of the ILO, more than 1,000 children of Madagascar have been removed from situations of sexual exploitation."
ILO Director, Antananarivo
“With the support of the ILO, more than 1,000 children of Madagascar have been removed from situations of sexual exploitation and accompanied in their return to formal education and vocational training,” he adds.

In collaboration with the National Committee to Fight against Child Labour (CNFLTE), the ILO has also organized an interactive workshop for local authorities and tourism stakeholders in the Malagasy island of Nosy-Be to raise awareness on the problem of commercial sexual exploitation of children and develop a work plan to address it.

With the support of the ILO and UNICEF, the Tourism Ministry has developed a Code of Conduct to fight commercial sexual exploitation. The Code has now been adopted by the hotel and tourism industry in Nosy Be and the town of Tulear. Some 120 operators in the tourism sector have signed up in Nosy Be and another 35 in Tulear.

Meanwhile, the government of Madagascar has adopted the 2014-2019 National Action Plan to eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labour (NAP), which includes anti-trafficking and anti-commercial sexual exploitation initiatives. Under the NAP, the ILO has launched prevention campaigns in several regions of Madagascar. The ILO has also established a monitoring system for child labour in the country.

Madagascar ratified ILO Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labour in 2001.

A threat to child protection

Commercial sexual exploitation of children is one of the worst forms of child labour, and is a particular threat to child protection in a number of African countries, including Kenya and South Africa.

The ILO considers commercial sexual exploitation of children an abhorrent violation of the human dignity and rights of children and adolescents and a form of economic exploitation similar to slavery and forced labour, which also implies a crime on the part of those who use girls and boys and adolescents in the sex trade – not only those who offer children in prostitution (e.g. pimps and brothel managers) but also those who are “clients”.

“Even though this issue has gained increased visibility over the past years, thanks to the joint efforts of numerous stakeholders, millions of children worldwide are still victims of sexual exploitation today and have their childhood stolen,” M’Jid says in her report.

“While child sex tourism tends to occur more commonly in developing countries, no country or tourism destination is exempt. Destinations are constantly shifting, with offenders favouring countries with weak legislation and controls, where they can act with impunity.”

What is commercial sexual exploitation of children?
  • The use of girls and boys in sexual activities remunerated in cash or in kind (commonly known as child prostitution) in the streets or indoors, in such places as brothels, discotheques, massage parlours, bars, hotels, restaurants, etc.
  • The trafficking of girls and boys and adolescents for the sex trade.
  • Child sex tourism.
  • The production, promotion and distribution of pornography involving children.
  • The use of children in public or private sex shows.