Our impact, their voices

Tackling commercial sexual exploitation of children on Madagascar’s beaches

Poverty and lack of employment prospects make many teenage girls in coastal areas of Madagascar vulnerable to becoming trapped in commercial sexual exploitation. An ILO project supports community efforts to fight against the problem, one of the worst forms of child labour.

Feature | 12 April 2018

TULEAR, Madagascar (ILO News) – Located in southern Madagascar on a beautiful, sun-kissed, stretch of coastline, the town of Tuléar is an ideal holiday spot. But, the presence of tourists in an extremely poor region is also a risk for children, who may fall into commercial sexual exploitation.

From 2014 to 2016, the ILO, working with UNICEF, ran a project to help teenagers who had fallen prey to sexual exploitation leave it for good and learn a job.

“We supported 80 children in 2014 and 2015, and 50 in 2016,” says Emma Razanakolona, who heads the local branch of SOS Villages d’Enfants, the NGO in charge of implementing the project.

With the backing of a local anti-prostitution committee – made up of local decision-makers, regional authorities, economic agents and labour inspectors – the NGO identified beneficiaries through awareness-raising campaigns, including in discotheques and in neighbouring villages.

The beneficiaries were children, most of them girls but also boys who worked as intermediaries. They received three months of training in the hospitality sector – as wait staff, housekeepers, cooks, bar staff – a sector where employers find it difficult to recruit qualified staff. The theoretical training was followed by a three-month on-site internship that in several cases led to job offers.

From sexual exploitation to trained hotel worker

We met Bonita, 22, a few kilometres from Tuléar, in a hotel in Mangily, alongside the popular Ifaty beach, fringed by palm trees and dotted with brightly coloured fishing boats.

Born of a poor family, and one of five children, she was trapped in commercial sexual exploitation of children from the age of 15. She would earn 70,000 ariary (US$20) if the perpetrator was a Westerner, 10,000 ariary ($3) if he was local. Bonita has now left this exploitation behind for good.

Thanks to the training she received, she is now a waitress in the hotel’s restaurant. She says she is happy and dreams of opening her own small fast-food shop (known locally as a gargote) in a few years. She mentions that she agreed to talk to us about her ordeal, to warn other young people about the dangers of becoming trapped in commercial sexual exploitation of children.

From “pimp” to restaurant cook

Nearby, in another seaside establishment, we met 21-year-old Justome. He says he started in what he called “the business” when he was 15. As an intermediary, he also rented rooms for the girls and the tourists. Justome says some Westerners would ask him for underage girls. Identified by the project, he trained as a cook and is now earning a decent living, working as a kitchen assistant at the Bamboo Club. His plans for the future include marrying and starting a family. He dreams that one day he will manage to graduate to head cook.

Christian Yvan, the manager of the Bamboo Club, says he is very happy with his new employee. According to him, the region’s employers are heavily involved in fighting commercial sexual exploitation of children. His hotel resort signed a charter barring minors from entering the hotel. There is a number he can call if he witnesses an incident. “We have to fight if we want a steady flow of tourists,” he says.

Driven by poverty

The region’s poverty nevertheless makes that fight a tough one. While in Mangily, we went into a bar at nightfall, and within 10 minutes someone offered us a 15-year-old girl. If we had closed the deal, the meeting would have taken place in a small motel a stone’s throw from the bar.

Back in Tuléar, we met with Frankita, who is proud to wear her maid’s uniform from one of the town’s main hotels.

Frankita, 18, was trapped in commercial sexual exploitation when she was much younger, walking the town’s main street, close to where she is working now. She described what she went through in crude terms, as though she wanted to exorcise her suffering.

The oldest of five children, Frankita fell into commercial sexual exploitation of children due to her family’s financial problems. Thanks to her training as a chambermaid, she is now more positive about the future. It’s a pleasure to see her smile and joke with her colleagues at work. Her monthly wages now allows her to earn a decent income and her bosses appreciate her work. She has found religion and hopes to find a husband and forget the past.

Financial arrangements rather than jail

The local labour inspector, Patrick Andriavelo, is doing his best in the face of widespread commercial sexual exploitation of children. As president of the regional anti-child labour committee he has worked closely with the ILO project, set up neighbourhood watches in the villages and flushed out several foreign perpetrators, who were subsequently convicted. But he is the first to admit how difficult it is to apply the law, and says “financial arrangements” are more common than criminal convictions.

The first thing to do ... is to make the fight against the worst forms of child labour in Tuléar and beyond a national priority."

Christian Ntsay, Director of the ILO Office in Antananarivo
The Tuléar Regional Technical Advisor, Leda Narcisse Tovonasy, says that local authorities are committed to fighting commercial sexual exploitation of children effectively. “The Tuléar region has many tourist attractions,” he underscores. He, too, would like the law to be strictly enforced.

“This project is part of a broader action taken by the ILO in Madagascar to eliminate child labour. Training as well as policy and legal support have also been provided to the Government and social partners to create the conditions to get rid of the worst forms of child labour,” says Christian Ntsay, Director of the ILO Office in Madagascar’s capital city, Antananarivo.

“Madagascar has ratified Conventions N° 138 on minimum age to work and 182 on the worst forms of child labour. There is a national action plan. The first thing to do, therefore, is to apply existing legislation and to make the fight against the worst forms of child labour in Tuléar and beyond a national priority,” he concludes.