Madagascar: The Government of Madagascar has raised the legal age of marriage

UNICEF congratulated the government of Madagascar on two new laws to reinforce child protection, including increasing the legal age of marriage to eighteen years.
New ground was broken when the Government of Madagascar’s Parliament approved two new laws; the first a broad bill to ensure increased child protection for vulnerable children throughout the country, and the second to change the legal age of marriage from 14 years for girls and 17 years for boys, to 18 years for both genders.
Even in exceptional cases, where parents have agreed to the marriage of their children between 14 or 17 and 18 years of age, a Judge’s approval will still be needed to allow the union to take place, challenging the process of early marriage to the highest degree.

These new laws are crucial steps in putting Madagascar’s child protection legislation in line with international standards, namely the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and its optional protocols, and the African Charter for the Wellbeing of Children, ratified by the Government of Madagascar in March 1989, March 1991 and August 1991 respectively.

The Malagasy Parliament’s decision to pass these new laws has been deeply applauded by UNICEF’s Madagascar Country Office. Speaking from the capitol city, Antananarivo, UNICEF Country Representative Mr. Bruno Maes conveyed his satisfaction.

“UNICEF would like to congratulate the Government of Madagascar for their continued engagement in the issue of child protection,” said Mr. Maes. “These newly passed laws are excellent and landmark achievements for the rights of children in Madagascar and for the prevention of child trafficking - they will mean that from now on children are legally protected from the negative consequences of early marriage, as well as the severe impacts of being separated from their biological parents. It will be important to publicise the new legislation widely throughout the country.”

Official UNICEF statistics show the extent of challenges in regards to child protection in Madagascar. In terms of separation, in 2004, 13 per cent of children under 14 years of age were living without their biological parents. Regarding child abuse within the family, 10 per cent of under-five deaths in 2005 in Antananarivo were found to be due to neglect and/or violence.

In relation to child marriage, between 1987 and 2005, 39 per cent of Malagasy children were married before the age of 18, 29 per cent in urban areas and 42 per cent in rural zones. This has a particularly harsh impact on girls, who can suffer from commercial sexual exploitation and violence. Sometimes, parents are bribed with money to agree to their daughter’s union without the child’s consent – with the ‘groom’, a broker, then forcing the girl into the sex trade.

Furthermore, because married girls are usually unable to refuse sex or insist on condom use, child brides are often exposed to such serious health risks as premature pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and increasingly, HIV/AIDS. Both boys and girls who marry early often suffer forced separation and isolation from family and friends, decreased opportunities for education, and are sometimes even subject to bonded labour or enslavement.

The next step is to ensure that this new legislation is put into practice, and that families and communities are educated on the importance of postponing the marriages of their sons or daughters, and the protection of separated children, thereby improving the environment for children at the family level. UNICEF will carry on supporting the Malagasy Ministries of Justice and Health and Family Planning in doing so, and continue to work at the community level to disseminate information and develop the capacities of key stakeholders such as local police, magistrates, social workers, administrative officials and Fokotany chiefs.

28 June 2007