The government demonstrated mixed anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The government convicted traffickers for the first time since 2016, but did not address reports of official complicity in trafficking crimes, which continued during the reporting period. Law No.2014-040 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties ranging from two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of one million to 10 million Malagasy ariary (MGA) ($280 to $2,760) for offenses involving an adult victim, and five to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of two million to 20 million MGA ($550 to $5,510) for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent. For offenses involving children, with respect to sex trafficking, these penalties were commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape; however, offenses involving adult sex trafficking were not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes.
National statistics on prosecutions and convictions remained difficult to obtain and verify, and the government did not maintain a national database for trafficking crimes. The government reported initiating trafficking investigations involving at least 16 possible suspects in 16 cases. For comparison, the government initiated investigation of at least 74 suspects in 34 cases in the previous reporting period. The government reported initiating the prosecution of one case, involving seven suspected traffickers charged with taking Malagasy women to China for the purpose of exploitation, compared with the prosecution of 56 alleged traffickers in 20 cases in 2018. The government did not report initiating prosecutions of any other investigated cases or provide updates on ongoing cases. The Anti-Corruption Court (PAC) of Antananarivo, whose mandate included trafficking cases that were transnational or involved criminal networks or fraudulent documents, tried the case in October 2019 and convicted six of the seven alleged traffickers, compared with zero convictions since 2016. The PAC sentenced five traffickers to five years’ imprisonment and one trafficker to three years’ imprisonment. Efforts to investigate and prosecute internal trafficking crimes, including domestic servitude, forced begging, and child sex trafficking, remained inadequate compared to the scale of the problem, and officials continued to frequently conflate trafficking and smuggling.
The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. Furthermore, procedures stating that a government official cannot be arrested without authorization from the official’s supervisor impeded holding complicit officials accountable for trafficking crimes. Observers reported some government officials continued to help Malagasy nationals obtain fraudulent travel documentation to circumvent the 2013 travel ban. Observers also alleged that a network of government officials continued to produce false identity documents used to facilitate child sex trafficking, especially in coastal areas like Nosy Be; however, the government did not report initiating an investigation into these continued allegations.
The government facilitated and led six trainings in six cities, funded by an international organization, to educate 60 law enforcement officials, gendarmes, and judges on anti-trafficking legislation. The government also facilitated and led one training, funded by an international organization, for 50 new cadets from the national police school in Antananarivo, which included basic human trafficking training. This was an overall decrease in training, compared with the government training 264 officials on victim-centered investigations and the national victim identification and referral mechanism, with assistance from international organizations, in the previous reporting period. Despite these training efforts, the government did not institutionalize anti-trafficking training and some police, immigration officers, prosecutors, and judges continued to lack a clear understanding of trafficking, which hampered law enforcement and victim identification efforts. Coordination and information sharing between the public prosecutor’s office and police were inadequate and continued to hinder case progression. In December 2019, the government, in partnership with an international organization, approved an interagency agreement between the justice system, the national police, and the national gendarmerie to establish a protocol for effective coordination on trafficking cases; however, the different agencies had not signed the agreement and did not report cases of its implementation during the reporting period. Judges sometimes received high-level instructions to release accused sex offenders, some of whom may have been traffickers, who were often, but not always, foreign citizens. Due to lengthy judicial processes and a lack of implementation for victim protections in criminal proceedings, victims and families often chose to settle conflicts, including trafficking crimes, through informal family mediations at the local level. Victims were often reluctant to file charges due to fear of reprisals. With support from an international organization, the government has had access to a national centralized anti-trafficking data collection and reporting tool since 2016; however, the government has never utilized this tool.