UN News spoke to Commissioner Aina Randriambelo, who described what efforts her country is making to promote gender equality and a better understanding of what constitutes sexual exploitation and abuse.

Commissioner Aina Randriambelo, Madagascar’s Chief Inspector of Police.

Commissioner Aina Randriambelo, Madagascar’s Chief Inspector of Police.

“I was really surprised when I heard that a 12-year-girl who had attended one of our school-based sensitisation sessions had revealed to a police officer that she had been allegedly raped over a period of two years by her 40-year-old stepfather.

She was courageous enough to explain that she had been a victim of this abuse, given the stigmatisation that entails in our society. In some cases, families do reject children who make these types of allegations.

She is a minor, so we had to tell her mother, who said she knew nothing of this abuse, that she had the legal obligation to make this accusation, which she did. We explained her legal position, but also the fact that as a mother, she was the first line of protection for her daughter.

I have been working on gender-based violence issues for over 20 years, and while it is important for me to retain my professionalism, these events do affect you. But, but I am also pleased that we were able to make a difference by acting very quickly to stop this abuse.

Arrested and awaiting trial

The police reported this on social media as a warning to others and to alert other victims who are in the same type of situation of abuse. The man is now in prison awaiting trail, and if he is found guilty, he faces a sentence of up to 12 years.

The national police set up a protection of minors department 20 years ago and in 2017 established protocols for dealing with gender-based violence. These protocols include access to medical care.

We also have instituted nine local women-only brigades of police officers to support victims of abuse. Moreover, there are new laws in our penal code which enable the quick prosecution of cases involving abuse.

As a society, we still have work to do to ensure people recognise the rights of individuals, especially in domestic situations. Some women do not even understand the concept of consent. Men often don’t understand the difference between showing parental authority within their family and being violent, and there is a sense that what goes on at home is a private matter. So, violence is often accepted as a normal part of family life. People are often unwilling to denounce it, so it will take time to change the mentality of people.

The police in Madagascar have publicised the arrest of an alleged abuser.

The police in Madagascar have publicised the arrest of an alleged abuser.

Human rights training sessions

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has supported training sessions on human rights issues. This is important as it is only when people understand their rights that they are able to realise that their rights have been abused. So, a victim may not know she is a victim and so will not come forward to report a possible abuse.

From a police perspective, I look forward to justice being served

We are also ensuring that women and children recognise the importance of a medical examination after sexual violence has been perpetrated. This is a key piece of evidence in any case brought to trial.

UNICEF has helped us to establish a centre for the care of child victims of sexual violence, which includes the package of integrated care services they need: psychosocial support and accompaniment by social workers deployed by the population department and medical care by hospital doctors.

There are police officers on hand to take complaints because if victims go back home, it is possible that they will retract their statements especially if they are threatened with reprisals.

UNICEF has also supported the training of social workers.

I’m told the young girl is doing well, but I do ask myself how she may be affected in the long term. Will she be able to have sexual relations, will she be stigmatised and what type of counselling will she receive to deal with her trauma?

From a police perspective, I look forward to justice being served.”