Madagascar to allow surgical castration of paedophiles

Activists say new law is a necessary deterrent against the country's 'rape culture'

Madagascar president Andry Rajoelina inspects a guard of honour
The government of Andry Rajoelina, the Malagasy president, proposed the new law, which has been approved by the country's upper chamber
(Image credit: Rijasolo / AFP / Getty Images)

Madagascar's parliament has passed a law allowing the chemical and surgical castration of people found guilty of raping minors.

Human rights groups including Amnesty International have criticised the legislation, but some activists said it is a necessary deterrent against the country's "rape culture".

The bill was approved by Madagascar's Senate last week and must now be ratified and signed into law by President Andry Rajoelina, whose government proposed the change.

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Why is Madagascar introducing the law?

Justice Minister Landy Mbolatiana Randriamanantenasoa said the measure was necessary because of a dramatic increase in the number of child rape cases. 

In January alone, 133 cases of the rape of a minor were recorded, and a total of 600 were reported last year. "The current penal code has not been enough to curb the perpetrators of these offences," she said.

Some non-governmental organisations believe the real number of child rapes in the country is "even higher", said The Associated Press. A large number of cases are thought to go unreported, because it is a "taboo subject" and "victims are often ashamed".

Many child rape cases are incestuous, according to NGOs working in the country.

What does the law say?

The new law says surgical castration "will always be pronounced" for those guilty of raping a child under the age of 10, while cases of rape against children between the ages of 10 and 13 will be punished by either surgical or chemical castration.

The rape of minors aged between 14 and 17 will be punished by chemical castration. Offenders will also face harsher sentences of up to life in prison.

Chemical castration is "the use of drugs to block hormones and decrease sexual desire", said The Telegraph, and is "generally reversible" if the hormone-blocking drugs are stopped. But surgical castration, where the testicles are removed, is "irreversible".

Several countries and some US states, including California and Florida, allow for chemical castration for some sex offenders. The use of surgical castration is "much rarer", said the paper, and the use of both types is "highly contentious". 

What are human rights groups saying?

Amnesty International said castration by law would constitute "inhuman and degrading treatment", and fails to address significant flaws in the investigation of rape cases.

Nciko wa Nciko, an adviser for Madagascar at Amnesty, highlighted the challenges within the island's legal system, noting that complaint procedures and trials lack anonymity. Confidence in the Malagasy criminal justice system was also lacking, he said, due to "opacity and corruption". And "reprisals against rape victims are frequent", yet the new law "does not combat these factors".

But other activists view the new law as a necessary last resort when "nothing else seems to be working", said Sky News.

Jessica Nivoseheno of the Women Break the Silence group, which campaigns against rape and supports victims, said the law was "progress" and would act as a deterrent. 

"This could prevent potential attackers from taking action… but only if we, as citizens, are aware of the existence and importance of this new penalty," she said.

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