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The Tragic Rise of Child Abduction as a Business in Madagascar in 2015

A gang of child abductors arrested in Antananarivo, Madagascar via @radiomada

A gang of alleged child abductors arrested in Antananarivo, Madagascar via @radiomada

Endemic poverty and insecurity have many Malagasy citizens struggling to foresee a brighter outcome in the near future for the country. In the current economic settings, a few criminals have taken up a sordid way to make a living: child abduction.

Madagascar has seen a sharp rise in kidnapping followed by extortion during the past two years. Testimonies of gut-wrenching ordeals abound on Malagasy forums and blogs.

Here is the story of Annie and Arnaud, as told by B. Nguma, a resident of Toamasina, Madagascar, on the Housseina Writing blog:

Il y a quelques semaines, Annie et Arnaud, 2 enfants d’un opérateur dans le secteur du bois, ont été kidnappé à Tamatave. Les ravisseurs réclamaient une rançon de 3 millions d’euros en lançant plusieurs avertissements mais les parents des enfants n’ont pas les moyens de les payer. Les négociations étaient au point mort, mais un rebondissement macabre vient de transformer ce kidnapping en mise à mort. Annie, âgée de 14 ans, a été retrouvé morte à proximité de sa maison. Les premières analyses montrent qu’elle a été torturée pendant des heures avec un étranglement qui aurait provoqué sa mort. Les autorités tentent de retrouver Arnaud, mais la mort d’Annie laisse craindre le pire.

A few weeks ago [3 December], Annie and Arnaud, the two children of an operator in the timber industry, were kidnapped in Tamatave (aka Toamasina, Madagascar). The kidnappers demanded a ransom of 3 million euros and sent several warnings to the parents regarding the fate of their children, but the parents could not pay the ransom. The negotiations stalled, but a macabre twist turned the kidnapping into a killing. Annie, 14 years old, was found dead near her house. Initial analysis shows that she was tortured for hours then strangled to death. The authorities are still trying to find Arnaud, but Annie's death raises fear for the worst.

Young Malagasy girls by Hery Zo Rakotondramana on FlickR - CC BY-SA 2.0

Young Malagasy girls by Hery Zo Rakotondramana on Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0

Mbolatiana, a renown Malagasy blogger based in Antananarivo, was moved by the current plight of Arnaud, a teenager himself, who is still sequestered by gangsters. She wrote the following to him:

J’aurais bien voulu connaître le jeune homme que tu es dans d’autres circonstances. Petit frère, te voilà propulsé d’un coup dans un monde où la turpitude des grandes personnes règne sans limite. En quelques semaines, tu as été la victime de tous les maux de ce pays qu’est le nôtre : la corruption, le non-respect des droits humains, la violence à outrance, l’esclavagisme, l’état de non-droit. Certes, petit frère, trop malheureusement, tu es loin d’être le seul. Car ils sont des milliers à être quotidiennement traités comme des bêtes, sous nos yeux. Des enfants qui sont kidnappés et que l’on ne retrouve jamais, des enfants qu’on retient comme esclaves des familles en ville comme dans les campagnes, des enfants que l’on prostitue, des enfants que l’on vend et achète pour leurs organes. Et j’en passe.
Mais cela n’enlève en rien ma tristesse quand je pense à toi. Car comme tous les autres, tu es une proie. Du fond de mon cœur, j’espère vraiment qu’un jour très proche, tu puisses le lire ce texto, libre et en bonne santé. Mais où que tu sois, sache qu’il y a des choses que l’on ne peut nous enlever : l’espoir et la liberté. Des mots forts de sens. Je sais que c’est trop facile de le dire quand ce n’est pas soi-même qui est embrigadé, enfermé. Et je te comprendrais si tu ne partages pas mon point de vue face à ce que tu as vécu. Mais une chose est sûre petit frère, l’histoire a montré que les plus grands hommes et les plus grandes femmes qui avaient changé l’humanité, ces activistes endurcis, ces faiseurs de Nations sont « nés », se sont illuminés, dans les cages noires des prisons, sous la torture et les pressions des oppresseurs. J’espère vraiment que tu t’en sortiras, que tu en seras plus fort. Sache également que des gens qui ne te connaissent pas, comme moi, te soutiennent.
Petit frère, nous gardons espoir de te revoir.

I would have liked to have gotten to know your story of being a young teenager under different circumstances. Little brother, you are now suddenly propelled into the harshest of worlds where the grownups’ turpitude reigns limitless. Within weeks, you have become the victim of all the evils that this country of ours has to face: corruption, no respect for human rights, excessive violence, slavery, the state of lawlessness. Unfortunately, little brother, you are far from alone in your plight here because there are thousands of children who are treated like animals daily. Children who are kidnapped and never to be found again, held as slaves, send to prostitution, even bought and sold for their organs.

But that does not diminish my sadness when I think of you. For as for all the other children here, you have become prey. From the bottom of my heart, I really hope that one day soon, this message will find you free and healthy. But wherever you are, know that there are things the criminals cannot take away from us: hope and freedom. I know it's easy to say when I am not the one being locked in a cell. And I would understand if you do not share my view on what you have experienced. But one thing is certain, little brother, history has shown that the greatest men and women who have changed humankind, the strong-headed activists, the nation-builders, many of them found their ultimate drive in the black cages of prisons, following torture and other oppressive measures. I dearly hope you will make it out alright and that the ordeal will make you stronger. Please know that people like myself who don't know you yet keep you in their thoughts. Little brother, we all hope to see you soon.

The rise of child abduction in Madagascar has become an international incident. Former French ambassador François Goldblatt stated that he had submitted a list of people the French embassy suspected to be involved in child trafficking. Many reports state that former perpetrators of kidnapping were released weeks before the recent spike in child abduction, emphasizing the dysfunction of the justice system in Madagascar.  

Two other children were abducted a few days after Annie and Arnaud. In related news, a general and three army officers were recently arrested for the rapt of the family of a store owner of Chinese descent.

Ariniaina, a Global Voices contributor, wrote about the fear she is trying to conceal when it comes to the safety of her own children:

Sortir avec le bébé même pour aller chez l’épicier d’en face est risqué. Je suis parent et j’ai actuellement peur pour la sécurité de mes enfants. Et je suis loin d’être la seule. Ces derniers jours, on a assisté dans les principales villes de Madagascar une vague d’enlèvements d’enfants.  Quelle est la suite de l’affaire sur l’enfant de 6 ans décapitée? Cette histoire m’a carrément glacé le sang. Je ne souhaite à aucun, même à mon pire ennemi, de vivre pareil cauchemar. La population malgache a le sentiment d’être complètement désarmée face à cette vague de kidnapping d’enfants. En effet, il semblerait que la police n’y accorde guère d’importance. Pire, selon certaine sources (en malgache), les autorités policières en viennent même à ignorer les plaintes déposées.

Going out with a baby just to go to the grocer across the street has become risky. I am a parent and I now fear for the safety of my children. And I am far from alone. In recent days, there has been a wave of child abductions in the major cities of Madagascar. What to think of the case of that 6-year-old child that was beheaded ? This story sent a frozen chill to my spine and blood. I would not wish such a nightmare on my worst enemy. The Malagasy population feels completely helpless in the face of this wave of children kidnapping. To boot, it seems that the police does not think it is that important. Worse, according to some Malagasy sources, some law enforcement agencies ignore some of the complaints altogether.

The case of beheading of a 6-year-old occurred in Amabatolampy, a suburb of the capital Antananarivo in June. The child was seen going into a taxi with a strangers that lured her with candies. The motives of the crime are still unknown.

Some regions, like the Sava region in the northeast of Madagascar, seem to be less protected against such crimes. The bandits often target the wealthy minorities of foreign origin. The asking price goes from 40,000 euros to more than a million, depending on the victim's family.

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