Antananarivo, Madagascar (GVO) – 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:
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.
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:
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:
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 occured 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.