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Advocates complain that the local police are heavily understaffed while the gendarmerie tends to be uninterested or in the pay of the criminals.
Fading signs in hotels that warn against bringing back minors surely don’t strike fear in too many hearts.
Madagascar has long grappled with the scourge of child prostitution.
Yet since a 2009 coup d’état sent the country spiraling into political and economic disarray, the problem has reached crisis proportions.
In 2011, the last year for which official figures are available, 225,000 tourists visited Madagascar, a 15 percent increase over the previous year.
Fifty-eight percent of those were from France, the former colonial power.
Foreign sex tourists account for much of the demand.
And while most undoubtedly came to enjoy the country’s pristine beaches and lemur-filled forests, significant numbers arrived with less wholesome intentions.
In addition to Mahajanga, common sites for child prostitution include the resort island of Nosy Be; big cities like Diego-Suarez, Toamasina and the capital, Antananarivo; and mining towns like Ilakaka in the south.
But judging by the scene along Mahajanga’s main strip of nightclubs on a recent Saturday night, considerable work remains to be done.
Plainly underage Malagasy girls drink and mingle with foreign men more than three or four times their age.