Last Updated 15 November 2021

A former French colony, Madagascar, a country with a population of about 28 million, is a religiously pluralistic country.1 According to the most recent national census, in 1993, 52% of the population are adherents of indigenous religions and Christians make up 41% of the population. 7% of the population are Muslims and a small minority are Hindus and Jews. Many individuals within the country alternate between religious identities and hold a combination of both indigenous and Christian or Muslim beliefs.2

However, Muslim leaders and local academics estimate (2020) that Muslims constitute between 15% and 25% of the population – the majority of which are Sunni Muslims. Local religious groups also hold that nearly half of the population is Christian (2020).3

Since the Second World War, Madagascar has witnessed multiple episodes of violence, which have been primarily triggered by ideological and political cleavages. Churches – as major cultural, political and societal actors in the country – have played a fundamental role in these processes, at times escalating the conflict and at others participating in peace processes.4

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

The Constitution5 provides for freedom of religion and expression (Article 10) and religious practice in general. The Constitution explicitly include the term “belief,” and as such might lead to a narrow interpretation of the rights of the non-religious within this group. Under the Constitution, the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, conscience and religion may be limited for “the respect for the freedoms and rights of others, and by the imperative of safeguarding the public order, the national dignity and the security of the State.”

The preamble to the Constitution contains an affirmation of the people’s belief in Andriamanitra Andriananahary – a supreme being and creator of Earth.6; However, under Article 1, the State is declared secular in character.

Article 2 of the 2010 Constitution reads,

“The State affirms its neutrality concerning the different religions.

The secularism of the Republic is based on the principle of the separation of the affairs of the State and of the religious institutions and of their representatives.

The State and the religious institutions prohibit themselves from any infringement of their respective domains.

No Head of Institution nor any member of the Government may be part of the directing authority of a religious Institution, under penalty of being relieved by the High Constitutional Court or being removed, of office, from their mandate or their function.”

Religious leaders’ historical involvement in politics has led to societal tension and religious discrimination.7

Under Article 14 of the Constitution,

“The associations and the political parties that jeopardize the unity of the Nation and the republican principles, and that advocate totalitarianism or segregation of ethnic, tribal or religious character, are prohibited.”

Other laws reportedly protect individual religious beliefs against abuses by government or private actors.8

Religion and politics

Before assuming office, the President, among other figures, is required to make an oath before God.

According to the London School of Economics,9

“Because in Madagascar politics, religion, class and socio-economic issues are deeply intertwined, Churches have sometimes also been directly active on the political stage, with religious leaders acting as political actors, taking sides and/or supporting conflict parties.”

Religion has reportedly been used by political actors as grounds for legitimizing violence. In particular, religious images, myths, references, rituals and values have been repeatedly instrumentalized for political purposes. However, in parallel, religious leaders have frequently acted as mediators and peacemakers in the episodes of conflict in Madagascar.10

Registration of religious groups

Religious groups are required to register with the Ministry of the Interior, which gives them the necessary legal status to receive direct bequests and gifts. A group must have an elected administrative council of no more than nine members, who are citizens to qualify for registration.11 Religious groups that do not meet registration requirements may register as “simple associations” which may not receive gifts or hold religious services, and could only conduct social projects.

Education & children’s rights

Public schools do not offer religious education.12 There is no law prohibiting or limiting religious education in public or private schools.13

Leaders of the Muslim Malagasy Association said that Muslim children, especially girls, were often the object of teasing by their schoolmates and teachers who nicknamed them “young terrorists” or “witches.”14

Pre-trial detention

According to Amnesty International, by the end of 2020, 734 children were being held in pre-trial detention in “inhumane conditions”.15

Child marriage

Many young Malagasy girls are withdrawn from school, marry early (often pressured to do so by their parents), and soon begin having children. Early childbearing, coupled with Madagascar’s widespread poverty and lack of access to skilled health care providers during delivery, increases the risk of death and serious health problems for young mothers and their babies.

Child marriage perpetuates gender inequality and is prevalent among the poor, the uneducated, and rural households – as of 2013, of Malagasy women aged 20 to 24, more than 40% were married and more than a third had given birth by the age of 18.16 Although the legal age for marriage is 18, parental consent is often given for earlier marriages or the law is flouted, especially in rural areas that make up nearly 65% of the country. Forms of arranged marriage whereby young girls are married to older men in exchange for oxen or money are traditional.17 If a union does not work out, a girl can be placed in another marriage, but the dowry paid to her family diminishes with each unsuccessful marriage.18

Family, community and society

Madagascar’s population consists of 18 main ethnic groups, some of which maintain a caste system.19

There are numerous religious groups in Madagascar. The Council of Christian Churches in Madagascar (FFKM) represents the four principal Christian groups: Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and members of the Reformed Protestant Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM). The largest non-Christian group includes adherents of indigenous religions. The Muslim population is estimated to be about 10-15%, the majority of whom are of ethnic Indian and Pakistani origin, as well as Commoran immigrants.

Muslim leaders have estimated that about 4% of Muslims have no citizenship, despite having been born in the country and having family ties, since there are legal restrictions on citizenship of children of two Malagasy citizens.20 Sometimes Muslims have limited access to government services and financial assistance and faced more difficulty with access to basic administrative services such as obtaining a national identification card with Muslim names, and registering non-profit organization names with Arabic words.21

Although reported to be in decline, the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM) is reported to have close ties to politicians.22 The clerical movement Hetsiky ny mpitondra Fivavahana (HMF) closely tied with the FJKM, is usually not given authorization to hold public religious gatherings and events because they have been perceived as political activities that are aimed at opposing the regime.

Women’s rights: gender-based violence and unsafe abortions

In December 2019, the government introduced a new law to counter gender-based violence. The law was introduced to provide stronger protection for both women and children.23 Despite this, however, local organizations have reported “an increase in the number of domestic violence cases during lockdown”.24

Whilst abortion remains illegal in Madagascar many women continue to perform unsafe and illegal abortions.25 According to the NGO Doctors of the World (Médecins du Monde – MdM), the rising numbers in gender-based violence had resulted in more unwanted pregnancies. This also led to more women and girls undergoing illegal and unsafe abortions during the pandemic, which is one of the main causes of maternal mortality.26

LGBTI+ rights

The minimum age for same-sex sexual activity is 21. In Madagascar, the Penal Code punishes any individual “who has committed an indecent or unnatural act with an individual of the same sex, under the age of 21 years”.27 The age of consent for heterosexual sexual activity is 14. Madagascar does not recognise same-sex marriages or civil unions.28 The country also does not allow same-sex couples to adopt children.29

Conversion Therapy

In March 2020, a 33-year-old woman, Domoina, was arrested on the suspicion of having a same-sex relationship with a woman, Fye, under the age of 21 years old.30

An environmental activist and supporter of the LGBTI+ community, Marie Christina Kolo, said that she had been contacted by members of religious groups who want to “heal her” (Fye) and that other members have accused the environmental activist of “promoting homosexuality”.31 Individuals who defended the couple online have been met with death threats, insults and harassment.

According to Galian, a leader of the LGBTI+ community, homosexuality is seen as an “infection” that kills society since it has no reproductive function.32 The leader of the community left his home at 23 years old because his parents wanted to send him to “conversion therapy”.33 He also added that the community is divided and that some individuals believe that their sexual orientation is a temporary phase.

Cancellation of public events

In July 2021, the Malagasy government cancelled an LGBTI+ party in the capital, Antananarivo, for “undermining good morals” and “incitement to debauchery by minors”.34 The bar had previously arranged events for the LGBTI+ community every year for three years.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Independent outlets have been subjected to government censorship, harassment, and intimidation, and practiced self-censorship.

The right to freedom of expression has been restricted during the COVID-19 pandemic.35 Those who criticized the government’s national response to COVID-19 and reported failures of government officials were arrested or harassed.36

On 6 April 2020, the opposition Real TV Channel, attempted to broadcast an interview with the country’s former President Ravalomanana in which he criticized the coronavirus measures and the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the broadcast was not successful due to persons damaging its transmitter and antenna.37 Reporters Without Borders claimed that the incident happened soon after the Ministry of Communication and Culture formally warned Real TV and two other opposition media outlets, Radio AZ and Radio Soleil, not to report on the government’s handling of the pandemic.38

Freedom of assembly has faced serious restrictions since the early 2009 unrest. The transitional government’s officials and security forces consistently prohibit demonstrations or repress gatherings. Freedom of association is respected in general, with hundreds of active nongovernmental organizations, which include human rights groups.39


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