In Madagascar 92 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day, and poverty has sharply increased in the past five years (four million more people in poverty than there were in 2008). The longstanding problems encountered by Malagasy society are exacerbated within detention centres such as Antanimora, in the capital city of Antananarivo. Exiguity, lack of hygiene and idleness are the daily life for some 110 minors incarcerated in Antanimora’s juvenile hall. Non-governmental organizations have endeavored to improve the day-to-day life of inmates with the construction of shower-room facilities, toilets, a refectory, daily attention to the medical and educational needs of the children  and, most importantly, by supplying food.

Juvenile prisoners, or ‘Zaza Maditra’ – unruly children or bad boys as they are referred to – are aged between twelve and eighteen years old and are held on remand for petty crimes ranging from chicken theft to snatch-and-grab street thieving or fighting. As a result of chronic overcrowding and a dysfunctional criminal justice system it is not unusual for many of the children and young adults, placed on remand, to be released six months later without having stood before a judge at all..

For the others, whose serious offenses come under the jurisdiction of the criminal court, a warrant limited to eight months, which can be renewed repeatedly, is issued by the Central Prosecutor’s office. Automatic detentions of 30 months, known as an OPC (Ordonnance de Prise de Corps) are commonly sought by prosecutors and handed down by the examining magistrate.

I was given an insight into the life for the Zaza Maditra in the juvenile prison. In the prison yard and dormitories of Antanimora I listened to the testimonies of the young men being held there, I witnessed the tough conditions they live in and I was moved by their dreams for a better life.

Cedric Spilthooren