A 12-year-old French boy abducted Tuesday from outside his school in southwest Madagascar is the latest victim in a surge of kidnappings in the island nation.
François Goldblatt, Madagascar's French ambassador, has said the latest incident brings the rash of kidnappings to "a new and even more unacceptable boundary."
Enlèvement hier d'un jeune français devant son collège à Tuléar : un nouveau seuil plus inacceptable encore que les précédents est franchi.
— François Goldblatt (@FrGoldblatt)February 18, 2015
The boy, named Houssen, was seized from a rickshaw by four armed men as he was leaving the Etienne-de-Flacourt middle school on Tuesday, according to local daily L'Express de Madagascar. His sister, who was with him at the time and tried to stop the attackers' car, escaped unharmed.
Police Chief Joachim Rajaobelina told AFP that officials "were actively looking for the child," and said that they had "already arrested three people" in connection with the abduction. Ambassador Goldblatt said that French authorities were collaborating with local police to find the boy.
Les autorités malgaches et françaises pleinement mobilisées sur l'enlèvement d'un mineur à Tulear. En relation permanente avec la famille.
— France à Madagascar (@ambafrmada)February 18, 2015
"Malagasy and French authorities fully mobilized over the kidnapping of a minor in Toliara. In constant contact with the family."
Houssen is a member of the island's Indo-Pakistani Karana community — a long-established group that has been increasingly targeted by abductors for their perceived wealth. Houssen's father owns a hardware store in a nearby town.
According to L'Express de Madagascar, the boy's family is in touch with the kidnappers, who have set the ransom at 400 million Ariary ($140,000) — a small fortune in Madagascar, which is one of the poorest countries in the world.
Houssen's abduction comes just weeks after the high profile kidnapping of Goulam Razaali, a prominent French Malagasy businessman and the honorary consul for South Korea. Razaali — who is also a member of the Karana community — was seized from his car outside his home on January 31. He was released after six days following payment of an undisclosed ransom. Razaali was also abducted a few years ago.
The majority of kidnapping victims in Madagascar are wealthy businessmen or foreign nationals, including French, Chinese, and Mauritians. Criminals have also been targeting wealthy businessmen from the Karana community, who have become known for paying heavy ransoms without reporting abductions to the police.
The Malagasy police have come under increasing scrutiny over reports of corruption and allegations of involvement in organized crime. Reports of police complicity have usually focused on the trafficking of animals and timber, but recent events have implicated police in the abduction racket. In 2014, French radio broadcaster RFI reported that escalating abductions in Madagascar have come to "embody the corruption that is crippling the country," comparing it to past issues "such as zebu theft or rosewood trafficking."
Earlier this month, three officers of the Security and Special Intervention Group paramilitary unit were arrested by police in the eastern city of Moramanga after abducting two high-profile Malagasy businessmen. They were also found with 140 million Ariary ($52,500). On Saturday, the three officers were charged with "abduction, sequestration, theft, possession of firearms, and organized crime."
Houssen's abduction has created a climate of fear among parents of schoolchildren in Madagascar, with local media reporting that many parents have started picking their kids up from school and stopping them from going to school alone.
Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: @PLongeray
Image via Flickr / Marco Zanferrari