“Is this Malaysia?”: Authorities playing a blame game over modern-day slave trade

Authorities in the Maldives are engaged in a “blame game” over human trafficking in the country, and have been “pointing at each other and going around in circles” observed Professor Mondira Dutta, of the Central Asian Studies Programme at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

“The Maldives is on the tier two watch list in the US State Department’s trafficking in persons report. This means that there are enough policy recommendations in place to combat human trafficking, but there isn’t much evidence in the field to show the government is working towards it,” Dr Dutta said.

Dr Dutta presented a lecture on human trafficking yesterday at the invitation of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), after spending a week interviewing stakeholders.

“There are cases of elderly men going to India and marrying young women, and returning [to the Maldives] with a free domestic servant,” she said. “I know of one such woman who was returned to her home country at the expense of the Indian High Commission.”

In other instances police had conducted raids on massage parlours, “but they are unable to do anything as there is no law against human trafficking in place.”

The Maldives was primarily a destination country for traffickers, she said, “with workers trafficked into forced labour or commercial sexual exploitation.”

With human trafficking not expressly prohibited and the only prescribed penalty for labour trafficking a small fine, unregistered rogue employment agents were” rampant” in the country, she said.

“Immigration attests that in one case a quota for 99 workers was issued in the name of an 80 year-old disabled Maldivian man, not in his senses, who knew nothing about migrant workers being brought to the country in his name. This was sanctioned not just for one year, but year after year.”

Immigration officials told Dr Dutta that a common question asked by many workers arriving in the country was “Is this Malaysia?”

“They do not know the agent’s number or even his name. You cannot blame this on them,” she said. “They are told they have work in a resort, but it turns out to be a small restaurant in Male’.”

Whenever fraudulent agents were arrested, the maximum sentences handed out were no more than three months in prison, “and then it’s back to business again.”

Even the Ministry of Education was retaining the passports of expatriates, Dr Dutta said, “in order to ‘ease out the visa application system’, which is not something I’ve heard happen anywhere else in the world. This contributes to the conversion of legal migrants into illegal ones.”

The Tourism Ministry had acknowledged that there were “cases in resorts that were not normal”, however the Ministry claimed these were outside its jurisdiction, Dr Dutta added.

“Hospitals also attest the fact that low numbers of expatriates [attend hospital] because they have no money to pay, so they are left to the mercy of God.”

Even the number of migrant workers in the country was unknown, Dr Dutta said, with the only estimates based on data from 2008. According to that information, 85,000 foreign workers were in the Maldives, approximately 28,000 Indians with the majority Bangladeshis.

“More that 50 percent of workers are illegal – why?” she asked. “Because they are paid irregular salaries, go without pay for months, work extremely hard for long hours in inhuman living conditions and face constant insecurity. The majority are illiterate and the poorest of the poor from the developing world.”

False promises of “rosy scenarios” overseas compelled many to seek a better life in countries such as the Maldives, Dr Dutta said, but placed them at high risk of exploitation by unscrupulous employment agents in countries where the authorities were disinterested or laws and regulations protecting workers did not exist.

“Law enforcement machinery for trafficking does not exist – there are no laws for human trafficking in Maldives, and existing laws can even be a hurdle for booking culprits,” Dr Dutta said, using the example of a trafficked sex worker who local laws viewed as a criminal rather than a victim.

Trafficking – “trade in flesh” – was one of the “world’s most heinous crimes” and “a modern-day slave trade,” Dr Dutta said.

“We used to living in a society that accepts the barbaric treatment of men, women and children, that this starts to become accepted. The initial shock of these outlandish crimes wears off quickly in an environment where rape, murder and humiliation are not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment,” she added.

HRCM is currently working on a report on human trafficking in the Maldives.


38 thoughts on ““Is this Malaysia?”: Authorities playing a blame game over modern-day slave trade”

  1. Dr Dutta, you are all right to blame Maldives for whatever you have said because they are all true. But sadly you didn't mention anything of this sort that is going on in India itself. The same forced labour and inhuman treatment of labours occur in India itself, the only difference between Indian and Maldives is that Maldivians bring them from you country while you use them within your country. And yes not to forget, India has the highest child labour market in the world which the UN and western world highly oppose and yet your governments seem to be doing nothing to stop or eliminate it. You economy is booming but one of the main reason why it is booming is your labour industry which included under paid poor class people and child labours. Its best you address these things to your country authorities too before criticizing Maldives that badly.

  2. What ever the intention was the heading of the article give a wrong impression on Malaysia. I know one Bangladeshi who thought Maldives was inhabited by Europeans or European descendants (like how Australia was although its far from Europe). In case of him, he could have well said "oh is this really a European or European descendent country: Authorities playing a blame game over modern-day slave trade". But I ask the writer if you would write the same as the heading. Probably not, becuase you understand the wrong impression that would follow if the article was read properly.

  3. @Ziyan
    shut up. your concern should be maldives. Dr. Dutta is a professor and a genius. it is his profession to give such illuminating lectures.

  4. I too agree with the comment by Ziyan however it is not a reason for us to do the same. As you have agreed, problems and wrong doing here in our country are true and we should not blame others or shut them just because they do it too. we all should be voicing out whether it is Maldives or India or anywhere else. Then only we can stop it ... However I note that the professor only looks from one side that is these Foreigner are brought in coordination with agents in their own home and many worker work illegally because then they can earn more (e.g. working 2 hrs each house is for minimum 100 $ so most of these worker get help from their agents and Maldivians and they live on their own in small rooms and work several houses). So we need to understand both side to tackle the problem and there is always two side to a story and a third person can tell you third side to it.

  5. dear ziyan

    i see you're one of those people. if a teacher complains about your kids behaviour you will sudden go on the defensive. you will point out some other kid and say that he or she is no better...are you one of those people? if you are, then sorry to say then your type of people are whats wrong with our country. you are the type we can do without...the result of your type, we can see all around us from our youth. sorry to say but i hope you will correct this very undesirable flaw.

    dear dr. dutta

    you are absolutely right. but our law makers are doing the best they can. they are trying to earn enough salaries so that they can avoid the massage parlous with sex slaves and go to lanka and elsewhere for their happy endings. but thank you for the time you invested in our little nation...

  6. @ Ziyan - Dr Dutta is speaking about Maldives; that is why he is talking about the Maldives. Can you get your head around that?

    Dr Dutta is absolutely right. We cannot keep on turning a blind eye to the degrading and inhumane way we treat our foreign labourers.

    HRCM writing a report to tackle the issue is like using a glass of water to put out an inferno.

    It is unlikely that any anti-trafficking legislation will be proposed or passed by the Majlis anytime soon.

    When it comes to activities involving money, and lots of it, the legislature is more erratic than democratic.

    Whether a law is passed or not depends on whether or not it provides MPs with a pecuniary advantage.

    We have already sold our homes, values and souls to the highest bidders, it shouldn't surprise anyone that we are now doing a roaring trade in other human beings.

  7. Really? Ziyan? What sort of argument is that?

    "I know my children look untidy....but I saw your son playing in mud the other week."

    The topic of discussion is Maldives, not India. Just in case you missed it-

    "Dr Dutta presented a lecture on human trafficking yesterday at the invitation of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM)"

    There is no "I'm better than you" competition here, however even if there was, relative to the population, we are clearly the bigger offender.

    So I suggest you, Ziyan or anyone else who has his/her head buried in the sand - get your heads out and take a look around.

  8. @ ziyan
    The issue is Maldives. You idiot!! and typical of an ignorant fool. Start pointing other people's problems. That makes you feel good doesn.t it. And hey people like you keep turning a blind eye to what is happening HERE!!!

  9. This kind of thing should not be happenening in our little country which boasts a centuries old 100 per cent Islamic culture. Does this situation reflect badly on the Islamic religion itself?

  10. @ Ziyan

    I can see what you mean. But I guess we shouldn't be too hasty to blame you. There are lots of Maldivians, even educated ones, who have the same psyche. But mostly the mullahs exude these traits.

    Probably due to part of the education system or the religious infallibility thinking, or egotistical superiority complex that most Maldivians seem to believe in.

    In any case, we need to look in the mirror, and let go of these traits.

  11. Agree with Ziyan 100%...can this useless professor tell me one country where immigrant labor is treated humanly..Not the USA, just ask the Latinos, Not the EU, Not Australia and definitely not the rich middle eastern countries such as UAE...The above said professor should be more concerned with the antiquated Indian caste system than the foreign labor in Maldives...Most of the Maldivians sleep is small cramped rented rooms..So what should we treat the laborers any better?...We need to make this better for Maldivians before we can provide for these unskilled foreign laborers, who mostly are refuges in their on country,hence come to MAldives..Human trafficking in the Maldives is not a big issue even if you compare the numbers..Mr.Professor please don't make a mountain out of a molehill..We don't want the government to sacrifice our economic growth by providing minimum wage, health, insurgence, accommodation, food, tickets to and from to these mostly unskilled labors.....Singapore also lacks a minimum wage.....No to more taxes. No to minimum wage and No to more rights to unskilled foreign labor.

  12. we are all slaves in this country, a suppressed society, who gives a damn about us?????
    Just as you all have a right to practice ur faith , those of us who do not wish to practice it should be allowed to!!!

  13. Dr Dutta I have one or two thing say about human trafficking. It start from source country if authorities in source country do not try to stop it destination country will find very hard stop it. We must admit as Maldivian there is no such law in place to to protect Human Traffic victims. Under no law the people involved in human trafficking victims are protected or those involved in this trade can be arrested. This is reality and we have to digest it.

  14. @Michael Fahmy
    what's Islamic culture? there has not been a centuries old 'Islamic culture' in maldives whatever that is.

  15. Dr. Dutta, i think you should do ur work better, we do have a health insurance policy for the expats, so now if they are sick they can go to the hospitals, and i do agree with you with the trafficking, but most of the Bangladeshis come here knowingly, they sold their homes and come here for the quick money. so its a blame game for both of the countries, not only Maldives.

  16. ziyan is the victim of the us against them mentality we have here in the maldives. it is always everyone else is out to get us. it is always people trying to "give a bad name to us and our religion". the kafir westerners hate our religion. portugese tried to invade us and failed. india "snatched" maliku from us and wanna enslave us by making deals with government (coz they failed the use of other means). so india and srilanka naturally hates us for our tourism and wants to "tarnish the good name of maldives" in the world. FOR GOD SAKE YOUR BUNCHA 3 lakh people in this world. you are utterly insignificant. racist veganegen size olhigen noolhebala!

  17. @suhag
    If I smoke, do i have the right to give lectures to others about smoking, and criticise them ? Like-wise, as is the situation in Maldives not so adorable, it must also be mentioned that India too has a pretty pathetic situation when considering the fact that more than 12 million children are employed as labourers in India. At least admit it, before you start blabbering about geniuses and whatever...

  18. @minivan
    What's with Malaysia in the heading, no relevance either to the news peice or in any other way

    @general opposition to the what the professor said

    While it's true that India has a worse history of human traffic. At least they have a legal framework in place to take care of the problems faced.

    So rather than criticize. It's time to bring home the point and parliament draft a bill on human trafficking

  19. Suddenly Maldives is famous for human trafficing. thanks goverment for the lovely reports you present to sarc and other agencies.

    Honestly what traficcing is going on here? are people not comming out of their will to work here? are even the illegal immigrants restricted from erning an income?

  20. Ziyan, you are also playing a blame game. what ever bad happened in Inda, doesn't meant that we should copy it and do the same.
    Mithra, you better read the article once again. it is a question asked by the poor laborers who come to Maldives to work. they are being told that they are coming to Malaysia.
    i honestly believe that there is human trafficking in our country. earlier i worked in the HRCM. i personally met and helped many laborers who haven't paid their salaries for months and worked under pathetic condition and treating them like, even worse than animals. please believe the fact and let's stand together to fight against HUMAN TRAFFICKING. let's punish the culprits who are doing this horrendous act and sucking humans blood.

  21. @ Aliased..yeah keep doing that..I have a even better idea..The army once employed it..they put about 1000 Rohinya people ( A Burmese Muslim tribe ) in a boat without water or even a engine or food and let them adrift....Well most died some arrived floated into Acheh other into parts of Africa...Thats how the world knew about the story....So I suggest Aliased just do that...here's the full story http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2009/01/23/regional/regional_30094044.php

  22. It is a sad to see that Dr. Datta did not make the difference between Trafficking of Persons (human trafficking) and Migrant Smuggling, which is the possibly the bigger problem in Maldives in his deliberations. The UN Convetion has two different difinition of these two and two different approaches needs to be taken to tackle these two very distinct problems.

    In addition to that, if any one has actually read the US state Dept report, you would notice it's sources are highly unreliable (blogs, websites, anocdotal evidences). While not disputing the problem exist in Maldives, the State Dept report could, and I would argue any academic research would be, highly critical of that report.
    Moreover,neither of the law enforcement bodies (police, immigration were officially or unofficially contacted to get better information for the state dept report. It was based solely on observations from some International NGOs, to whome information was fed through blogs, local NGOs..etc. Hope the current research being undertaken by HRCM will take a methodologically more sound approach and come up with a true Analytical picture of the problem and what needs to be done.

    While what has been done by the maldives state is most probably not adequate, there has been number of initiatives undertaken by state agencies to combat the problem. The police has included Trafficking of Persons and Migrant Smuggling as a High Priority in their Strategic Plan (2011-2013). Record keeping and data collection has been strenghthened. A Bill is being drafted.
    Yes, there is a need for further activities, esppecially more victim centered approach to dealing with the problem but it seems the Maldives is on the right track.

  23. Dear Stand Agaings,
    Again you are speaking of problems of migrant smuggling when you describeyour experiences in working at HRCM and the stories of labourers.

  24. Now guys, don't act like fools and blame the professor or the journalist. This is very true and need to be addressed seriously. Comment accordingly.
    This was introduced by the last government and if I have to blame individuals who made millions on this, it is Yaamin and Mattey. Still this is gong on and the present government/Labor ministry need to address this issue seriously

  25. @Ibrahim perhaps has forgotten the "Singapore Boys", who were at the root of this import.
    Port Commission and Port Authority who had a common head started this, it is from them Yaameen and Maattey or who ever is following perhaps learned it from.
    This is not an issue to blame each other perhaps!
    Damage is already done and it cannot be undone with a single stroke!
    It would be rather better to think, and do justice to everyone who are on this boat!
    It is noted that the people who live in the islands are getting severely infected.
    Educating perhaps may be a better solution rather than pointing fingers or even saying "Keekkuraanee"!

  26. @Ziyan, @grif and all other pee brains like them
    This is a Maldivian news site, news regarding the Maldives you morons. Get your heads out of your asses.
    And why shouldn't Dr Dutta criticise Maldives? Bring your heads up from down there and take a look around. Some of these poor guys are living in pathetic corrugated tin huts with no rights whatsoever. Spoke with a guy recently who has been living here for 9 years and can do both electrical and plumbing work. He has to work 6 days a week, 12 hours a day for less than $200 a month, to keep him, his wife and his child. And that seems to be the norm for foreign workers. Blatant slave labour. How many Maldivians I wonder would be willing to work for that for doing so many hours and living in those conditions?

  27. Some bullocks here think that I beileive that Maldives should do human trafficking just because others do it. Well get your brains rolled up to catch the gist of my previous comment. Maldivians do misuse foreign labourere but my point was that Dr Dutta has all too blamed Maldives only not even ,entioning what is going on in her own country. There is no topic in these kind of cases. Many foreigners come here knowingly and it is wrong to blame so harshly Maldives by her who comes from a place where there is child labour, honour killing, cast system, some casts are considered so low that they think its dirt and forbid there own children to touch the children from low casts, violence in every state, human rights violence in kasmir etc etc. No matter what you guys say, I still have to say to Dr Dutta, clean your own dirt before been a big boss and criticize on others. Punto.

  28. a purpose of an audit or study is not accusing, blaming or condemn. we should take this with good spirit and try to put things right. if the government takes this seriously we can definitely solve this problem.

  29. @Ziyan
    Dr Dutta has criticized Maldives in Maldives on an invitation by the HRCM. lol. Dr Dutta won. nothing you can do about it. be careful what nonsense you write here. when you visit Trivandrum for medical purposes they might lock you up for being so racist. Apologise immediately, you island idiot.

  30. @shaheem: you just called Ziyan a racist idiot but aint you being racist as well calling him island idiots? arnt all maldivians islanders? even if we are from Male' have you forgotten it is still an island? hehe
    But i do agree that this is a serious issue and we should deal with it without blaming each other.

  31. AGO, agree with u, the difference between 'human trafficking' and 'migrant trafficking' is lost here, and while we have a serious issue I'll treatment of migrant labour here, maldives is hardly the leader of human trafficking. This whole thing seems to be another attempt by minivan to somehow demonise maldians.......

  32. Well its quite natural that we never ready to understands what others wants to tell us in simple manner.

    The whole concept was to highlights the loop holes in the systems and to over come them. But today,s youth not even get time to read the comments with a positive attitude.All they wants to see the results in favor of them and if something wrong in the system, just put the blame on others as usual..isnt?????

  33. Agree with the last comment of Ziyan. I believe this article is too harsh and very one sided.

  34. As a participant present at the lecture, i request Mr. J.J Robinson to say something in defence to the all the negative comments received. Ms. Dutta's shared a lot of incidences of human trafficking in India. in fact most of her examples were quoted from India. so get your facts right!


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