A report on the Maldives in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) review of the Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking of Women and Children for Prostitution has highlighted the Maldives as a destination country for human trafficking, “where the primary form of trafficking is forced labour.”
The SAARC report, funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and produced by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), suggested that human trafficking in the Maldives “is presumably is associated with the country’s socio-economic status as the most developed South Asian country, and its reliance on the migration of foreign workers to support sectors such as tourism and construction.”
“The Maldives is a destination country for migrant workers trafficked from neighbouring Bangladesh and India for forced labour, and to a lesser extent women from Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and China who are trafficked to Male’ for commercial sexual exploitation,” the report said, adding that “there is also some existence of some inter-island trafficking of Maldivian girls to the capital for domestic servitude.”
The country’s main offenders were “registered employment agents who fraudulently recruit low-skilled migrant workers and subject them to conditions of forced labour once they are in the country.”
“The other major offending group are wealthy families who subject domestic servants to forced labour,” the report noted.
The trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation was less marked than in other countries, the report noted, compared alongside the levels of forced labour, however “women of Chinese, Thai, Sri Lankan, and Filipino origin come to Male’ on the weekends from Colombo and some of them engage in commercial sex with the local migrant worker population.”
“In interviews, officials also spoke of occasions where they suspected cases of commercial sexual exploitation particularly when a large number of young women, sometimes of Eastern European origin, travel together with a single man to an exclusive private tourist resort for a short duration. [In this instance] there is little immigration officials can do in the absence of a complaint or some indication of abuse.”
IOM’s National Programme Officer Nishat Chowdhry presented the report at a meeting today in the Nalahiya Hotel, part of a review of the convention which until now has excluded male victims and crimes as forced labour.
“The scope of the convention is limited,” Chowdhry said. “Other aspects of trafficking, including for forced labour, human transplants and servitude have not been covered by convention,” she said. “There is growing consensus that the time is right to review the convention.”
President of the Human Rights Commission for the Maldives (HRCM) Ahmed Saleem described human trafficking as “a modern form of slavery with 800,000 estimated victims, mostly women and children.”
Saleem observed that a recent US State Department report into human trafficking had criticised the Maldives government for failure “to fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking”, but noted that the government had now acknowledged the existence of the crime “even if overall efforts to [confront] it are insignificant.”
“The commission is convinced that this is a major human rights issue and that is why we have begun a comprehensive study we hope to complete as soon as possible,” he said.
Vice President Dr Mohamed Hassan Waheed, speaking at the event, noted that while the convention focused on one the “most serious transnational crimes against dignity and human rights”, there were “serious shortcomings both in coverage and implementation of this convention.”
“Specific limitations include the exclusion of male victims, prostitution excluding other forms of trafficking such as forced labour, sex slavery and other slave-like practices. I am concerned that even though the convention has been in force for fours years, it has not been adequately implemented and enforced in the region.”
The convention carried “inadequate provision for victim protection and rehabilitation,” he said.
“I am especially concerned about the trafficking of children, especially girl children. The effects of sexual exploitation of children are profound, maybe permanent. Sexual, physical and emotional development are stunted, self-esteem and confidence are undermined, and sexually exploited children become especially vulnerable to the effects of physical and verbal violence, drugs, sexually transmitted diseases. We are concerned that human trafficking is becoming a growing problem in our country.”
An industry driven “by greed and brutal disregard for human rights”, human trafficking “has become a worldwide multi-billion dollar industry,” Dr Hassan said.
“The problem is global but some of the worst forms are found in Asia, where more than a million people are exploited each year. Trafficking on this level cannot escape the attention of national and local law enforcement authorities and I would like to call on concerned authorities and counterparts in our neighbouring countries to enforce these laws and accept our obligations under this convention.”