The Maldives has been placed on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the fourth consecutive year.
As with last year’s report, the country avoided a downgrade to the lowest tier “because [the] government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”
However US Ambassador-at-large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Luis CdeBaca, noted during the release of the report that the six countries again spared a downgrade would not be eligible next year – including Afghanistan, Barbados, Chad, Malaysia, Thailand and the Maldives.
This was, he noted, intended to prompt action in countries that were “getting comfortable being on Tier 2 Watch List, doing a minimum amount, not really doing all that much, not on the upward trajectory of a Tier 2 or a Tier 1 country.”
Tier 3 countries are defined by the State Department as those which “neither satisfy the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking nor demonstrate a significant effort to do so”, and are open to non-humanitarian and non-trade international sanctions.
Human trafficking in the Maldives
The Maldives is a destination country for human trafficking, including sex trafficking and particularly forced labour and debt bondage. Maldivian children were also trafficked within the country, the State Department noted.
“An unknown number of the approximate 150,000 documented and undocumented foreign workers in Maldives – primarily Bangladeshi and Indian men in the construction and service sectors – face conditions of forced labor: fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or nonpayment of wages, and debt bondage,” the report stated.
“Migrant workers pay the equivalent of approximately US$1,000 to US$4,000 in recruitment fees in order to migrate to Maldives, contributing to their risk of debt bondage inside the country.
“In addition to Bangladeshis and Indians, some migrants from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Nepal reportedly experienced recruitment fraud before arriving in Maldives.
“Recruitment agents in source countries collude with employers and agents in Maldives to facilitate fraudulent recruitment and forced labor of migrant workers.”
Despite widespread acknowledgement of the practice and the government’s submission of a draft anti-trafficking bill to parliament in December 2012, the Maldives still has no specific laws prohibiting human trafficking and “the government of the Maldives made minimal anti-trafficking enforcement efforts during the year.”
While forced labour was prohibited under the 2009 Employment Act, it was not penalised, the report noted.
“The government reported investigating four and prosecuting two sex trafficking cases in 2012, compared to no prosecutions recorded in 2011,” the report stated.
However “the government did not report any prosecutions of government employees for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses [and] the absence of government translators prevented foreign trafficking victims from pursuing recourse through the Maldivian legal system.”
Deport first, ask questions later
Instead, the government focused on deporting undocumented immigrants without screening them for indications of human trafficking.
“Some of these immigrants subsequently were identified by a civil society group as trafficking victims,” the report noted. “Due to a lack of comprehensive victim identification procedures, trafficking victims may have been inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalised for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked.”
The State Department report specifically noted that between March and December 2012 the government “arrested, imprisoned, and deported 29 foreign females for prostitution at beauty salons without first identifying whether they were sex trafficking victims.”
“The government did not provide foreign victims with legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they might face hardship or retribution. Authorities did not encourage victims to participate in the investigation or prosecution of trafficking offenders. Police officers reported that suspected trafficking victims were fearful of being arrested or deported by the police,” the report stated.
The focus on deportation was noted, with government officials even observing that the Maldives “had not meaningfully addressed the role Maldivian recruitment agents play in facilitating human trafficking.”
Police were reported to have fined three local recruitment agencies found to have engaged in fraud and forgery, however “no labor recruiter or agency was criminally prosecuted for fraudulent recruitment practices”, despite the creation of a recruitment agency oversight body in April 2011.
The report noted that a “small number” of women from Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, China, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, and former Soviet countries, as well as some girls from Bangladesh and Maldives, “are subjected to sex trafficking in Male.”
Domestic trafficking involved the transport of children from their home islands to the capital Male for the purposes of forced domestic servitude, with some also facing sexual abuse.
The report noted that while the 2009 Child Sex Abuse Act criminalised the prostitution of children with a penalty of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for violations, Article 14 of the same act “provides that if a person is legally married to a child under Islamic Sharia, none of the offenses specified in the legislation, including child prostitution, would be considered a crime.”
“The government did not report any efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts during the year,” the report noted.
The Maldives’ entry in the State Department’s report concluded with a long list of specific recommendations for the Maldives to combat human trafficking, and avoid the now otherwise inevitable downgrade to Tier 3 in June 2014.
These recommendations included:
- Pass and enact legislation prohibiting and punishing all forms of trafficking in persons;
- clearly distinguish between human trafficking, human smuggling and the presence of undocumented migrants in legislation, policies, and programs;
- develop and implement systematic procedures for government officials to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as undocumented migrants and females in prostitution;
- ensure that trafficking victims are not penalized for acts committed as a result of being trafficked;
- increase efforts to investigate and prosecute suspected trafficking offenses respecting due process;
- work to ensure that identified victims of trafficking are provided access to victim services;
- enforce prohibitions of passport retention by employers;
- raise public awareness of human trafficking through media campaigns;
- provide translators to police and other law enforcement authorities to ensure foreign workers are able to participate in investigations and prosecutions against their alleged traffickers;
- improve inter-ministerial coordination on human trafficking issues;
- ensure that changes to labor migration policies for the purpose of reducing human trafficking do not restrict legal migration;
- take steps to ensure that employers and labor brokers do not abuse labor recruitment or sponsorship processes in order to subject migrant workers to forced labor;
- accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.