CEDAW committee welcomes progress on women’s rights, expresses concern with child marriages, flogging and gender stereotypes

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has welcomed the Maldives’ progress on protecting women’s rights whilst expressing concern with child marriages, flogging and gender stereotypes in society.

In its concluding observations released last Friday (March 6) on the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of the Maldives – reviewed at meetings on February 27 with a high-level delegation led by Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon – the committee welcomed progress achieved since the last review in 2007, including the adoption of a new penal code that includes a definition of rape.

The committee noted other legislative reforms such as the Sexual Harassment and Abuse Prevention Act of 2014, the Sexual Offences Act of 2014, the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act of 2013, the Domestic Violence Prevention Act of 2012, the Employment Act of 2008, and the new Constitution in 2008, “which removes provisions barring women from being elected as President and Vice-President.”

The committee also noted the establishment of the Family Protection Authority in 2012 and welcomed “forthcoming amendments to the Family Act to regulate the distribution of matrimonial assets upon divorce.”

The Maldives acceded to the UN Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in July 1993 with reservations to article 16, which deals with equality in marriage and family relations.

“We strongly believe that equality of women in all walks of life, within the family, and in public life, is indeed a prerequisite for social justice and inclusive development that benefits all segments of society,” said Foreign Minister Dunya in her opening remarks at the treaty reporting session.

She reiterated the government’s commitment to addressing emerging challenges such as stereotypical practices that hinders equal representation of women in society.

Issues of concern

Whilst welcoming legislative initiatives on improving access to justice, the committee expressed concern with “persistent barriers faced by women in accessing justice”.

Of particular concern was the “insufficient independence of the judiciary, bias and gender stereotypes among judges and law enforcement officials, the absence of gender sensitive procedures and the limited capacity of the police to deal with complaints from women about violations of their rights in a gender-sensitive manner.”

Noting “the high number of unregistered marriages in rural and remote areas, including child marriages,” the committee recommended setting an age limit of 16 for exceptional cases of underage marriages.

The committee also recommended the abolition of flogging for fornication “as a matter of urgency,” noting that flogging “disproportionately affect women and girls and deter them from reporting sexual offences.”

Moreover, the committee noted the “existing discriminatory provisions regarding the participation of women as witnesses and delays in amending the stringent evidentiary provisions required for sexual violence offences.”

The committee noted that marital rape was not criminalised in law, the lack of enforcement of the anti-domestic violence law, and the lack of resources for the Family and Child Service Centres and safe houses.

The committee suggested that social stigma attached to women who report abuse as well as the perception that domestic violence cases were private family matters deters reporting.

Traditional stereotypes regarding the role and responsibilities of women in society meanwhile remain deeply entrenched, the committee observed, “which overemphasise the role of women as wives, mothers and caregivers, as well as prevent them from asserting their rights and actively participating in decision-making and other aspects of political and public life.”

The committee also expressed concern at “the growing trend in conservative interpretations of religion which encourage stereotypical patterns which negatively impact women and girls, as acknowledged by the State party during the dialogue. The Committee is further concerned about the emergence of cases of female genital mutilation in the State party, despite legislative prohibitions.”

Stereotypes as well as geographic constraints also limit girls’ access to higher education, the committee observed, noting “de facto restrictions on the re-entry of pregnant adolescent girls and married girls under the age of 18 in the formal educational system.”

Whilst noting the high representation of women in political parties, the committee noted that “social and cultural barriers continue to stigmatise women wishing to participate in political and public life which prevent them from running for public office.”

The committee noted the underrepresentation of women in parliament, the executive, the judiciary and decision-making level posts in the civil service.

“Further, it regrets the limited participation of women in local governance at community level, in particular in atolls, islands and city councils,” it stated.

On anti-trafficking, the committee expressed concern over “delays in establishing shelters for victims of trafficking and the absence of procedures for early victim identification, case management, and victim protection” and noted the “risk of internal trafficking for women and girls from remote islands placed in households in Male to access higher education opportunities.”

On health issues, the committee noted “limited access to obstetric health services, including pre- and post-natal services, for women living in remote areas,” “restricted access, in practice, to sexual and reproductive health services, for unmarried women and girls,” and “the absence of a study and data on the prevalence of unsafe and illegal abortion which is reportedly increasing.”


The committee urged the Maldives to honour its commitment to withdraw its reservation to paragraph two of article 16, which states: “The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory.”

The committee also recommended a review of the reservation to paragraph one of article 16, “with a view to fully withdrawing it, taking into consideration practices of countries with similar religious backgrounds and legal systems which have successfully harmonised their domestic legislation with international human rights obligations”.

Despite its ratification in 1993, the committee noted that the convention “has yet to be incorporated into its domestic legal system and can therefore not be applied by the courts” and expressed concern with the delay in conducting a gender impact analysis of existing laws.

The committee called on the state to pass gender equality legislation with a definition of discrimination in line with the convention.

Referring to the restructured Ministry of Law and Gender headed by the Attorney General, the committee said the move “weakened [the national machinery’s] institutional capacity to develop coherent and sustainable plans and policies and to ensure effective gender mainstreaming across relevant sectors” and expressed concern about the “the insufficient financial, human and technical resources” available to the ministry.

On the Supreme Court’s suo moto proceedings against members of the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) concerning its submission to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Period Review last year, the committee said “such actions seriously undermine the independence of the commission.”

Related to this story

Amnesty calls for moratorium on flogging in Maldives

Some police officers believe women to blame for domestic violence, says HRCM

Supreme Court slams HRCM for basing rights assessment on “rejected” UN rapporteur findings


Slow Loris spared euthanasia by UK conservationist group

The slow loris illegally trafficked into the Maldives has been spared euthanasia after Monkey World – a center for abused and neglected primates – offered to re-home the animal at their sanctuary in Dorset, England.

“This has never been done before, to move endangered species overseas from the Maldives. This has been an amazing, unprecedented international effort,” Dr Alison Cronin, Director of Monkey World told the press in Malé today (August 13).

The small primate, which is an Appendix I listed species of CITES – giving it the highest level of protection in international trade of wildlife – was discovered during a police raid in the capital in January.

Shazra Shihab from the Ministry of Environment and Energy explained that the government had been trying to rehome the animal ever since, but had struggled due to issues relating to costs, transportation, and the loris’s unknown country of origin.

“However, with tireless dedication from one party, and cooperation from all relevant government organisations of both countries, as well as dedication from other involved parties on both sides, we have now found a home for the slow loris,” she added.

“I first heard that the Bengal Loris had been confiscated in the Maldives by colleagues who work in Asia rescuing wildlife,” Dr Cronin told Minivan News.

The animal will now be taken back to the UK and paired with another of its species, she explained.

“We believe this to be a male Loris, and we have a home for it in England with a female Loris, so he will have a wife,” Dr Cronin added.

“We’ve been doing this work around the world for more than 25 years and I was impressed, heart-warmed and felt that everybody here deserved support and encouragement for what they’ve done.”

Echoing Dr Cronin’s sentiments, Gabriella Tamási from the International Airline Group IAG Cargo remarked, “this is totally unprecedented, what we have done to transport the slow loris, as currently our travel operations in the Maldives are not approved for live animal transport.”

Illegal slow loris trade

The illegal Loris pet trade boomed after video clips which depict the animals as a cute and docile pets went viral. However, the video craze has obscured the trauma and suffering that the animals endure at the hands of illegal traffickers.

Far from its cuddly depiction, the Loris secretes toxins on its wrists which – when combined with their saliva – deliver a toxic and very harmful bite, Dr Cronin explained.

“Most commonly what happens is they get grabbed and somebody forces their mouth open, and they take large fingernail clippers and simply cut the animals teeth off at the gum line.”

“It’s a very bloody, painful and horrible process, leaving the animal crippled,” revealed Dr Cronin.

According to Dr Cronin, the Bengal slow loris in the Maldives has not been checked over yet, as she prefers to minimise the stress for the animal during the transportation process.

“The last thing it needs is more stress,” she stated, “we’ll wait until we get it back to Monkey World.”

Dr Cronin also revealed plans to check the slow loris’ DNA once back in the UK, to find out the animal’s country of origin, which may then present the possibility to a return to the wild.

“Everybody in the Maldives can feel pleased and proud of both the law enforcement and the government ministry for bothering to stick with this for so long,“ Dr Cronin concluded.


Immigration detains 58 migrant workers in Laamu Gan

58 people were detained from Laamu Gan by the Department of Immigration and Emigration (DIE) yesterday as the government’s special operation to deport undocumented migrant workers continues.

“This operation will continue, that was the number of people we could transport yesterday. As soon as we get seats from a boat travelling to Malé, more people will be taken in,” said Laamu Gan Council President Ahmed Salah.

The council led the operation alongside the DIE, the Maldives Police Services (MPS), and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).

“This [the operation] is good for the island and for the country as well. This will create a lot of job opportunities for Maldivians,” said Salah.

While the most common type of work conducted by immigrants on the island is agriculture and fisheries, some are engaged in other occupations such as masonry, odd jobbing, and working in restaurants. Maldivian laws prohibits both fisheries work and self-employment for expatriates.

Salah estimated there would be around five hundred migrant workers on the 5000-strong island, most of whom he suggested were undocumented, and some of whom had fled the island during the operation.

He also noted that some of the workers taken in during the operation had valid visas but were considered undocumented as they were either not doing the work their visas were issued for, or were working for a different employer.


The main reason for having such a large migrant worker population on the island was their low wage demands compared to what is expected by locals, explained Salah.

“People give them around MVR2000 [per month] and an additional MVR500 for food and provide them with accommodation. There are so many of them on fishing boats and doing agricultural work,” he added.

According to the council president, migrant workers rent houses with each of them paying around MVR150 each day – agricultural workers live in small huts built on their fields, and fishermen live on their boats.

Following the council’s recommendations on behalf of the public, DIE has agreed not to take any action against locals who employ undocumented workers, Solah said.

“People are employing migrant workers like this because the implementation authorities have allowed them to do so. So we are requesting immigration to at least not to fine them [local employers], and let this time be a warning and show some leniency. So no fine have been imposed on the employers,” he explained.

Prior to the current operation, the immigration department conducted a  voluntary repatriation program, offering leniency for undocumented migrant workers who wished to return to their home countries voluntarily at their own expense.

The current programme was announced in April by the Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim – also head of the Immigration Department – who promised that “within three to four months the whole Malé will be cleaned”.

According to Nazim the priority would be to deport those detained in the operation as soon as possible.

Earlier this month 33 undocumented workers were detained as part of this nationwide action, although Minivan News was unable to obtain a comment from the immigration department regarding the operation’s specifics.

Human Trafficking

The Maldives was recently removed from the US State Department’s tier two watch-list for human trafficking after remaining on it for four consecutive years, narrowly avoiding international sanctions.

While the 2014 US State Department’s Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report highlighted the recently enacted anti-trafficking law and the opening of a shelter for victims of trafficking, the report noted that there are “serious problems” in enforcing the law protecting victims.

Some of these problems highlighted in the report include lack of procedures to identify victims among vulnerable populations, and inadequate training for officials.

The report further stated that “the government penalized some victims for offenses committed as a result of being trafficked and also deported thousands of migrants without adequately screening for indications of forced labor.”

These concerns were echoed by Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) Jeehan Mahmood.

“In the absence of victim identification guidelines it is very likely that victims of human trafficking would be taken in during such operations, because there is no clear way to identify if such a person is a victim or not,” she said.

Jeehan did, however, note that the anti-trafficking steering committee established under the new counter trafficking act had already drafted a national guideline of internationally accepted standards.

She highlighted the need to criminalise human smuggling along with trafficking, explaining that the HRCM has proposed to amend the law for this purpose.

“The two are very different, it is an issue of consent. So there should be a specific definition for this. It is very important for the State to understand this. And without a clear definition a victim of trafficking could be prosecuted for that,” she said.


Maldives off US State Department trafficking watchlist

The Maldives has been removed from the US State Department’s Tier 2 watch list for human trafficking following the introduction of legislation last December.

This year’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report – regarded as the key global measure of anti-trafficking efforts – sees the Maldives avoid relegation to Tier 3 along with the accompanying sanctions.

“The Government of Maldives does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so,” read the report.

The report – released yesterday (June 20) – saw Venezuela, Malaysia, and Thailand join 20 other countries deemed to be making no significant efforts to reduce trafficking.

Other states on Tier 3 include Zimbabwe, North Korea, Russia, Eritrea, and Saudi Arabia.

While the introduction of the Anti-trafficking Act in the Maldives was lauded, as well as the opening of the Maldives’ first shelter for trafficking victims and the first conviction for the offence, the report made a number of recommendations for further improvement.

“Serious problems in anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim protection remained,” said the TIP report, which noted that an unknown number of the approximately 200,000 expatriate workers in the country experienced forced labour.

Among the advice given in the report was the development of guidelines for public officials to “proactively identify” victims, noting that thousands of migrants have been deported recently without adequate screening for indications of trafficking.

A voluntary repatriation programme started last December for undocumented workers, while the government has pledged to detain and deport all undocumented workers in the capital Malé over the coming months.

The report called for greater efforts to ensure victims are not penalised for acts committed as a result of being trafficked as well as a systematic procedures for referring victims to care providers.

Recruitment and prosecution

It was noted that the newly introduced legislation made progress towards victim protection – including health care, shelter, counselling, and translation services, in addition to a 90-day in which victims can decide whether to assist authorities in criminal cases.

However, the report’s researchers observed that “victims were often afraid of making statements to the police because they did not believe effective action would be taken on their behalf.”

Blacklisted recruitment agencies – who often recruit migrant workers for up to US$4000 for non-existent jobs – often re-emerged under different names, the report explained.

A government report in 2011 revealed human trafficking to be the Maldives’ second most lucrative industry after tourism – worth an estimated US$ 123 million a year

“Observers reported that Maldivian firms could recruit large numbers of workers without authorities verifying the need for the number requested; this led to an oversupply of workers,” said the State Department report.

Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim – also in charge of the Immigration Department – has previously announced that, within twelve months, recruitment quotas will only be issued to agencies rather than individuals.

Immigration Controller Hassan Ali was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

It was also noted in the US report that authorities had again failed to criminally prosecute any labour recruitment agents or firms for fraudulent practices.

“Passport confiscation was a rampant practice by private employers and government ministries, who withheld the passports of foreign employees and victim witnesses in trafficking prosecutions the government did not prosecute any employers or officials for this offence.”

Furthermore, the State Department received reports of organised crime groups – some of whom were said to run prostitution rings – receiving political support.

Yesterday’s report also reiterated suggestions previously given to Minivan News by government officials regarding the disruption caused by the transfer of anti-trafficking efforts to the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

Questions over the state’s ability to implement the landmark legislation were evident throughout the Maldives country profile, as was the law’s failure to distinguish between smuggling and trafficking.

“Observers noted that trafficking-specific training was needed government-wide, especially for investigators, prosecutors and judges,” read the report.

The report’s final recommendation was that the Maldives acced to the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol which supplements the 2000 Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.


Police arrests drug lord during special operation

Police have this morning conducted a special operation, raiding the house of an individual alleged to have been supplying the illegal drugs trade in the Maldives.

The police issued a statement today revealing that the operation was conducted this morning at about 8:20am, with officers raiding the premises of Woodpecker house in Maafannu ward – the home of the alleged drug lord.

According to police 500 grams of suspected illegal drugs were found inside the house.

Police did not reveal the identity of the suspect arrested in the case, but stated that he was 23 years old and involved in a wide network of drug business in the Maldives.

Official statistics reveal drug-related offences reported to police had risen by 84 percent between 2012 and 2013.

On December 5, police searched the premises of Henveiru Fahaageaage after obtaining a search warrant, on suspicion that the house was related to a local drug network operating in Male’.

During the operation police discovered drugs and money inside the house.

Police said that persons believed to be involved in the network were apprehended inside the house during the operation.

According to police, a total of four persons have been arrested in connection with the case including a Pakistani and a Sri Lankan national.

At the time, police said that more places involved in the drug network were being searched.

No further details of the operation were provided in the statement, though it was said that further details will be divulged later.

Yesterday, police told local newspapers that a special operation had been conducted in Male’ to reduce criminal activities conducted by gangs operating inside cinamale’ flat area and its surroundings – discovering four knives and suspected illegal drugs.

The raid was reported to have followed numerous complaint from residents. Police dismantled huts and bird cages inside the premises that had been built without permission from Male’ City Council, on suspicion that these areas may have been used by the gang members to store drugs.

During an interview with Minivan News last week, Home Minister Umar Naseer said that the main targets of his ministry for the next five years would be to curb the drug-related crimes occurring in the country.

Umar Naseer said that due to the increase in drug related offenses the criminal justice system has been overloaded – as had the work of police and customs.

He told Minivan News that the main cause of this overload was the increase in drugs being smuggled and the amount of drug abusers and peddlers.

Naseer said that he intended to give high priority to enhancing the customs services in order to stop illegal drugs and other contraband from being brought in to the country.

Speaking about reducing drug-related crimes, he said that he would focus more on major drug dealers, rather than those further down the criminal hierarchy.

The home minister also pledged to find ways to enforce Maldivian law on the drug lords abroad who are involved in the drug trafficking cases occurring in the Maldives.

According to Naseer, the police intelligence department has been widened by training more intelligence officers


Maldives being used as a transit point by illegal recruiters: Philippines

The Philippines’ Bureau of Immigration has declared it is tightening monitoring of Filipino nationals traveling to the Maldives, over fears the country is being used as a transit point for labour trafficking of its citizens.

The government of the Philippines, which depends heavily on remitted income from its massive expatriate workforce, restricts its nationals from working in countries with a record of poor treatment of low-wage foreign workers, such as Lebanon and Jordan.

However the Bureau’s Immigration Minister Ricardo David Jr issued a statement revealing traffickers were circumventing this restriction by obtaining ‘legitimate’ employment papers for workers in Dubai and the Maldives, and routing workers to restricted countries through these destinations.

David revealed 17 Filipino workers were victimised in such a fashion by illegal recruitment agencies in June, noting that none of the workers had employment contracts and had instead only been ‘promised’ salaries of US$300-$1500 a month once they reach their destination.

The Maldives is recognised as a destination country for labour trafficking, and to a lesser extent, sex trafficking. Various reports into the practice have identified key appeals to traffickers in the form of poor oversight and monitoring of work permit requests, and a near-total lack of enforcement or investigation of traffickers in favour of swiftly deporting victims – many of whom go into substantial debt paying bogus ‘recruitment fees’ of up to US$4000.

However the statement from the Philippines suggests the country’s lack of oversight of foreign worker employment is also being exploited by traffickers to transit victims.

Domestically, “Recruitment agents in source countries collude with employers and agents in Maldives to facilitate fraudulent recruitment and forced labor of migrant workers”, read a recent report from the US State Department’s human trafficking monitoring office.

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.”

The Maldives was placed on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the fourth consecutive year, and faces mandatory downgrading to Tier 3 next year along with Afghanistan, Barbados, Chad, Malaysia, Thailand unless it addresses the problem.

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.


Government to cease issuing work permits to Bangladeshi nationals, launches registration effort

The Maldivian government has halted the issuing of new work permits to Bangladeshi nationals and will begin registering the biometric details of all expatriate workers, in an effort to combat rising human trafficking. Employers will also be advised to cease withholding the passports of foreign nationals.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem, Human Resources Minister Hassan Latheef and Home Minister Hassan Afeef announced the measures at a joint press conference on Wednesday, together with the Attorney General.

The government will begin registering the details of Bangladeshi nationals from March 31, using a new database developed by the National Centre for Information Technology (NCIT). This registration will eventually be extended to expatriate workers of all nationalities, who make up a third of the Maldives’ population.

Police and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) would assist with the registration process, the ministers explained.

Latheef said that the decision implemented recommendations in the as-yet unreleased report produced by the MNDF after it took over counters at immigration and the labour department for two weeks in July 2011.

That investigation unearthed an industry worth an estimated US$123 million and a chain of paper companies being used by unscrupulous recruitment agents, who solicit labourers from mostly Bangladesh with the promise of well-paid jobs in the Maldives, confiscate their passports, and either abandon or offer them different, poorly paid jobs on arrival.

Head of the Commercial Crime Unit, Inspector Mohamed Riyaz, revealed at the time that police had seized 4000 passports confiscated from trafficked workers during the two week takeover, and that two of the seven bogus companies identified as trafficking workers, Ozone Investments Pvt Ltd and Arisco Maldives Pvt Ltd, had brought in 3000 workers between them.

Using the fake companies, the traffickers fraudulently obtained work permit quotas for non-existent projects from the Human Resources Ministry by stealing the identities of unwitting, bribed or complicit Maldivians, or even the deceased. Police had received many complaints about such forgeries from the confused third party, Riyaz said.

Many of the quotas requested from the Human Resources Ministry had been approved despite obvious warning signs such as the importing of construction workers for specialised IT projects, he noted.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem referred Minivan News to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) when asked for comment as to the extent that corruption had allowed the practice to thrive.

“We are deeply involved in this and are taking steps to counter [human trafficking],” Naseem said.

Prosecuting traffickers was difficult because many victims were reluctant to come forward because of their illegal status, he said.

“Many will not seek legal recourse even if puts them in a very difficult situation,” he observed. “They have sold everything to come here.”

Latheef told Minivan News that the government would extend a part amnesty to the estimated 20,000 illegal workers in the country, inviting them to register and seek employment from a willing sponsor, and legalise their presence in the country.

“They will be given a second chance to register and try to find a local employer,” he said. “But if they have no employment, they will have to leave.”

The government has also submitted a bill on human trafficking to the parliament. A report into the practice was due to be released Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) on Human Rights Day, December 10, but has not yet appeared.

Minivan News in 2010 reported a steep rise in human trafficking, which was calculated to eclipse fishing as the second largest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldives after tourism.

That same year, the United States’ State Department placed the Maldives on its Tier 2 Watchlist for Human Trafficking, following a report that Bangladeshi workers were being exploited in high numbers by fake companies promising work permits.

In December 2011 the Maldives was admitted to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), another significant step towards improving the welfare and lifestyle of migrant workers.

However racism, mistreatment and intolerance towards expatriate workers remains widespread in Maldivian society.

At a meeting in June 2011, members of the Male’ City Council  offered solutions to “the nusiance and bother of expatriates [congregating] at the Republic Square” in the capital.

“[Mid-Henveiru Councillor] Lufshan [Shakeeb] noted that foreigners at the Republic Square were damaging the grass in a number of ways and said that the area should be walled off with a tin fence and cleaned,” read the minutes.

The discussion came under an agenda item titled “Making a decision on the nuisance and bother of Bangalhun [derogatory term for Bangladeshis] at the Republic Square and the problem of Bangalhun sleeping inside the old museum at Sultan Park.”

Machangoalhi South Councillor “Jambu” Hassan Afeef meanwhile claimed that expatriates were “committing indecent acts” behind the National Museum site and other open spaces in Sultan Park, recommending that the grounds be closed to the public.


Human trafficking worth US$123 million, authorities estimate

An ongoing police investigation into labour trafficking in the Maldives has uncovered an industry worth an estimated US$123 million, eclipsing fishing (US$46 million in 2007) as the second greatest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldivian economy after tourism.

The authorities’ findings echo those first raised by former Bangladeshi High Commissioner Dr Selina Mohsin, reported by Minivan News in August last year, and which saw the country placed on the US State Department’s Tier 2 watchlist for human trafficking.

However prior to the current investigation, ordered by President Mohamed Nasheed and which involved the military taking over immigration and human resources duties for a two week period, few facts were known about the Maldivian side of the operation.

“People have been creating fraudulent companies and using them to apply for fraudulent work permit quotas, and then diverting these quotas to keep bringing in illegal workers,” said President Nasheed’s Spokesperson, Mohamed Zuhair.

“A would-be worker [overseas] pays money and ends up here on fraudulent papers obtained by a bogus agent, from quotas at a non-existent company,” Zuhair said. “Sometimes they are expected to work for 3-4 years to make the payment – workers have told police that this is often as much as US$2000.”

Authorities currently estimated the industry to be worth US$123 million a year, he said.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam told Minivan News that many illegal workers identified by police through the investigation – the majority from Bangladesh – had sold their land, their property and moved their families to pay the fees demanded by the bogus recruiters.

When they arrive they find the job a totally different prospect from what they were led to expect, he said.

“Sometimes there is no job and they are released straight onto the street. We found some people who had paid before coming – they arrived at the airport and nobody came to pick them up,” said Shiyam. ”The case is very serious – this is not the way things should be, and it has been going on for a long time.”

Zuhair said that in some cases workers brought to the Maldives were themselves recruited to help enlist others from their country – in addition to seven Maldivians, 12 expatriates have been arrested during the case so far.

Paper companies and ministerial corruption

The expansive investigation has seen 18 ‘paper companies’ raided by the police commercial crime unit, headed by Inspector Mohamed Riyaz, who revealed to the media last week that police had seized 4000 passports confiscated from trafficked workers.

Two of the seven bogus companies identified as trafficking workers, Ozone Investments Pvt Ltd and Arisco Maldives Pvt Ltd, had brought in 3000 workers between them.

Using the fake companies, the traffickers fraudulently obtained work permit quotas for non-existent projects from the Human Resources Ministry by stealing the identities of unwitting Maldivians, or even the deceased. Police had received many complaints about such forgeries from the confused third party, Riyaz told the media.

Moreover, many of the quotas requested from the Human Resources Ministry had been approved despite obvious warning signs such as the importing of construction workers for specialised IT projects, Riyaz said.

Zuhair told Minivan News that while he was unable to “point fingers” as the investigation was ongoing, the current findings implicated senior officials in both the Immigration Department and the Ministry of Human Resources.

In addition, the persistent use of fraudulent companies implied further scrutiny of the Ministry of Trade was required, Zuhair said.

Trade Minister Mahmoud Razee confirmed to Minivan News that the Ministry was providing information to police as requested. Establishing a company in the Maldives carried few requirements under existing laws, he explained, “and even before this we have been proposing amendments to company law to require additional clearances for directors, based on their records.”

Even for those individuals found guilty of the crime labour trafficking presently represents a violation of the Employment Act, and only carries a small fine.

Zuhair said punishment was a matter for the judiciary “and I’m confident justice will be done”. However he acknowledged that the greatest impact would come from exposing those involved: “The people involved will be named and shamed,” he pledged, which would limit their capacity for further fraud or criminal enterprise and hopefully ward off further victims.

The investigation was ordered by the President, he noted, as the Immigration Department and the Human Resources Ministry “were each accusing the other for the problem. The government has stepped in as a neutral party to conduct a holistic investigation, without incrimination.”

He said the government would need to “seek assistance” to deport the large numbers of illegal workers the investigation was likely to uncover.

“The origin countries also have a responsibility to repatriate their nationals,” he said.

Minivan News asked Zuhair why the government had only acted after several years of accusations that labor trafficking was prolific in the country – the US State Department recently renewed the Maldives’ position on the trafficking watch list for the second year running.

“The accusations have been apparent for the last few years, but the extent to which the situation has developed, and the lines between system error, human error and intentional fraud have been unclear. It has now become clearer,” he said.


Maldives remains on US State Department’s human trafficking watch list for second year

The Maldives remains on the US State Department’s Tier 2 Watch List for human trafficking, a list signifying an increasing number of victims and little evidence of increased efforts to tackle the problem.

The report comes days after the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) was called to temporarily take over the front line work of the Immigration Department and Human Resources Ministry pending an investigation into corruption and falsification of work permits.

Migrant workers from Bangladesh and to a lesser extent, India, are being subjected to forced labour in the Maldives, primarily in the construction and service sectors, while women and girls are also being subjected to sex trafficking, the report said.

An unknown number of the up to 110,000 foreign workers in the country – a third of the population – “face conditions indicative of forced labor: fraudulent recruitment practices, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or nonpayment of wages, or debt bondage,” the report noted, adding that 30,000 workers had no legal status in the country.

Bangladeshi nationals were especially vulnerable to labour trafficking, the report stated, citing “diplomatic sources” as claiming that half the Bangladeshi workers in the country had arrived illegally, having paid between US$1000 and US$4000 in ‘recruitment fees’.

“In addition to Bangladeshis and Indians, some migrants from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Nepal reportedly experienced recruitment fraud before arriving in the Maldives,” the report noted.

“Trafficking offenders in the Maldives usually fall into three groups: families that subject domestic servants to forced labor; employment agents who bring low-skilled migrant workers to the Maldives under false terms of employment and upon payment of high fees for purposes of forced labor; and employers who subject the migrants to conditions of forced labor upon arrival,” the report revealed.

The State Department reiterated claims from the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) that female migrant workers were also being trapped by employers who were using threats and intimidation to prevent them from leaving.

More commonly, “Recruitment agents collude with employers and agents in the Maldives to facilitate fraudulent recruitment and forced labor of migrant workers.”

Domestic trafficking was also observed, whereby “some underage Maldivian children are transported to Male’ from other islands for forced domestic service, and a small number sexually abused by the families with whom they stayed. This is a corruption of the widely acknowledged practice where families send Maldivian children to live with a host family in Male for educational purposes.”

The US State Department’s report was critical of the Maldives for human trafficking enforcement in the country over the reporting period, and noted that it had not investigated or prosecuted any trafficking-related offences despite the scale of the problem.

“The government did not investigate or prosecute any labor trafficking cases, but is reportedly investigating two child prostitution cases,” it noted.

It was especially critical of the government’s treatment of those found to be victims of trafficking: “The Maldivian government did not ensure that victims of trafficking received access to necessary assistance during the reporting period. The government did not develop or implement formal procedures for proactively identifying victims, and did not identify any specific cases of trafficking. The Maldives did not provide access to services such as shelter, counseling, medical care, or legal aid to foreign or Maldivian victims of trafficking. The government did not conduct any anti-trafficking or educational campaigns, nor did it take any measures to reduce demand for forced labor within the country.”

The report noted that the Maldives’ general policy for dealing with trafficking victims “was to deport them.”

“Authorities did not encourage victims to participate in the investigation or prosecution of trafficking offenders. Due to a lack of comprehensive victim identification procedures, the Maldives may not have ensured that expatriates subjected to forced labor and prostitution were not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalised for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.”

The report also observed that while the Maldivian Constitution outlawed forced labour and slavery, a person legally married to a minor was exempt from the heavy penalties of the Child Sexual Abuse Act passed in 2009, and that “none of the offences specified in the legislation, including child prostitution, would be considered a crime.”


The report did highlight the ratification by cabinet by a Human Trafficking Plan in February 2011, but observed that this had no law enforcement component, and failed to distinguish people smuggling from trafficking.

Furthermore, a blacklist of 16 employment agencies and private companies by the Labour Relations Authority (LRA) showed no sign of being enforce.

A “rapid assessment” on human trafficking commissioned by HRCM in 2010 had not been finalised, the State Department report observed.

The report urged the government to develop procedures whereby government officials could identify victims of trafficking, and provide them with access to services for victims – particularly translators. It also urged greater efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offences.

The final recommendation was “take steps to ensure that employers and labor brokers are not abusing labor recruitment or sponsorship processes in order to subject migrant workers to forced labor” – one that appears to have been preempted by this week’s corruption probe of Immigration Department and Human Resources Ministry.