The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The PHTA criminalizes some, but not all forms, of sex and labor trafficking. In a departure from the 2000 UN TIP Protocol definition, articles 11 through 16 define human trafficking to require the act of transporting a person, either transnationally or internally, “through unlawful coercive means,” or in a conspiracy with others. To constitute trafficking under the PHTA, the transportation must be done for the purpose of compelling a person to provide work or a service, marry, or undergo an unnecessary medical procedure or test, which are forms of exploitation different from those in the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. It is not clear whether its reference to “work or service” includes “the exploitation of the prostitution of others” which is central to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. With regard to children, however, article 14 criminalizes “exploitative conduct,” which explicitly is defined to include prostitution. Consistent with international law, articles 14 and 15 provide that when children are transported for the purpose of forced labor or services, the child will be presumed to not have consented to the exploitation. The PHTA does include forced labor—but only if a person is transported. Article 16 criminalizes debt bondage without reference to transportation. The penalty for violation of the PHTA is from seven to 15 years imprisonment, which is sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The Maldives Police Service (MPS) reported investigating 11 trafficking cases, 10 forced labor and one sex trafficking, during the reporting period, an increase from six in 2015. The government reported prosecuting four new cases, an increase from zero prosecutions in the three previous reporting periods. The prosecutor general’s office (PGO) and Maldives immigration stated the disproportionately small number of prosecutions is due to courts not accepting electronic documents as evidence, including employment visas for migrant workers. For the first time, the government secured a conviction under the PHTA. Three foreign nationals were each sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in a sex trafficking case prosecuted during previous reporting periods.
Maldives immigration continued to implement mandatory training curriculum on trafficking for new recruits. MPS conducted several anti-trafficking trainings for officers during the reporting period. An international organization partnered with the government to conduct multiple anti-trafficking trainings for various agencies, including a training of trainers for law enforcement and training for 35 judges that resulted in a formal commitment by the judges to combat human trafficking. Despite these trainings, officials continued to conflate human trafficking with human smuggling and the presence of undocumented migrants in Maldives. Officials also acknowledged government efforts were mainly focused on transnational labor trafficking to the possible detriment of addressing sex trafficking cases.
Private employers and some government agencies frequently held the passports of foreign workers they employed, including the ministries of education and health who held the passports of foreign teachers and health care workers. Maldives immigration reported it investigated cases of employer passport retention and negotiated the return of documents to employees; however the government did not report whether it penalized employers for such acts. Authorities did not report collaborating on transnational investigations with other governments, even though victims were referred to MPS by their foreign high commissions during the reporting period. Law enforcement efforts continued to be hampered by the absence of dedicated foreign language interpreters for victim-witnesses. International experts stated some traffickers operated with impunity because of their connections with influential Maldivians. Observers reported some judges were reluctant to hear trafficking cases, and in some cases police were unable to obtain warrants to arrest traffickers. NGOs reported some officials warn businesses in advance of planned raids for suspected trafficking offenses or other labor abuses, and officials may have been involved in labor recruiting practices that can lead to trafficking. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses.