The government decreased law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. The PHTA criminalized some, but not all, forms of sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the PHTA required transportation of a victim in order to constitute a trafficking offense. The law criminalized child sex trafficking but did not make clear if forced prostitution of adults was considered a form of trafficking. Article 16 criminalized debt bondage without reference to transportation. The PHTA prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses involving an adult victim and up to 15 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. MED began drafting an amendment during the reporting period to align PHTA’s definition of trafficking with the 2000 UN TIP protocol; MED was seeking wider government input on the draft at the close of the reporting period.
The Maldives Police Service (MPS) reported initiating investigation of one adult sex trafficking case and one child sex trafficking case during the reporting period, compared to initiating one labor trafficking investigation the previous reporting period. Police closed the alleged child sex trafficking case after investigating and determining the allegations had been false; it continued the adult sex trafficking investigation against one Maldivian suspect at the close of the reporting period. The Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) did not initiate any new prosecutions, compared to one new prosecution the previous reporting period. Of the five prosecutions that remained ongoing at the close of the previous reporting period, PGO completed prosecution of two labor trafficking cases, in which judges acquitted the five Bangladeshi and two Maldivian defendants. Prosecution of the other three ongoing cases involving two Bangladeshi and four Maldivian suspects remained pending at the close of the reporting period. In one additional sex trafficking case that the victim had first reported in 2010—classified as sexual abuse—police dismissed the case twice in 2010 and 2012 and encouraged the victim to resolve the case personally; police opened an investigation a third time in 2017, after reports the alleged trafficker was exploiting the victims’ sisters in sex trafficking. During the reporting period, the court dismissed the charges against the alleged trafficker without providing a justification. PGO appealed the dismissal and additionally pressed charges against the victims’ mother and stepfather for negligence and failure to report the sexual abuse; PGO reported no further update at the close of the reporting period. The government did not secure any convictions during the reporting period, the same as in the previous reporting period. The government last convicted a trafficker under PHTA in 2016.
The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. Private employers and some government agencies held the passports of foreign workers they employed. This included officials within the education and health ministries, which held the passports of foreign teachers and health care workers. MPS received complaints of employer passport retention but did not report any action to negotiate the release of the passports or penalize the employers for such acts or investigate potential labor or trafficking crimes among these populations. In the previous reporting period, Maldives Immigration had negotiated the return of documents to employees but neither penalized employers nor investigated potential labor or trafficking crimes. Civil society alleged labor recruiters bribed immigration officials to facilitate fraudulent recruitment, including to illegally obtain quotas to bring in more foreign workers; the Controller of Immigration also reported the former government had issued quotes “illegally.” Despite these allegations, the government did not report any investigations into officials alleged to have issued illegal quotas. Observers stated some traffickers operated with impunity due to their connections with influential Maldivians and alleged the government was more likely to prosecute foreign suspects than Maldivian suspects. Observers reported some officials warned businesses in advance of planned raids for suspected trafficking offenses or other labor abuses.
Immigration continued to implement a mandatory training curriculum on trafficking for new recruits, and MPS reported all officers in its anti-trafficking department had previously received trafficking-specific training. Despite these trainings, officials conflated human trafficking with smuggling and undocumented migrants, and government efforts focused mainly on transnational labor trafficking to the possible detriment of addressing sex trafficking. Government officials acknowledged a need for more training on identifying and investigating trafficking cases, especially among MED, MPS, and the Labor Relations Authority (LRA) personnel. Civil society reported law enforcement and judges’ lack of awareness and training on the PHTA likely contributed to the dearth of successful prosecutions. MPS, in partnership with an international organization, maintained a trafficking case management system that allowed potential victims to submit cases to the police online; however, it was only available in English, which limited its utility. MPS began training staff from foreign embassies and consulates on how to submit cases of trafficking to the system, but the system did not receive any reports of trafficking during the reporting period. Authorities recognized the lack of law enforcement cooperation agreements with source-country governments as an obstacle to investigating cases with foreign victims or perpetrators; they did not report collaborating with other governments during the reporting period. While MPS usually used a contract interpreter to communicate with suspected trafficking victims, the absence of dedicated foreign language interpreters for victims and witnesses, including among other law enforcement agencies, continued to hamper law enforcement and victim protection efforts.