The government made mixed anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. 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. The government continued to draft an amendment to align the PHTA’s definition of trafficking with the 2000 UN TIP protocol.
The government investigated two trafficking cases and 27 potential labor trafficking cases, initiated prosecution in one case and continued prosecutions in three cases from previous years, and convicted two traffickers in two cases. This was compared with investigating two sex trafficking cases, continuing prosecution in three cases, and convicting no traffickers the previous reporting period. In the previous reporting period, the immigration department began investigating 67 recruitment agencies for violations of the formal recruitment process, including human trafficking, illegal recruitment, and negligence. During the reporting period, immigration forwarded to the Maldives Police Services’ Human Trafficking Unit (MPS-HTU) labor trafficking cases against 27 recruitment agencies, but MPS-HTU determined none of the cases contained trafficking offenses. While the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services identified six child sex trafficking cases and 15 potential child labor trafficking cases, it did not refer them to MPS-HTU; it was unclear whether the MPS Family and Child Protection Department investigated the cases on other charges. The Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) initiated one new prosecution of two alleged sex traffickers. The prosecution was ongoing at the close of the reporting period. The government completed prosecutions in two cases initiated in previous reporting periods. In the first case, the court convicted one individual of procuring commercial sex, sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment, and acquitted him of human trafficking. The case was pending appeal of the acquittal at the close of the reporting period. In the second case, the court acquitted two defendants and convicted the third of unlawful restraint of a person, withholding of travel documents under the PHTA, and sentenced him to more than four years’ imprisonment. This was the first conviction under the PHTA since 2016. In the previous reporting period, PGO had appealed the dismissal of a child sex trafficking investigation, and the case was pending in high court at the close of the reporting period.
The government took steps to investigate select reports of trafficking-related corruption, but corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. During the previous reporting period, the Controller of Immigration alleged the former government had illegally issued quotas relating to the number of migrant workers allowed, which in turn facilitated fraudulent recruitment and human trafficking, and the Minister of Economic Development (MED) similarly alleged in public remarks that Maldivian recruiters bribed senior officials in exchange for larger quotas to bring in more migrant workers. While the government had dismissed several senior immigration officials during the previous reporting period, it did not investigate any of these allegations or file charges against any of the dismissed officials. Civil society alleged labor inspectors accepted bribes in exchange for not reporting labor violations. Private employers and some government agencies, including education and health ministry officials, held foreign employees’ passports. The Labor Relations Authority (LRA) referred to MPS-HTU one case of passport retention by a private employer, but authorities did not report any investigations into passport retention among the government ministries. Observers stated some traffickers operated with impunity due to connections with influential Maldivians. Observers reported some officials warned businesses in advance of planned raids to investigate labor violations.
Immigration continued to implement a mandatory trafficking training for new recruits, and MPS-HTU reported all of its current officers had previously received trafficking-specific training. Despite these trainings, officials continued to conflate human trafficking with migrant smuggling, and government efforts focused primarily on transnational labor trafficking to the possible detriment of sex trafficking. Government officials acknowledged the need for increased training on identifying and investigating trafficking cases, especially among MED, MPS, and 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. Authorities recognized the lack of cooperation 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. The absence of dedicated foreign language interpreters for victims and witnesses among law enforcement and social service providers continued to hamper law enforcement and victim protection efforts.