The government increased efforts to identify trafficking victims, while efforts to provide services to victims remained weak. The government identified 199 trafficking victims, a significant increase compared with 140 victims identified in the previous reporting period. The government reported traffickers exploited 144 of these identified victims in forced labor; it did not provide details on the type of trafficking the other 55 victims experienced. The government did not report identifying any sex trafficking victims during the reporting period. Of the 199 victims identified, 57 were children; however, government reports did not distinguish between child trafficking victims and the children of trafficking victims in its records. Consequently, some of the child victims reported in 2020 may have been the dependents of identified adult victims. The government continued to use the SOPs and national referral mechanism for victim identification and assistance launched during the previous reporting period; however, observers noted government officials continued to lack an understanding of trafficking, hindering proactive identification and referral efforts. During the reporting period, the government, in partnership with international organizations and foreign donors, developed and finalized SOPs for victim identification and referral, as well as a case reporting form, to increase protection efforts in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp.
During the reporting period, the government formally recognized and provided official licensing certificates to the first trafficking-specific shelters—in Limbe, Lilongwe, Mchinji, and Zomba—initiating the process for the four shelters to become operational and support identified victims of trafficking. The government, in partnership with NGOs, had already identified facilities to house these shelters and assigned protection officers from the Ministry of Gender to oversee the shelters once operational. The government referred at least 96 victims to NGO-run protection services, where they received counseling, medical care, food, and livelihood training, as appropriate; however, observers reported that government efforts to provide protection services to trafficking victims remained minimal. The government operated one center in Lilongwe that provided counseling and specialized care for vulnerable children, which could include child trafficking victims; however, the government did not provide specific numbers of trafficking victims who benefited from these services during the reporting period. Some of the approximately 300 police sub-stations at the village-level housed victim support units (VSUs) to respond to gender-based violence and trafficking crimes; however, the VSUs lacked capacity to respond adequately, and the quality of services varied throughout the country. The government and civil society reported pandemic-related preventative measures, such as limitations on gatherings, travel restrictions, border closures, and curfews, limited victim care during the reporting period.
Despite the government’s reliance on civil society organizations to provide care to trafficking victims, it did not report providing financial or in-kind support to such organizations during the reporting period. In 2020, the government allocated 150 million Malawian kwacha ($182,930) to the anti-trafficking fund, the same amount allocated in 2019 and 2018; the government utilized the fund for various activities during the reporting period, including support for victim repatriation and capacity building for protection service providers. A significant lack of resources, capacity, and anti-trafficking training among police and social welfare officers led to ad hoc assistance, a lack of victim-centered approaches, and potential re-traumatization of victims. Observers reported police often transported victims, particularly children, and suspected traffickers in the same vehicle, resulting in potential intimidation and further traumatization of victims. Officials occasionally placed victims in detention, due to a lack of shelter space; in some cases, victims reportedly ran away from detention after officials failed to provide them basic needs, such as food. The 2015 anti-trafficking law allowed courts to provide immunity to victims for crimes their trafficker compelled them to commit, including potential immigration violations; however, previous reports alleged foreign victims faced deportation unless they challenged their immigration status in court. Malawian law did not allow for foreign victims to receive regularization of immigration status and temporary residency.