The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government identified 145 trafficking victims, compared with 199 victims identified in the previous reporting period. The government did not report the victims’ demographics or whether the victims were exploited in sex trafficking or forced labor. Consequently, some of the victims reported may have been the dependents of identified adult victims, as in previous reporting periods. The government reported referring identified victims to the Social Welfare Office, part of the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare, but did not specify the number of victims referred or services provided. As reported, all victims were identified through law enforcement activity. Separately, MPS collaborated with an NGO to identify more than 500 potential victims of trafficking through transit monitoring at airports and border crossings, resulting in several prosecutions and convictions. The government reported using the SOPs and NRM for victim identification and assistance; however, observers noted government officials frequently misidentified sex and labor trafficking as other crimes, and cultural acceptance of domestic servitude hindered proactive victim identification and referral efforts. In partnership with an international organization, the government trained Dzaleka Refugee Camp staff to use the SOPs and a case reporting form to increase screening for trafficking victims. In cases involving child victims, the Child Protection Technical Working Group (TWG), composed of government officials, international stakeholders, and NGOs, assisted with coordination of victim services.
Both observers and the government reported that efforts to provide protection services to trafficking victims remained minimal and inaccessible to some communities, particularly in the northern region. The government accredited four NGO-operated shelters to support identified victims of trafficking in Limbe, Lilongwe, Mchinji, and Zomba during the reporting period; however, some did not meet minimum standards. The government reported a lack of shelter capacity to serve all trafficking victims, and services for victims residing outside shelters remained limited. The government operated one center in Lilongwe that provided counseling and specialized care for vulnerable children, which included potential trafficking victims. The government did not report the number of victims referred to shelters or protection services. 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 restrictions, such as limitations on gatherings, travel restrictions, border closures, curfews, and reallocation of donor-funding, 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 or its allocation to the anti-trafficking fund during the reporting period. In 2020, the government allocated 150 million Malawian kwacha ($163,040) 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 law enforcement 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, with their 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; and 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 traffickers compelled them to commit, including potential immigration violations; however, previous reports alleged foreign victims faced deportation unless they challenged their immigration status in court. Foreign victims can receive temporary residency status while cooperating with law enforcement; trafficking victims were not eligible for any permanent immigration status. The government did not report if any foreign victims received temporary status during the reporting period. While the government reported offering victim-witness support during participation in prosecutions, NGOs reported the government could not provide any support due to lack of funding, resulting in most foreign national victims declining to pursue criminal proceedings and returning to their home country. Despite allowing restitution for victims in cases against traffickers, no courts ordered restitution during the reporting period.