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Malawi (Tier 2)

The Government of Malawi does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Malawi remained on Tier 2. These efforts included investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases, including investigations of allegedly complicit officials; increasing collaboration with NGOs to identify potential victims; and increasing awareness efforts and screening for trafficking in refugee camps. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not report training law enforcement or social workers on identifying, referring, and providing services to trafficking victims. Due to the lack of shelters and other protections, police often detained victims during the investigation process and did not take adequate measures to prevent the re-traumatization of victims participating in criminal proceedings. Credible reports of official complicity continued to impede the government’s efforts to carry out anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and proactively identify trafficking victims.

  • Expand training on and usage of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and the national referral mechanism (NRM) to identify trafficking victims systematically and proactively by screening vulnerable populations, including individuals involved in commercial sex, refugees, and foreign workers, and refer all trafficking victims to appropriate services.
  • Continue increasing efforts to investigate and prosecute sex and labor trafficking crimes and sentence convicted traffickers to adequate penalties under the 2015 anti-trafficking law, including complicit government officials.
  • Collaborate with NGOs and international organizations to increase the government’s capacity to provide shelter and protective services to more trafficking victims.
  • Increase protective services for victims participating in the criminal justice process to prevent re-traumatization, including establishing child-friendly interviewing spaces and ensuring victims receive basic needs.
  • Expand the collection of law enforcement and victim protection data for trafficking cases, specifically the number of victims referred and provided protective services, and compile data from all districts.
  • Disperse funds allocated to the Anti-Trafficking Fund to provide care to victims and to expand training for law enforcement and protection officers on investigating trafficking crimes, identifying trafficking victims, and providing adequate protection services.
  • Strengthen district coordination committee anti-trafficking efforts through developing district-level action plans and increasing coordination on victim services and investigations.
  • Train labor inspectors to identify potential forced labor victims during routine inspections and to report potential trafficking violations to appropriate officials.
  • Develop and institutionalize mandatory pre-departure anti-trafficking training for all Malawian diplomats.
  • Increase awareness and monitoring of trafficking crimes, as well as efforts to identify traffickers and victims at border crossings and internal police checkpoints.

The government maintained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2015 Trafficking in Persons Act criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking, and it prescribed punishments of up to 14 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim and up to 21 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The Malawi Police Service (MPS) increased reporting capacity from five district-level police stations during the previous reporting period to 10 out of Malawi’s 44 district-level police stations in 2021. The government reported investigating 82 trafficking cases and 82 suspects in 2021, compared with investigating 44 cases and arresting 54 suspects in 2020. The government reported prosecuting 27 cases involving an unknown number of suspects and convicting seven traffickers, compared with prosecuting 33 cases involving 39 suspects and convicting 29 traffickers in 2020. At the end of the reporting period, 39 prosecutions remained ongoing. Sentences for convicted traffickers ranged from fines of $100 with no prison time to prison terms up to six years; therefore some sentences did not serve to deter the crime or adequately reflect the nature of the crime. Courts dismissed a number of trafficking prosecutions for lack of evidence and certification of victim status by law enforcement at the time of identification, which is required to confirm an individual is a victim of trafficking. Due to conflation between migrant smuggling and human trafficking, the government may have prosecuted migrant smuggling crimes under its anti-trafficking law. The government reported pandemic-related restrictions hampered investigations and redirected resources to enforcing public health lockdown measures. Courts introduced virtual hearings to address the slow judicial processing of cases; however, a significant backlog of cases remained ongoing.

During the reporting period, the government did not report if it provided anti-trafficking training to police and social welfare officers, compared with at least 247 officials trained on investigations, victim identification, and data collection in the previous reporting period. The MPS retained anti-trafficking training in its curricula for the Limbe, Mtakata, and Mlangeni Police Training Schools and Zomba Police College; however, the government did not report the number of recruits trained during the reporting period. The government maintained intelligence sharing agreements with the Governments of Zambia and Mozambique and collaborated with the Government of Zambia on an ongoing trafficking investigation and repatriation of two Zambian trafficking victims.

The government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. The government continued an investigation from 2020 of 12 local police officers in Mzuzu for allegedly facilitating an organized trafficking operation. The government also investigated 10 police officers from the Professional Standard Unit in Kasungu for accepting bribes from traffickers. In both cases, the officers were suspended from duty pending investigation; however, courts dismissed all charges due to lack of evidence. Malawian officials allegedly received payment to recruit and facilitate transport of Malawian adults and children to South Africa for forced labor in businesses privately-owned by nationals of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In April 2019, the Department of State suspended for two years the A-3 visa sponsorship privileges afforded to Malawi bilateral mission members as a result of an unpaid final judgment against a former Malawian diplomat for approximately $1.1 million rendered by a federal district court in a civil human trafficking case involving a domestic worker who sued her former employer, a former Malawian diplomat, for trafficking. The former diplomat left the United States in 2012. For the sixth consecutive year, the government did not report taking any further action to hold the diplomat accountable.

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.

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The Secretariat of the National Coordination Committee Against Trafficking in Persons, led by the Ministry of Homeland Security and charged with overseeing national anti-trafficking efforts, met regularly during the reporting period. The government maintained district coordination committees in six districts, including Dedza, Karonga, Mangochi, Mzimba, Mchinji, and Phalombe. District coordination committees focused on victim identification but did not effectively coordinate on providing services or investigating cases. In the previous reporting period, the government reported developing district-level action plans for each committee; however, no progress was reported. Members of the informal Malawi Network Against Trafficking (MNAT), comprising government officials, religious leaders, NGOs, and international stakeholders, also continued to meet. The government continued to implement its 2017-2022 anti-trafficking national action plan, including by developing a data management system, conducting a baseline survey on evaluating awareness raising, and conducting interventions, such as victim protection. As part of the implementation plan finalized in the previous reporting period, the government, in partnership with an international organization, launched an awareness campaign in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp, which included the installation of billboards with victim referral and support information. Refugees in the camp were vulnerable to potential exploitation due to the lack of legal work authorization. The government conducted awareness-raising activities on human trafficking to 118 traditional leaders, 35 representatives of faith-based organizations, 112 journalists, and 25 health care workers. MNAT met with 34 judges and magistrates to raise awareness of human trafficking during the reporting period.

The government collaborated with an NGO-operated hotline to assist victims and track trafficking crimes. The hotline registered 119 potential cases of trafficking, with 51 cases pertaining to children and 68 cases involving adults, during the reporting period. The government reported contributing information on trafficking cases identified to a national centralized anti-trafficking data collection and reporting tool. From July 2020 to June 2021, the Ministry of Labor (MOL) conducted 481 inspections for child labor; however, the government did not report identifying any trafficking victims. The government did not report training labor inspectors on identifying human trafficking; however, the MOL had a memorandum of understanding with three tobacco companies that supported trainings for labor inspectors on identifying forced and child labor. The total number of trainings conducted was not reported. In 2019, the government approved the Prevention of Exploitative Labor Recruitment Regulations for the Trafficking in Persons Act, which required no fees charged to migrant workers, clarity and transparency of worker contracts, non-retention of identity documentation, and safe and decent working and living conditions; however, the government did not report enforcing these regulations. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government developed an anti-trafficking training program for diplomats during the previous reporting period but reported delays in implementation.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Malawi, and traffickers exploit victims from Malawi abroad. Traffickers exploit most Malawian victims within the country, generally lured from the southern part of the country to the central and northern regions for forced labor in agriculture (predominantly the tobacco industry), goat and cattle herding, and brickmaking. Many cases of child labor external to the family involve fraudulent recruitment and physical or sexual abuse, indicative of forced labor. Traffickers—primarily facilitators, family members, or brothel owners—lure children in rural areas by offering employment opportunities, clothing, or lodging, for which they are sometimes charged exorbitant fees, resulting in sex trafficking. Traffickers exploit teenage boys in forced labor on farms and girls in sex trafficking or other forms of sexual exploitation in nightclubs or bars. As a result of restaurant and bar closures during the pandemic, observers report that private homes, especially in Lilongwe and Blantyre, have started operating as illegal brothels and bars; operators of these establishments exploit girls in sex trafficking. Traffickers exploit children in forced labor in begging, domestic servitude, small businesses, and potentially in the fishing industry; in past years, some children were coerced to commit crimes. During the pandemic, school closures increased children’s vulnerability to exploitation and resulted in some students, especially girls, failing to reenroll in school. Adult tenant farmers are at risk for exploitation, as they incur debts to landowners and may not receive payment during poor harvests. Traffickers exploit adults and children from Mozambique, Zambia, the Great Lakes region, the Horn of Africa, and Nepal in labor and sex trafficking in Malawi. In response to the pandemic, traffickers began using unmonitored and irregular border crossings to facilitate transnational trafficking, avoiding traditional border crossings requiring COVID-19 test certificates; observers also report traffickers’ increasing use of smaller, less obvious transportation methods, such as bicycles and motorbikes, versus trucks or buses to transport potential trafficking victims.

Malawi hosts more than 52,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, primarily from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Somalia, with a majority living in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp. Severe weather events internally displaced more than 100,000 Malawians in January 2022, which increased vulnerabilities to potential trafficking; some Malawians crossed into Mozambique seeking shelter in provisional camps. Traffickers exploit men in forced labor and women and girls in sex trafficking both inside and via the camp. Criminal networks facilitate sex trafficking and forced labor, primarily in farming and domestic servitude, of refugees in Malawi or the transportation of refugees and vulnerable migrants for the purpose of sexual exploitation to other countries in Southern Africa. Malawian victims of sex and labor trafficking have been identified in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia, as well as in Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Malawian and Zambian potential victims were identified at a Malawian airport en route to Qatar. Some girls recruited for domestic service are instead forced to marry and are subsequently exploited in sex trafficking. Traffickers lure women and girls from Mangochi province with promises of scholarships or lucrative employment in South Africa for exploitation in sex trafficking. Fraudulent employment agencies lure women and girls to Gulf states, where traffickers exploit them in sex and labor trafficking. PRC workers may be exploited on worksites owned by PRC-owned companies.

U.S. Department of State

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