The government maintained anti-trafficking prevention efforts. The National Anti-Human Trafficking Steering Committee (NAHTSC), composed of senior government officials and overseen by the ATO, remained the lead interagency committee responsible for coordinating the government’s efforts to combat human trafficking and held several virtual meetings during the reporting period. The NAHTSC continued to focus on five key areas of the Anti-Human Trafficking National Action Plan (NAP), adopted in March 2020, to adapt to reduced resources due to the pandemic. The Ministry of Defense continued to allocate a dedicated office space for the ATO staffed by the director of anti-trafficking and a consultant for policy and outreach. The 2022 State Budget allocated 1 million Maldivian rufiyaa (MVR) ($64,850), a decrease from the 1.99 million MVR ($129,050) in the 2021 budget, to fund the work of the ATO and the implementation of the NAP. A baseline study to collect data throughout the country’s atolls to inform anti-trafficking priorities for 2021 remained postponed due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.
The sixth amendment to the Employment Act, ratified during the previous reporting period, continued to regulate the presence of foreign workers. The act limited the number of foreign workers that can enter Maldives from any single country to 100,000 and included provisions for prioritizing Maldivians for employment. In addition to limiting the number of migrant workers coming from any one country, the quota was intended to help the government better track the number of current migrant workers and reduce opportunities to manipulate the recruitment system. The policy outlined procedures for worker recruitment and employers providing accommodation for workers, among other policies related to recruitment. MED continued to issue employment agency permits according to the Employment Agency Regulations issued in 2016. The regulations included expatriate workers regulations, allowed blacklisting of agencies in violation of the Employment Act, prohibited the withholding of foreign worker passports subject to a penalty of 5,000 MVR ($324), and prohibited work outside the scope of the approved work permit. In addition, the regulations prohibited charging workers recruitment fees subject to a penalty of 5,000 MVR ($324) and suspension of the agency’s license to operate in Maldives. During the reporting period, MED fully automated the work permit process to reduce the risk of recruitment agencies submitting fraudulent documents. MED also maintained a process for foreign migrant workers to change employers by submitting an online employer change request to obtain a new work permit. The government proposed an MOU with Bangladesh regarding Bangladeshi migrant workers in Maldives; however, for the fourth consecutive year, the draft remained pending. The government reported no new action to prevent forced labor in supply chains.
LRA had the authority to inspect all worksites, including private homes, and it carried out 124 inspections in 2021, compared with approximately 70 inspections in 2020 and 200 in 2019. LRA identified 23 potential cases of child labor, including 14 child labor violations, although it did not report any cases of forced child labor or child commercial sexual exploitation during the reporting period. LRA lacked the resources, staff, and training necessary to fulfill its mandate, and anti-trafficking training remained inconsistent. It did not report providing any anti- trafficking training for inspectors during the reporting period. LRA generally received numerous complaints of non-payment of wages and mediated such claims with the employer or issued fines against the employer if mediation failed or the employer committed repeated violations. Neither LRA nor the tribunal referred labor violations to police for criminal investigation. Observers reported tribunal delays resulted in some labor trafficking victims being pressured to settle out of court rather than pursuing charges before a tribunal. LRA could request to MED that it blacklist foreign recruitment agencies and employers with repeated or serious labor violations. MED did not always implement LRA’s recommendations, and despite repeated recommendations from LRA to blacklist certain agencies and employers, those agencies and employers continued to operate. MI also inspected establishments that employed migrant workers. LRA continued to use an online portal for island councils to report the number of individuals, including migrant workers, on each island, however implementation was inconsistent as some councils did not push businesses to register their employees with the portal.
Civil society reported a continued lack of significant efforts to raise awareness of trafficking among the most vulnerable groups. In July 2021, the government launched a month-long social media awareness campaign. The government issued campaign material targeting Maldivians and migrant workers through social media platforms in Bangla, Hindi, Sinhala, English, and Dhivehi. The ATO ensured Maldivians were included in awareness campaign posters to prevent the stigmatization of foreign migrant workers and reduce racialized perceptions of trafficking victims. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or for child sex tourism. While anecdotal reports suggest that there have been cases of children being exploited for commercial sex acts or child sex tourism, there were no confirmed cases during the reporting period. The government previously reported increased concerns that traffickers could use resorts and guesthouses to facilitate child sex tourism, in part because no government agency had the authority or resources to monitor these establishments for such crimes. The dedicated TIP hotline operated by the government remained suspended during the reporting period due to a lack of dedicated staff. The MPS Anti-Human Trafficking Department operated a 24-hour helpline, although the hotline did not identify any victims. Civil society reported that the lack of Bengali-speaking hotline operators could have been a barrier to the large number of suspected Bangladeshi trafficking victims. The government did not report any anti-trafficking training for diplomats during the reporting period.