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Mauritius (Tier 2)

The Government of Mauritius 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 with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Mauritius remained on Tier 2. These efforts included providing services to all identified child victims; working with an international organization to renovate a shelter and repatriate foreign victims identified in previous years; conducting awareness raising activities to educate the migrant worker population on trafficking indicators; and reconvening the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Trafficking in Persons (IMCTIP) after it was inactive for two years. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The continued absence of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification and referral for adult trafficking victims led to ad hoc assistance, a lack of victim-centered approaches, and potential re-traumatization of victims. Courts continued to provide lenient sentences to first-time offenders of many crimes, including trafficking; this approach weakened deterrence and did not adequately address the nature of the crime. Despite documented vulnerabilities of forced labor within the migrant worker population, the government did not investigate or prosecute traffickers exploiting individuals in forced labor, nor did it identify any victims of forced labor. The judicial process continued to be prohibitively long—frequently many years—and the government lacked adequate support for victim witnesses, which at times dissuaded victims from seeking legal redress.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Improve comprehensive protection services for adult trafficking victims by developing and implementing SOPs for proactive victim identification and referral to protective services—especially among vulnerable populations including individuals in commercial sex and migrant workers—and by ensuring provision of adequate assistance to all victims identified regardless of immigration status or willingness to participate with law enforcement.
  • Vigorously increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes and sentence convicted traffickers to penalties as prescribed by the 2009 anti-trafficking law.
  • Implement a victim witness program to increase protection for victims participating in criminal proceedings and prevent re-traumatization, including receiving victims’ consent to willingly participate in law enforcement procedures.
  • Implement and consistently enforce strong regulations and oversight of labor recruitment companies, including eliminating recruitment fees charged to migrant workers and holding fraudulent labor recruiters criminally accountable.
  • Strengthen the partnership between police and prosecutors to more efficiently and effectively prosecute trafficking cases and increase training on strong evidence gathering and victim-centered investigations.
  • Finalize and adopt a national action plan (NAP) to combat trafficking and allocate funding for its implementation.
  • Designate a lead agency responsible for the protection of adult trafficking victims.
  • Provide specific anti- trafficking training to law enforcement officials, labor inspectors, social workers, prosecutors, and magistrates to improve victim identification and referral to appropriate care.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2009 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking of adults and children and prescribed penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The Children’s Act of 2020 also criminalized child sex trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

The government reported initiating four investigations into seven suspects, compared with four investigations into 11 suspects in 2020. Specifically, authorities investigated one adult sex trafficking case and three child sex trafficking cases; the government did not report any law enforcement efforts related to forced labor. All four investigations remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The government initiated one prosecution from a 2014 sex trafficking case, compared with two prosecutions initiated in 2020. The government reported at least 21 investigations and 17 prosecutions remained ongoing from previous reporting periods; however, the government did not provide updates on these cases. The government convicted two traffickers in three cases, compared with one conviction in 2020. Courts sentenced one trafficker to six months’ imprisonment for adult sex trafficking. Courts also sentenced one trafficker in two separate child sex trafficking cases to five years’ imprisonment in one case and six months’ imprisonment for the other. Courts ordered the trafficker, who was already in prison serving a four-year sentence for a previous child sex trafficking conviction, to serve part of the sentence concurrently for a total of seven years’ imprisonment. The government continued to provide lenient sentences to first-time offenders of many crimes, including trafficking; this approach weakened deterrence and did not adequately address the nature of the crime. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking crimes. In response to the pandemic, the government issued stay-at-home orders for a small segment of the reporting period; during this time, all police officers, including those mandated to investigate trafficking crimes, were assigned to oversee pandemic-related guidelines and procedures, such as mask wearing, curfews, social distancing, and mandatory quarantines. Courts continued to experience a backlog of cases, which was exacerbated by pandemic-related court closures in 2020.

The Mauritius Police Force (MPF) maintained an ad hoc internal coordination committee to combat trafficking, as well as a “human rights desk,” which employed two police officers trained on trafficking crimes, that served as a resource for other police units. The Mauritius Police Training School continued to provide anti-trafficking courses to new law enforcement officers and trafficking-specific training modules to mid-level officers. Despite these training efforts, some law enforcement officers continued to lack an understanding of the anti-trafficking law. Similar to previous years, proper investigations, including collection of evidence and adequate witness testimony, remained difficult for law enforcement to conduct, often leading to lengthy and poor investigations and prosecutions. While law enforcement and prosecutors reported continued case conferencing, coordination required further improvement; additionally, the judicial process continued to be prohibitively long—frequently many years—which at times dissuaded victims from seeking legal redress through civil suits.

PROTECTION

The government maintained overall victim protection efforts, but those related to adult trafficking victims remained inadequate. The government identified six potential victims, compared with 18 victims identified in 2020 and six in 2019. Of the six victims identified, all were victims of sex trafficking; two were adults, and four were children; and five were Mauritian nationals, while one was a foreign national from Bangladesh. For the second consecutive year, the government did not report identifying any adult victims of labor trafficking, despite migrant workers’ continued vulnerability to trafficking. The Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development, and Family Welfare’s (MWFWCD’s) Child Development Unit (CDU) systematically employed standard identification and referral procedures for child trafficking victims; however, the government continued to lack standard identification and referral procedures for adult trafficking victims. The absence of standard procedures for adult trafficking victims led to ad hoc assistance, a lack of victim-centered approaches, and potential re-traumatization of victims. The government provided medical assistance and counseling to the four child victims identified in 2021 and referred the two adult victims to NGO- run services. The government continued to operate a shelter for female child sex trafficking victims that could host up to 32 children. Officials reported providing services to 23 children at the shelter, compared with 34 children during the previous reporting period. The government allocated 13.2 million Mauritian rupees ($301,710) to the shelter in 2021, compared with 11 million rupees ($251,430) in 2020. An international organization reported partnering with the government to repatriate at least five foreign victims identified in previous reporting periods. The MPF in Vacoas continued to oversee the country’s only trafficking- specific adult shelter; while the shelter was dedicated to male victims, police reportedly allowed for the accommodation of female victims on an ad hoc basis. The government, in partnership with an international organization, began renovations to the shelter. Despite remaining operational during the renovations, the government has not reported assisting any victims at the shelter since it opened in 2019. In practice, the government referred adult female victims to NGO-run shelters for victims of domestic violence or adults involved in commercial sex with drug addictions, where the NGOs provided shelter, medical assistance, and psychosocial services. The government continued to require some adult foreign victims to participate in investigations, denying their requests for repatriation; observers reported police sometimes held victims’ passports until completion of the investigation. Due to a lack of formal identification procedures and gaps in understanding of human trafficking among some law enforcement officers, authorities may have detained, arrested, and deported some unidentified trafficking victims, particularly women involved in commercial sex or foreign nationals who had overstayed their visas.

The 2009 anti-trafficking law provided victims limited legal alternatives to removal to countries in which they would face hardship. The law authorized the Minister of Home Affairs to allow a foreign trafficking victim to remain in the country for up to 42 days before deportation and to issue a temporary residence permit if the victim agreed to cooperate with the investigation and prosecution of the trafficking case. The law also separately allowed the Minister of Home Affairs to extend the trafficking victim’s permit on humanitarian grounds. The Ministry of Home Affairs did not report issuing any such permits during the reporting period. Since July 2021, the Ministry of Labor (MOL) was able to grant migrant workers a “special open permit” to allow victims to continue working in Mauritius during ongoing trafficking investigations; the government provided one “special open permit” during the year. The government lacked formal policies and procedures to provide protective services for and encourage trafficking victims’ participation in investigations and prosecutions, and there was no witness protection program for victims. Courts reportedly allowed victims to provide testimony via video or written statement, and if a victim was a witness in a court case against a former employer, they could obtain employment, move freely within the country, or leave the country pending trial proceedings; however, in practice, government officials expected victims to testify against their trafficker in-person. The anti-trafficking law allowed the courts to award a victim up to 500,000 rupees ($11,430) in restitution from the convicted trafficker; however, courts did not award restitution to victims. The law also allowed victims to file civil suits against their alleged traffickers for compensation for damages exceeding the amount of restitution awarded during criminal proceedings; however, civil suits could be prohibitively expensive and lengthy, and no victims filed such suits.

PREVENTION

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The Prime Minister’s Office led government anti-trafficking efforts. The Inter- Ministerial Committee on Trafficking in Persons, chaired by the attorney general’s office and designed to coordinate interagency policies to combat trafficking, met for the first time since 2019. The National Steering Committee on Trafficking in Persons, a working-level technical committee under the senior-level inter-ministerial committee, continued to meet regularly to coordinate daily operations on anti-trafficking efforts. The MWFWCD, including the National Children’s Council and the CDU, led government efforts to combat child trafficking; there continued to be confusion within the government on which department was responsible for addressing adult sex trafficking. The government, in partnership with an international organization, began drafting an updated NAP to combat trafficking; the government has not had a NAP since 2013, which continued to hinder progress among various agencies mandated to work on anti-trafficking efforts. The government held awareness campaigns targeting frontline workers, local committees, and migrant workers on recognizing trafficking indicators and reporting potential trafficking crimes. The government reported that pandemic-related closures of schools and community centers limited in-person awareness campaigns, typically run by the MWFWCD, targeting students, parents, and teachers. The MWFWCD continued to operate a 24-hour hotline to report child abuse, including potential trafficking crimes; however, it did not report call data related to trafficking.

The MOL continued to conduct individual sessions with foreign workers upon arrival to Mauritius to inform them of their rights, including producing relevant documents in their native language. The MOL’s Special Migrant Workers Unit, responsible for monitoring and protecting all migrant workers and conducting routine inspections of their employment sites, responded to complaints from migrant workers and conducted routine onsite labor inspections; however, the unit was not trained on trafficking and did not report identifying any trafficking victims during these inspections or referring any potential violations for further investigation. Although the MOL was required to approve all employment contracts before migrant workers entered the country, some migrant workers reportedly continued to enter the country with contracts that were incomplete or had not been translated into languages the workers could read. The Recruitment of Workers Act and Regulations allowed recruiting agencies to charge recruitment fees ranging from 100 to 200 rupees ($2 to $5) and a commission of not more than 10 percent on the first month’s earnings of persons placed in employment. In response to the pandemic, the government closed the country’s borders for a portion of the reporting period; during the lockdown, the MOL extended the work visas of migrant workers who had reached the end of their stay and allowed migrant workers employed by companies that permanently closed to transition to other jobs. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Mauritius. Peers, significant others, family members, or businessmen offering other forms of employment exploit girls from across the country in child sex trafficking. Taxi drivers knowingly transport child sex traffickers to their victims with whom they engage in commercial sex acts; taxi drivers also transport victims to traffickers. Traffickers exploit girls from poor neighborhoods, an especially vulnerable population, in sex trafficking. Increasingly, guesthouse owners exploit Malagasy women, recruited under false pretenses of employment or tourism, in sex trafficking. Traffickers may also exploit children in sex trafficking on Rodrigues Island, an autonomous territory of Mauritius. Traffickers, in partnership with criminal networks in Russia and Kazakhstan, recruit Belarusian, Russian, and Ukrainian women to move to Mauritius, under the guise of a marriage agency, then subsequently exploit them in sex trafficking. Traffickers exploit Malagasy women who transit Mauritius in forced labor, primarily in domestic servitude and sex trafficking in the Middle East. Mauritius’ manufacturing and construction sectors employ approximately 35,550 foreign migrant workers—primarily from Bangladesh, India, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and Nepal—some of whom traffickers subject to forced labor. Employers operating small- and medium-sized businesses employ migrant workers, primarily from Bangladesh, who have been recruited through private recruitment intermediaries, usually former migrant workers now operating as recruiting agents in their country of origin; labor trafficking cases are more common in these enterprises than in larger businesses, which recruit directly without the use of intermediaries. Despite Mauritian law prohibiting the practice, employers routinely retain migrant workers’ passports to prevent them from changing jobs, enhancing vulnerability to forced labor.

U.S. Department of State

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