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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, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Malawi remained on Tier 2.  These efforts included increasing convictions of traffickers and establishing six district committees to coordinate victim services and investigations.  The government trained law enforcement on identification and certification of trafficking victims.  The government deployed a task force to collaborate with a foreign government to identify and repatriate Malawians exploited abroad.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  Due to the lack of shelters and other available protection services, police detained some victims during the investigation process and did not take adequate measures to prevent the re-traumatization of victims participating in criminal proceedings against traffickers.  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 SOPs on victim identification and the NRM for front-line officials to systematically and proactively identify trafficking victims by screening vulnerable populations, including individuals involved in commercial sex, refugees, and returnees, and certify and refer all trafficking victims to appropriate services.
  • Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute sex and labor trafficking crimes, including complicit government officials, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms.
  • Expand specialized training for police, immigration officials, prosecutors, and magistrates on investigating and prosecuting trafficking crimes.
  • Collaborate with NGOs and international organizations to increase the government’s capacity to provide shelter and protective services to more trafficking victims.
  • Create guidelines to access and disburse funds allocated to the Anti-Trafficking Fund, ensuring appropriate use and allowing NGOs to access the funds when providing services to 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.
  • Implement and consistently enforce strong regulations and oversight of labor recruitment companies, including by holding fraudulent labor recruiters criminally accountable.
  • 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.
  • Strengthen district coordination committee anti-trafficking efforts through developing district-level action plans and increasing coordination on the provision of 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 increased 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 10 district-level police stations during the previous reporting period to 24 out of Malawi’s 44 district-level police stations in 2022.  The government reported investigating 81 trafficking cases with 46 suspects in 2022, compared with investigating 82 cases with 82 suspects in 2021.  The government reported prosecuting 46 alleged traffickers and convicting 24 traffickers, compared with prosecuting an unknown number of alleged traffickers in 27 cases and convicting seven traffickers in 2021.  The government investigated and prosecuted eight Malawian labor recruiters for recruiting Malawian women to Oman for alleged exploitation in domestic servitude; the cases were ongoing at the end of the reporting period.  In 2021, the government investigated 19 suspects and convicted 17 traffickers in connection with human trafficking facilitated through Dzaleka Refugee Camp.  Convicted traffickers received sentences upward of 14 years of imprisonment.  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.  Magistrates heavily relied on victim testimony and dismissed cases where victims declined to testify.  Due to conflation between migrant smuggling and human trafficking, the government may have prosecuted migrant smuggling crimes as human trafficking crimes.   A significant backlog of cases remained due to prosecutorial delays and insufficient resources.  Lack of basic resources, such as fuel, vehicles, and sufficient personnel, hindered law enforcement’s ability to investigate cases, protect victims, and collaborate effectively.

The government recognized corruption as an obstacle to effective investigations and increased criminal investigations of officials complicit in trafficking crimes; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns.  The government arrested and charged three police officers and one immigration officer for recruiting Malawian women for exploitation in domestic servitude in Oman; the suspects were denied bail and the investigations remained ongoing.  The government also charged a relative of a high-profile political figure with alleged human trafficking crimes.  Observers reported corrupt officials allegedly permitted child forced labor on a farm in Mchinji; the case was reported to the Malawi Human Rights Commission and remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period.  In the previous reporting period, 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 a PRC national; the government did not report any updates.  In November 2016, a federal district court in Maryland issued a default judgment against a former Malawian diplomat posted in the United States for approximately $1.1 million in a civil human trafficking case involving a domestic worker who sued her former employer, the former Malawian diplomat, for trafficking.  The judgement remains unpaid, and the government did not report taking any action to hold the diplomat accountable for the seventh consecutive year.

With the support of an international organization, the government conducted training for law enforcement, immigration, labor, and protection officers on trafficking victim identification, particularly focused on border communities.  The MPS retained anti-trafficking training in its curricula for the Limbe, Mtakata, and Mlangeni Police Training Schools and Zomba Police College.  The government maintained intelligence sharing agreements with the Governments of Zambia and Mozambique, and collaborated with the Governments of Tanzania, Oman, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo on trafficking investigations.

The government maintained victim protection efforts.  The government identified 81 trafficking victims and referred at least 69 victims to care, compared with 145 victims identified and an unknown number of victims referred to care in the previous reporting period.  According to media reports, the government also identified and repatriated at least 80 Malawian potential trafficking victims abroad.  NGOs identified Malawian women exploited in domestic servitude in Oman and referred the victims to the government for assistance.  In response, the government dispatched an inter-ministerial task force to engage the Omani government, identify additional victims, facilitate repatriation, and investigate trafficking crimes.  The task force identified more than 50 Malawian victims but, despite collaborating with an international organization and the Omani government, repatriated only three victims by the end of the reporting period.  The Omani government required payment of fees to the alleged traffickers for debts incurred through the victims’ recruitment and trafficking, which was an obstacle to repatriation efforts.  Separately, MPS collaborated with an NGO to intercept more than 446 potential trafficking victims through transit monitoring at airports and border crossings, resulting in several prosecutions and convictions.

The government had SOPs on victim identification and an NRM and reported continuing to train front-line officials on the SOPs and NRM with support from civil society organizations; notably, observers reported law enforcement in border regions demonstrated increased awareness of SOPs and NRM to screen migrants for trafficking indicators and refer them to care.  Immigration officers often lacked sufficient training to identify trafficking victims and fraudulent identification documents.  For victims to access government benefits, police or immigration officers had to certify trafficking victims; however, observers noted government officials frequently misidentified sex and labor trafficking as other crimes, such as migrant smuggling and GBV, and cultural acceptance of domestic servitude hindered proactive victim identification and access to services.  The Social Welfare Office, part of the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare coordinated services for certified 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 government officials reported services for trafficking victims remained inaccessible to some communities, particularly in the northern region.  The government maintained accreditation and conducted oversight for four NGO-operated shelters to support identified victims of trafficking in Limbe, Lilongwe, Mchinji, and Zomba; 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 trafficking victims.  Victim support units (VSUs) at approximately 300 village-level police sub-stations could provide temporary support to GBV and trafficking victims; however, in some circumstances, VSUs lacked capacity to respond adequately, and the quality of services varied throughout the country.  The government relied on civil society organizations to provide most care to trafficking victims; however, the government did not report providing financial or in-kind support to such organizations.  Additionally, the government did not report allocating any funds to its anti-trafficking fund for the second consecutive year.  Observers reported the lack of guidelines for the anti-trafficking fund’s use and oversight could lead to misuse and prevented civil society from accessing the funds for victim care.

In partnership with an international organization, the government continued to train Dzaleka Refugee Camp staff, including international organization staff and government officials, to implement SOPs to screen for trafficking victims; camp staff identified 137 trafficking victims and referred them to care in 2021 and 2022.  The government increased the police presence in the camp from two to 15 officers, who received training to identify and refer trafficking victims; however, observers reported this was insufficient.  In response, police focused on training community police members, who could patrol the camp, identify crimes, including human trafficking, and report crimes to police; however, observers reported potential corruption among community police may lead to un-reported crimes.

Observers and government officials reported authorities inappropriately penalized some trafficking victims for offenses committed as a direct result of being trafficked, particularly for immigration violations, due to lack of resources and knowledge gaps.  Some refugees working informally may have been reluctant to report trafficking crimes for fear of penalization.  Police sometimes transported victims, particularly children, with their suspected traffickers in the same vehicle, resulting in potential intimidation and further traumatization of victims.  Officials sometimes placed victims in detention, due to a lack of space at shelters or VSUs, and in some cases, victims reportedly ran away from detention or declined to testify in court after officials failed to provide them basic necessities, such as food.  The 2015 anti-trafficking law allowed courts to provide immunity to victims for offenses committed as a direct result of being trafficked, including potential immigration violations; however, previous reports alleged foreign victims faced deportation unless they challenged their immigration status in court.  Foreign victims could receive temporary residency status while cooperating with law enforcement; trafficking victims were not eligible for 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 assistance during criminal justice proceedings, observers reported the government could not provide any support due to lack of funding, resulting in most foreign national victims declining to pursue criminal proceedings against their traffickers and returning to their home country.  Courts in some districts provided options for child victims to testify via video.  Despite allowing restitution for victims in cases against traffickers, no courts ordered restitution during the reporting period.

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking.  The Secretariat of the National Coordination Committee Against Trafficking in Persons (NCCATP), led by the Ministry of Homeland Security and charged with overseeing national anti-trafficking efforts, met once during the reporting period.  With support from international organizations, the government established five new district coordination committees with representatives from across government and civil society in Mulanje, Mwanza, Machinga, Kasungu and Ntchisi and maintained six committees in Dedza, Karonga, Mangochi, Mzimba, Mchinji, and Phalombe, bringing the total to 11 committees.  District committees coordinated anti-trafficking efforts across government agencies and civil society at the local level.  Committees’ knowledge of trafficking varied across districts; most heavily focused on awareness raising and victim identification, while others effectively coordinated services, investigated cases, and met regularly.  Some committees developed district-level action plans, while others did not report progress.  Members of the informal Malawi Network Against Trafficking (MNAT), comprising government officials, religious leaders, NGOs, and international stakeholders, met regularly.  The government developed its 2023-2027 anti-trafficking NAP but did not report whether it was finalized by the end of the reporting period.  Observers reported the government incorporated feedback from trafficking survivors into the NAP.  The government, in partnership with an international organization, continued implementing a Plan of Action to address human trafficking in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, including raising awareness through billboards with victim referral and support information.  MNAT conducted awareness-raising activities on human trafficking for the public, including tribal leaders and truck drivers, and engaged social media influencers, leading to the identification of several trafficking victims.

The government collaborated with an NGO-operated hotline to assist victims and track trafficking crimes.  The hotline registered 83 potential cases of trafficking, with 14 cases pertaining to children and 69 cases involving adults.  The government reported contributing information on trafficking cases identified to a national centralized anti-trafficking data collection and reporting tool.  Some labor inspectors received training on identifying forced labor and participated in district coordination committees.  The MOL had a memorandum of understanding with three tobacco companies that supported trainings for labor inspectors on identifying forced and child labor.  Limited resources, including lack of vehicles and fuel, prevented inspectors from conducting inspections, particularly in rural areas.  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 workers’ passports and other identity documentation, and safe and decent working and living conditions; however, the government did not report enforcing these regulations or effectively regulating labor recruiters.  The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.  The government previously developed an anti-trafficking training program for diplomats but did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.

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.  Zambian farmers recruit Malawians to work on farms in Zambia’s Eastern and Muchinga Provinces, sometimes transiting as far as Western Province, where they are exploited in forced labor.  Reportedly, some have been killed to avoid payment at the end of the growing season.  High inflation incentivizes many Malawians to accept risky job offers in Zambia because, even if paid little, the exchange rate provides more income.  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 and girls in forced labor on farms and girls in sex trafficking or other forms of sexual exploitation in nightclubs, bars, barbershops, and residential illegal brothels, particularly in Lilongwe and Blantyre.  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.  Pandemic-related school closures resulted in some students, especially girls, failing to reenroll in school, increasing their vulnerability to exploitation.  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.  Traffickers use unmonitored and irregular border crossings to facilitate transnational trafficking, avoiding additional scrutiny at traditional border crossings; 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 refugees and asylum-seekers, primarily from the DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Somalia, with a majority living in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp, which houses approximately 42,000 refugees in a space designed for approximately 12,000.  Organized transnational crime syndicates operating out of informal bars within the camp recruit girls for exploitation in sex trafficking inside the camp and in roadside bars along the highway to and in Lilongwe.  The camp is used as a waypoint along the Southern Route for criminal networks transporting refugees and vulnerable migrants, some for exploitation in sex trafficking and forced labor both within Malawi and to other countries in Southern Africa, particularly South Africa.

Severe weather events internally displaced more than 100,000 Malawians in January 2022 and more than 500,000 in March 2023, which increased vulnerabilities to trafficking.  Malawian victims of sex and labor trafficking have been identified in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia, as well as in Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.  Fraudulent employment agencies lure women and girls to Gulf states, where traffickers exploit them in sex and labor trafficking.  In Oman, Malawian women, recruited through word of mouth and social media, are exploited in domestic servitude in hazardous and abusive conditions, some resulting in death.  Traffickers provide victims with fraudulent documentation and do not register victims as migrant workers, preventing government oversight.  Malawian and Zambian potential victims were identified at a Malawian airport en route to Oman and, in previous years, to Qatar.  Some girls recruited for domestic work 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.  PRC workers may be exploited on worksites owned by PRC-owned companies.

U.S. Department of State

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