MALDIVES (Tier 2)

The Government of Maldives 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, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Maldives remained on Tier 2.  These efforts included convicting traffickers for the first time in two years.  The government also established new regulations requiring recruitment agencies to undergo training on employing foreign workers.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  The government did not proactively investigate trafficking crimes and did not identify any labor trafficking victims despite the prevalence of labor trafficking indicators among migrant workers in Maldives, and there was a continued lack of progress to address labor trafficking.  The government did not hold accountable government officials allegedly complicit in human trafficking crimes.  Victim identification and protection efforts remained weak and the government remained without official SOPs to refer victims to care.  The government did not adequately screen for trafficking indicators among migrant workers.  The government remained without shelters available for trafficking victims.

  • Significantly increase proactive investigations and prosecutions of trafficking crimes, including labor trafficking, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms.  
  • Increase efforts to identify trafficking victims, including among vulnerable groups such as foreign workers and undocumented migrants, through consistent use of the victim identification SOP. 
  • Increase training for front-line officials, including law enforcement, judges, labor inspectors, and immigration officials on investigating trafficking crimes, implementing the amended anti-trafficking law, and using the government’s victim identification SOP. 
  • Finalize, formally adopt, and consistently implement SOPs for victim referrals and support services. 
  • Significantly increase oversight of labor recruitment agencies and employers and refer cases involving trafficking indicators, such as non-payment of wages and passport retention, to police for criminal investigation. 
  • Increase cooperation with migrant source-country governments through memoranda of understanding (MOUs) and other measures to improve labor conditions for migrant workers. 
  • Allocate resources for proactive monitoring of resorts and guest homes for human trafficking. 
  • Ensure victims have access to shelter services, including medical care and psycho-social support, and provide services to both Maldivian and foreign victims. 
  • Ensure anti-trafficking materials are available in appropriate languages for migrant workers and provide access to adequate interpretation and translation services for trafficking victims. 
  • Investigate accusations of officials complicit in trafficking-related crimes, including in recruitment and the construction sector, and hold officials criminally accountable.

The government maintained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts.  The Prevention of Human Trafficking Act (PHTA), as amended, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses involving an adult victim and up to 15 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim.  These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.

The government investigated two trafficking cases involving three suspects, compared with one trafficking case involving three suspects during the previous year.  The government prosecuted four alleged traffickers – three Maldivian men and one Bangladeshi man – in a sex trafficking case, compared with three alleged traffickers for forced labor in 2021.  The government continued to prosecute a trafficking case against two alleged traffickers from a previous reporting period.  The government convicted two sex traffickers, the first convictions in two years.  The high court upheld an acquittal on human trafficking charges for a perpetrator convicted of forced prostitution.  The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services (MOGFSS) did not report investigation of any cases of child sex trafficking during the reporting period while MPS reportedly investigated one child sex trafficking case.  MPS and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) continued investigations – initiated in 2019 – against 27 labor recruitment agencies and several current or former Maldives Immigration (MI) officers for collusion in allegedly manipulating the foreign worker recruitment quota system in a way that may have facilitated fraudulent recruitment practices and potentially human trafficking.  The government continued to reallocate financial and personnel resources away from its law enforcement operations due to the pandemic, affecting the ability of law enforcement to report and investigate cases and delaying the prosecution of all criminal cases.

The government did not report any convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action.  The Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) dismissed human trafficking charges filed in the previous reporting period against a ruling Parliamentarian, who was the managing director of a construction company contracted to develop a resort, alleging non-payment of salaries and intimidation, as well as exploitation of two labor trafficking victims among 200 migrant workers at a resort construction site.  In addition, authorities did not seek charges against a police officer arrested in the previous reporting period for alleged involvement in a sex trafficking case.  Officials did not report any action following the arrest by Sri Lankan police of a former senior Maldivian government official in July 2021 for alleged involvement in a child sex trafficking ring in Sri Lanka.  Labor inspectors and judges allegedly accepted bribes to overlook labor violations or dismiss cases, and observers reported some officials warned businesses in advance of planned law enforcement operations.

The MPS Anti-Human Trafficking Department employed dedicated anti-trafficking staff and the government, in collaboration with international partners, conducted anti-trafficking trainings for MPS, MI, and other frontline agencies.  MI continued to implement a mandatory trafficking training for new recruits.  There were no specialized judges dedicated to hearing trafficking cases.  The government conducted human trafficking trainings and capacity-building programs for judges.  Despite these trainings, officials sometimes conflated human trafficking with related crimes, such as sexual abuse or migrant smuggling, especially in cases involving children; this made it difficult to determine which law enforcement actions involved human trafficking as defined by international law.  Although MPS, in collaboration with an international organization, previously developed an online case management system that would allow potential victims to submit cases to the police online, no cases were filed and the platform ceased to be operational.  The absence of dedicated foreign language interpreters for victims and witnesses among law enforcement and social service providers continued to hamper law enforcement and victim protection efforts.  The government reported some cooperation with foreign officials on specific anti-trafficking cases; however, authorities called for increased cooperation, especially among source country governments.

The government maintained protection efforts.  Officials identified two trafficking victims, compared with three trafficking victims during the previous period.  Both victims were from Thailand and exploited in sex trafficking.  Officials also identified one potential trafficking victim.  The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Office (ATO) provided temporary shelter in guesthouses to both victims, in addition to food and medical care, prior to their repatriation to Thailand.  The government had a formal SOP for victim identification but lacked an SOP for referring identified victims to care.  The government utilized its victim identification guidelines, passed in 2016, which provided basic instructions for identifying potential victims and referring victims for care.  The government continued to revise its draft victim assistance and shelter service regulation to establish SOPs on shelter operations and provision of victim services; these SOPs remained under review for the second consecutive year.  Observers reported the lack of cohesive victim identification and referral SOPs describing specific roles for agencies may have resulted in a lack of referrals and the possibility that victims were not identified.  Agency staffing shortages exacerbated by the pandemic disrupted coordination efforts and procedures for victim identification.  While all agencies could screen for trafficking, only the Anti-Human Trafficking Department could officially declare an individual a trafficking victim, which provided victims with access to services and ensured cases would be investigated under the PHTA.  Although MPS previously disseminated the 2016 victim identification SOP to its officers, government agencies did not uniformly employ them.

The government did not have shelters available to trafficking victims.  The government previously completed construction of a trafficking shelter in February 2021; however, the facility was subsequently demolished due to storm damage.  The government did not take steps to re-establish the shelter during the reporting period.  ATO provided temporary shelter to victims in guesthouses in the capital area and could also provide medical care and psychosocial services.  Article 32 of the PHTA provided a 90-day reflection period during which victims could receive services while deciding whether to assist authorities in a criminal case.  PGO could provide victim-witness assistance to trafficking victims if their cases went to prosecution, and the government reportedly could cover legal fees for trafficking victims.  In addition, the government could make special arrangements to protect trafficking survivors during trials, including by providing written testimony or via video.  Foreign national trafficking victims could receive a special visa allowing them to remain in Maldives and work during the investigation and prosecution of a case, or subject to evidence of forced labor with a previous employer.  However, the PHTA permitted the deportation of trafficking victims who entered Maldives without authorization.  Although the amended PHTA allowed the state to seize assets used in trafficking or gained through the profits of trafficking, there were no reports of prosecutors filing requests for restitution in criminal cases, nor courts awarding such restitution during the reporting period.  There were also no reports of victims filing civil suits against traffickers for damages.  The government did not maintain a victim compensation fund for trafficking survivors.

The Ministry of Economic Development (MED) continued its re-registration and regularization program, initiated in September 2019, which aimed to provide temporary documentation and legalize undocumented foreign migrant workers and repatriate both documented and undocumented workers wishing to return to their home country.  The government did not report how many undocumented workers were registered in 2022 compared with 1,700 workers in 2021.  The government reported 43,787 undocumented workers had registered for the program since 2019; the government regularized 16,351 migrants and repatriated 8,938 as of August 2022.  The government did not report whether it screened any registered workers for human trafficking indicators.  As in previous reporting periods, the government did not identify any trafficking victims among migrant workers despite instances of unpaid wages, confiscated passports, and other indicators of labor trafficking.  Observers reported the government’s screening processes may be inadequate given the limited number of trafficking victims identified in recent years, particularly given the significant proportion of undocumented workers among the large migrant laborer population in the country.

MPS and MI conducted 11 joint inspections at guesthouses and spas in Malé and reported screening vulnerable groups such as female migrant workers suspected to be involved in commercial sex; authorities did not identify any trafficking victims.  However, due to inconsistent use of formal identification procedures, authorities may have arrested and deported some unidentified trafficking victims, including foreign women exploited in sex trafficking.

The government increased 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 met at least once during the reporting period.  The Ministry of Defense continued to allocate a dedicated office space for the ATO.  However, the ATO was significantly understaffed, which impeded its role overseeing anti-trafficking efforts.  The ATO drafted a new one-year NAP from March 2023 to March 2024, following the expiration of the 2020-2022 NAP in December 2022; the draft remained pending final approval at the end of the reporting period.  The new NAP reportedly focused on the completion of activities from the previous action plan.  The 2023 State Budget allocated 1.16 million Maldivian rufiyaa (MVR) ($75,230), an increase from the 2022 budget, to fund the work of the ATO and implementation of the NAP, including 285,000 MVR ($18,480) dedicated for prevention efforts.  The government lacked a centralized system to collect trafficking data across agencies.  The government, in partnership with an international organization and a local university, began a baseline study to collect data throughout the country’s atolls to inform anti-trafficking priorities.

The sixth amendment to the Employment Act 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.  In April 2022, the government adopted new employment agency regulations to clarify the role of employment agencies in recruiting foreign workers, procedures for registration and licensing agencies, and regulations to prohibit charging recruitment fees to workers or withholding passports; agencies in violation of the regulations are subject to a penalty of 5,000 MVR to 50,000 MVR ($324 to 3,240).  The regulations also required all registered agencies and new agencies seeking recognition to undergo training on government processes related to expatriate employment, although there were no reports that such trainings were conducted during the reporting period.  MED previously 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, although changing employers required a no objection letter from the former employer.  The government proposed an MOU with Bangladesh regarding Bangladeshi migrant workers in Maldives; however, for the fifth consecutive year, the draft remained pending.  In addition, the government did not report progress on efforts to negotiate labor agreements with India or the Philippines.

The Labor Relations Authority (LRA) had the authority to inspect all worksites, including private homes, and it carried out 656 inspections, compared with 124 inspections during the previous period.  LRA identified 24 potential cases of child labor in 2022, compared with 23 potential child labor cases in 2021, although it did not report any cases of forced child labor or child sex trafficking during the reporting period.  LRA lacked the resources, staff, and training necessary to fulfill its mandate and adequately monitor each atoll, resulting in a largely reactive inspection strategy focused on tourist areas and the most populated islands.  The LRA, in collaboration with an international organization, provided human trafficking training to 40 officers 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.  LRA, the MoGFSS, and the employment tribunal could refer labor violations to police for criminal investigation, although these agencies did not report any referrals during the reporting period.  Observers reported employment 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 MED to blacklist foreign recruitment agencies and employers with repeated or serious labor violations, but MED did not always implement LRA’s recommendations and those agencies and employers continued to operate.  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.  MI also inspected establishments that employed migrant workers.

The government, in collaboration with international partners, conducted some public awareness events such as a webinar and media workshop, although observers reported a continued lack of significant efforts to raise awareness of trafficking among the most vulnerable groups.  The government had anti-trafficking awareness materials in Dhivehi and English.  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.  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 trafficking in persons hotline operated by the government remained suspended during the reporting period due to a lack of dedicated staff; however, the MPS Anti-Human Trafficking Department operated a 24-hour hotline and a toll-free child helpline could receive reports about child labor cases; the hotlines did not report identifying any trafficking victims.  Observers reported 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 providing any anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Maldives.  There have been no recent reports of traffickers exploiting victims from Maldives abroad.  Foreign migrants, especially from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, are especially vulnerable to labor and sex trafficking.  Foreign migrant workers comprise approximately one-third of the population of Maldives, including at least 60,000 undocumented workers.  Traffickers subject an unknown number of foreign workers – primarily Bangladeshi and Indian men in the construction and service sectors – to practices indicative of forced labor, including fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages, and debt-based coercion.  The government reported that withholding passports and non-payment or under-payment of wages to migrant workers remained the most common trafficking indicators in Maldives.  Despite prohibitions on worker-paid recruitment fees, migrant workers may pay thousands of dollars in recruitment fees to work in Maldives, contributing to their risk of debt-based coercion upon arrival.  Recruitment agents in source countries collude with employers and agents in Maldives to facilitate fraudulent recruitment and forced labor of migrant workers.  Police reported an increase in Bangladeshi nationals living in Maldives who pose as labor agents and fraudulently recruit migrant workers from Bangladesh, facilitate their travel to Maldives, and abandon them upon arrival without documentation, rendering them vulnerable to traffickers.  In recent years, officials reported an increasing number of Bangladeshi workers fraudulently obtained 12-month work visas while only possessing the requirements for three-month visas.

Traffickers may have targeted migrant workers on fishing and cargo boats in Maldivian waters for forced labor.  South Asian women may be victims of forced labor in domestic service in Maldives.   Observers report traffickers may also target Bangladeshi children who enter the country on work visas and falsified passports for labor trafficking.  Traffickers use Maldivian children in forced criminality, including the transportation of drugs for criminal gangs.  A small number of workers from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) reportedly experienced conditions indicative of forced labor while working with a PRC-affiliated company.  In 2022, a group of 12 Cuban medical workers arrived in the Maldives.  These workers may be forced to work by the Cuban government, and previous rules that allowed the Maldivian Health Ministry officials to retain foreign passports could have increased the vulnerability of these workers.  There have been recent cases of government-affiliated Cuban medical workers escaping health care facilities without notice, which raised administrative concerns for the government.  Authorities did not report screening these vulnerable workers for indicators of human trafficking.

Sex traffickers exploit women and girls from Maldives and other South Asian countries and – to a lesser extent – women from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe in Maldives.  Some impoverished parents enable sex traffickers to exploit their children in exchange for financial assistance.  Some traffickers bring women from South Asia into Maldives under the guise of tourism or under the pretext of employment as massage therapists and then force them into sex trafficking.  Specifically, police reported an increase in traffickers bringing Bangladeshi women into Maldives on tourist visas and exploiting them in sex trafficking.  Some employers transport Maldivian children to the capital from other islands for domestic work, where employers sexually abuse some, and others are vulnerable to labor traffickers.  Traffickers have previously exploited Maldivian children in child sex tourism.

U.S. Department of State

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