MAURITIUS (Tier 2 Watch List)

The Government of Mauritius does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.  These efforts included partnering with an international organization to adopt SOPs for victim identification and referral; enhancing efforts to screen for trafficking indicators during routine labor inspections; and adopting a 2022-2026 NAP.  However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity.  The Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) did not prosecute any suspected traffickers under the 2009 anti-trafficking law, nor did courts convict any traffickers.  Police did not report initiating investigation into cases of potential labor trafficking for the second consecutive year.  The government provided minimal services to identified victims and did not officially identify any labor trafficking victims for the third consecutive year.  Protection services available to adult trafficking victims remained inadequate, and the government continued to lack victim-centered approaches in the provision of assistance.  Authorities continued to compel some adult foreign victims to participate in criminal proceedings using threats of deportation and arrest.  Police regularly investigated potential trafficking cases as other crimes with lower burdens of proof, and prosecutors routinely pursued lesser offenses with lesser penalties in cases initially investigated as trafficking.  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.  Therefore Mauritius was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.

  • Using the established victim identification and referral SOPs, systematically and proactively identify trafficking victims, including by screening for trafficking indicators among vulnerable populations – including individuals involved in commercial sex or drug-related crimes, migrant workers, and women and children from underprivileged communities – and refer all trafficking victims to appropriate services.  
  • Expand the availability of shelters and services to victims of all forms of trafficking – including adult female victims – and allocate adequate resources and staffing for these services.  
  • Ensure a victim-centered approach to the provision of assistance for all victims identified regardless of immigration status or willingness to participate in criminal proceedings.  
  • Ensure victims are not inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.  
  • Vigorously increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes under the 2009 anti-trafficking law and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms.  
  • Provide specific anti-trafficking training – including on strong evidence gathering, victim-centered investigations, and victim identification SOPs – to law enforcement officials, labor inspectors, prosecutors, and magistrates.  
  • Implement a victim witness program to increase protection for victims participating in criminal proceedings and prevent re-traumatization, including receiving victims’ consent to 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 investigate and prosecute trafficking cases under the 2009 anti-trafficking law.  
  • Allocate funding for anti-trafficking activities, including implementation of the 2022-2026 NAP.

The government decreased 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 investigated six trafficking cases – three for adult sex trafficking, two for child sex trafficking, and one for unspecified form of trafficking – compared with four investigations in 2021.  For the second consecutive year, the government did not report any law enforcement efforts related to labor trafficking.  The DPP did not prosecute any traffickers under the 2009 anti-trafficking law, compared with one prosecution in 2021.  Courts did not convict any suspected traffickers, compared with three convictions in 2021.  The Ministry of Labor, Human Resource Development and Training (MLHRDT) referred ten cases of suspected labor trafficking to the police during the reporting period.  Observers reported police often investigated and charged potential cases of trafficking as assault or brothel keeping, which had a lower burden of proof and lower penalties.  Observers also reported prosecutors routinely pursued lesser offenses with lesser penalties in cases initially investigated as trafficking.  For example, prosecutors charged three suspects from a 2018 sex trafficking case with “assisting in brothel keeping” in 2022 instead of pursuing trafficking charges; courts initially sentenced the suspects to 5 months’ imprisonment but later suspended the sentence and reduced the punishment to community service.  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.  The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, there were no allegations of official complicity in human trafficking crimes during the reporting period.

The Central Criminal Investigation Division of the Mauritius Police Force (MPF) continued to oversee human trafficking investigations.  In 2022, the MPF appointed a senior police officer to serve as the point of contact for human trafficking cases.  The MPF training schools continued to provide anti-trafficking training to new recruits and mid-level officers; however, observers reported the training was insufficient and did not include practical exercises related to investigations and victim identification.  Many law enforcement officers, particularly those outside Port Louis, continued to lack a complete understanding of human trafficking.  Similar to previous years, proper investigative techniques, including collection of evidence and adequate witness testimony, remained difficult for law enforcement to carry out, often leading to drawn-out investigations and unsuccessful prosecutions.  Law enforcement and prosecutors reported more regular coordination on trafficking cases, including by meeting to discuss cases, recommend charges, and determine evidence requirements.  Despite these improvement in case consultation, observers reported the DPP often did not pursue trafficking charges in such cases.  The judicial process continued to be prohibitively long – frequently many years – which at times dissuaded victims from seeking legal redress.  Courts continued to experience a pre-existing backlog of cases, which was further exacerbated by pandemic-related court closures in 2020.

The government decreased victim protection efforts.  The government identified four trafficking victims, compared with six victims identified in 2021.  Of the four victims identified, all were victims of sex trafficking and Mauritian nationals; three were adults, and one was a child.  The government also identified 83 potential victims, including 81 migrant workers potentially exploited in labor trafficking.  However, for the third consecutive year, the government did not report officially identifying any adult labor trafficking victims.  In partnership with an international organization and a foreign donor, the government adopted SOPs for victim identification and referral of adult and child trafficking victims; despite some training, implementation of the new SOPs was minimal.  The government reported screening some vulnerable populations, including Malagasy women traveling independently with limited funds; however, observers reported officials did not proactively screen vulnerable populations for trafficking indicators unless individuals self-identified as victims.  The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Welfare’s (MOGEFW) Child Development Unit (CDU) maintained separate identification and referral procedures for child trafficking victims.

The government referred two of the four identified victims to medical care, compared with referring all six identified victims to various forms of care in the previous reporting period.  The MLHRDT provided alternative employment for the 81 migrant workers identified as potential labor trafficking victims.  The government, in partnership with an international organization, continued renovations to a shelter dedicated to adult male trafficking victims in Vacoas; there were no such shelters for adult female trafficking victims.  The government previously reported the space to be operational since 2019; however, officials and observers confirmed the shelter has never opened or provided services to victims.  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 NGOs provided shelter, medical assistance, and psychosocial services.  Experts reported these accommodations did not adequately meet the specific needs of trafficking victims.  The government continued to operate a shelter for child victims of sexual violence, including child sex trafficking victims.  Officials reported providing services to 34 children at the shelter, compared with 23 children during the previous reporting period.  The government allocated 13.2 million Mauritian rupees ($301,025) to the shelter in 2022, the same amount allocated in 2021.

The government continued to require some adult foreign victims to participate in criminal proceedings, using threats of deportation and arrest.  Observers reported government officials required victims to stay in the country until investigations were complete – some of which took over two years – by denying requests for repatriation, closely monitoring and restricting victims’ freedom of movement, and in some cases, holding the victims’ passports.  This resulted in some foreign victims staying in Mauritian shelters for years before repatriation, which officials only approved following the conclusion of a case.  Experts reported the lack of trafficking-specific protection services available for adult trafficking victims – compounded by officials’ lack of victim-centered approaches and inappropriate treatment – put victims at risk for re-traumatization and re-trafficking.  Due to minimal training and use of victim identification SOPs and gaps in understanding of human trafficking among law enforcement officers, authorities likely detained, arrested, and deported unidentified trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked – particularly women involved in commercial sex, individuals arrested for drug-related crimes, and foreign nationals who overstayed their visas – without screening for trafficking indicators.

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 (MHA) 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 regardless of the victim’s cooperation with the investigation and prosecution of the trafficking case.  The law also separately allowed the MHA to extend the trafficking victim’s permit on humanitarian grounds.  The MHA did not report issuing any such permits during the reporting period.  The Ministry of Labor, Human Resources, and Training (MLHRDT) was able to grant migrant workers a “special open permit” to allow victims to continue working in Mauritius during ongoing trafficking investigations; the government did not provide “special open permits” during the year.  The government lacked formal policies and procedures to support trafficking victims’ participation in investigations and prosecutions and did not have a victim-witness assistance program.  Courts reportedly allowed victims to provide testimony via video or written statements; however, in practice, prosecutors expected trafficking victims to testify in-person.  The anti-trafficking law allowed the courts to order traffickers to pay restitution, up to 500,000 rupees ($11,400), to victims.  The law also allowed victims to file civil suits against 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.

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking.  The National Steering Committee on Trafficking in Persons (NSCTIP), chaired by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and composed of working-level officials, led government anti-trafficking efforts.  The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Trafficking in Persons (IMCTIP), chaired by the attorney general’s office, maintained oversight of NSCTIP.  The MOGEFW, including the National Children’s Council and the CDU, led government efforts to combat child trafficking.  The PMO was reportedly the lead office responsible for addressing adult trafficking; however, government agencies remained unclear regarding which entity was responsible for adult sex trafficking.  The government did not report the amount of funding allocated to anti-trafficking efforts during the reporting period.  In December 2022, the Council of Ministers approved the 2022-2026 NAP to combat trafficking.  The government held awareness campaigns targeting frontline workers, local committees, and migrant workers on recognizing trafficking indicators and reporting potential trafficking crimes.  The MOGEFW continued to operate a 24-hour hotline to report child abuse and GBV, including potential trafficking crimes, and the police operated a 24-hour hotline to report crimes.  The government reported five calls related to child trafficking in 2022.

The MLHRDT’s Special Migrant Workers Unit (SMWU) maintained responsibility for monitoring and protecting all migrant workers.  The MLHRDT 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 MLHRDT maintained a special team to prevent trafficking among migrant workers, which coordinated with police and protection services, operated a hotline to report complaints, and disseminated awareness-raising materials.  The SMWU’s nine labor inspectors conducted routine inspections of employment sites, particularly in key sectors such as textiles and garments, which included interviewing migrant workers and their employers using a pre-set questionnaire that included a screening tool to identify potential trafficking indicators.  Labor inspectors reported routinely referring cases of potential trafficking crimes to law enforcement; however, observers reported police and prosecutors often pursued assault or labor exploitation charges in these cases.  Although the MLHRDT was required to approve all employment contracts before migrant workers entered the country, some migrant workers entered the country with contracts that were incomplete or had not been translated into languages the workers could read, increasing vulnerabilities to trafficking.  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.  The government drafted amendments to the act that reportedly eliminate all worker-paid recruitment fees and establish a permanent ban on recruiters found guilty of trafficking or suspected of exploiting workers.  The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Mauritius.  Traffickers exploit girls from across the country – particularly from low-income communities – in child sex trafficking, including through online platforms.  Taxi drivers, sometimes involved in commercial sex networks, knowingly transport child sex traffickers to victims; taxi drivers also transport victims to traffickers.  Traffickers may exploit children in sex trafficking on Rodrigues Island, an autonomous territory of Mauritius.  Members of underserved communities, including individuals in commercial sex, women and children of African descent (Creoles), and LGBTQI+ persons, are vulnerable to sex trafficking, particularly in urban areas such as Port Louis, Rose Hill, and Quatre Bornes.  Increasingly, traffickers, including gang members, force Mauritian children and foreign migrants to carry drugs; traffickers commonly exploit victims’ substance use to maintain control and as a means of coercion.  Traffickers exploit foreign migrants, particularly Malagasy women, recruited under false pretenses of employment or tourism in sex trafficking and domestic servitude in guesthouses, hotels, and massage parlors.  Previous reports indicate 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.

Approximately 35,820 foreign migrant workers – primarily from Bangladesh, India, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and Nepal – are employed in Mauritius’ garment, textile, manufacturing, and construction industries; traffickers exploit migrants in labor trafficking in these sectors.  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.  In these cases, employers often confiscate migrant workers’ passports to prevent them from changing jobs, enhancing vulnerability to forced labor.  Traffickers may exploit migrant workers aboard foreign-owned fishing vessels in Mauritius’ territorial waters and ports using abuses indicative of labor trafficking, including nonpayment of wages and physical abuse.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future