Human Trafficking in Maldives
The Maldives is a small island nation in the Indian Ocean that is known for its luxurious vacations. Behind its image of pristine waters and resorts, the country fights against the human trafficking of its people and foreigners. Since 2012, when the Maldives became a member of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the government has increased efforts to meet international standards in eliminating human trafficking in the Maldives. In 2013, it built on this initiative by passing a bill that criminalized human trafficking and identified fraudulent recruitment, forced labor and sex trafficking as human trafficking.

Human traffickers in the Maldives target and exploit both domestic and foreign workers. Nearly one-third of the Maldives’ population are migrant workers, mainly from Bangladesh and India, who serve in the construction and service sectors. The fraudulent recruitment of undocumented and documented migrant workers leads to the confiscation of identity and travel documents and debt. These false recruitment agencies work with employers and agents in the Maldives to force migrant workers to work with little to no pay. Other victims of human trafficking include Maldivian children and women. They end up in criminal enterprises in which criminal gangs use them to transport drugs. Maldivian and other South Asian women end up in the Maldives under the false pretense of tourism experience.

The Effects of COVID-19

When COVID-19 hit the Maldives in 2020, the inhumane working conditions and treatment of migrant workers worsened. According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2020 Trafficking In Persons report, there were approximately more than 230,000 migrant workers in the Maldives in 2020. Migrant workers often live in cramped collective living accommodations with limited access to water, sanitation and health care. One of those shared accommodation blocks in the capital of Malé experienced 95 positive COVID-19 cases all at once.

As COVID-19 relief rolled out, the government redirected financial and personnel resources away from anti-trafficking efforts as operations focused on the pandemic. This delayed the prosecution of trafficking crimes and the Maldivian government did not convict any traffickers for the second consecutive year. According to the 2022 Trafficking In Persons Report, 27 recruitment agencies were under investigation by the Maldives Police Service (MPS) and Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). Maldivian authorities are working now with fewer resources due to the pandemic. Hence, foreign and national companies have been called upon to support human rights and stop human trafficking in the Maldives.

A New Action Plan

On March 30, 2020, the Maldives designed the Anti-Human Trafficking National Action Plan to adapt to the reduced resources and accelerate efforts to eliminate human trafficking in the Maldives. The National Anti-Human Trafficking Steering Committee (NAHTSC) oversees the national action plan and focuses on coordinating with the government in its efforts to combat human trafficking. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United States government are both international partners to the NAHTSC. These organizations provided technical assistance and guidance in the formulation of the Anti-Human Trafficking National Action Plan. The action plan’s goal is to achieve three outcomes:

  1. Enhance Anti-Trafficking in Persons Legislation & Policies
  2. Enhance Anti-Trafficking in Persons Sensitization & Awareness
  3. Enhance Anti-Trafficking in Persons Monitoring, Enforcement & Training

Status as of 2022

The U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking In Persons categorizes the Maldives as a Tier 2 country. This means that although the government is making significant efforts to eliminate trafficking, it still has not met minimum standards. The Government of Maldives’ efforts during the year 2022 includes criminalizing all forms of sex and labor trafficking, increasing prosecutions of government officials and regulating the presence of foreign workers in the Maldives.

The Maldivian government remains dedicated to implementing anti-trafficking and prevention efforts. However, they still have work to do as the number of foreign workers (specifically the Bangladeshi and Indian workers) trafficked to the Maldives remains high. This persists despite a decrease in the number of overall trafficking investigations and zero reported convictions for the second consecutive year. In addition, a shelter for trafficking victims created in 2021 remains inoperable with no official standard operating procedures (SOPs) to refer victims for support and care services.

Moving Forward

In the 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report for the Maldives, the U.S. Department of State laid out recommendations to further reduce human trafficking in the Maldives. Currently, the areas of victim identification and protection remain weak. It recommends establishing a working trafficking victim shelter with consistent protection services and support for foreign victims. Recommendations include anti-trafficking materials and the availability of support in appropriate languages for migrant workers. Other recommendations for 2023 also involve identifying indicators of human trafficking and holding employers and recruitment agencies accountable for labor violations. Some have also asked the government to increase its cooperation with migrant source countries by establishing memoranda of understanding (MOUs) and monitoring resort and guest homes.

The laws that are already in place serve as a solid foundation for increasing preventative, protective and prosecutive measures that the U.S. Department of State recommends. In addition to these laws, the government’s work is also supported by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) like Mission for Migrant Workers Maldives (MMWM), the first NGO to work exclusively with migrant workers experiencing human-rights violations. With the foundational laws, the incorporation of recommendations and the work of local NGOs, the Maldives can make significant moves toward eliminating human trafficking.

 – Arden Schraff
Photo: Flickr