The Maldivian authorities have blamed the country’s appallingly low rate of conviction for human trafficking on victims’ failure to cooperate with investigations.
Superintendent Abdulla Satheeh, who heads the police’s serious and organised crime department, told the press Sunday that human-trafficking cases are stalled “because victims want to leave the country immediately or weren’t prepared to cooperate with investigators.”
Only one case of human trafficking has been successfully been prosecuted in the Maldives so far.
On November 22, three Bangladeshi men were sentenced to ten years in jail for sex trafficking, under a new law criminalising human trafficking in 2013. No Maldivians have been prosecuted under the law yet.
Ahmed Hisham Wajeeh, a spokesman for the prosecutor general’s office, said the law does not differentiate between a foreigner and a Maldivian if there was enough evidence.
“But in most cases, the victim is reeling under trauma and wants to leave to their home country as soon as possible, skipping legal procedures,” he said, and added: “The prosecutor general’s office will do everything we can to bring perpetrators to justice, without differentiating between Maldivians and foreigners.”
Some 130,000 foreign workers are believed to reside in the Maldives, of which more than 30,000 are undocumented workers. Many of them are subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking.
This year, the Maldives was placed on the US state department’s watch list for human trafficking for a second consecutive year.
The state department had praised the launching of a national action plan, a training curriculum on trafficking for new immigration officials, and a reporting hotline, but said the government “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” because of low rate of prosecution and inadequate and inconsistent protection for victims.
If downgraded to tier three, the lowest grade on the watch list, the Maldives may be subject to non-humanitarian and non-trade sanctions.
The police said some eight cases of human trafficking were reported this year, and 13 victims were identified. Three cases have been forwarded to prosecutors.
In 2015, six cases were investigated, compared with five in 2014.
Four victims were identified and repatriated in 2015, according to government figures.
The state department said the police have reported that they lack adequate training on gathering evidence for trafficking cases, while law enforcement efforts were hampered by the absence of dedicated foreign language interpreters for victim-witnesses.
Separately, on September 15, investigators with Sri Lankan foreign employment bureau arrested two locals for sending more than 100 Sri Lankan women into sex trade in the Maldives.
The economic minister, Mohamed Saeed, meanwhile defended the Maldives’ policy on tackling human trafficking, saying the country’s record has improved under the present government.
“The very first bill the president ratified was the Anti-Human Trafficking Act. This shows our commitment to tackle the issue,” he said.
Saeed added that a controversial three percent remittance tax, compulsory health insurance, security and health check policies before arrival in the Maldives would help tackle the problem.
“We have a hotline for trafficking victims, a dedicated shelter until they can be sent back and a law to facilitate their culprits’ prosecution,” he said.
A police investigation in 2011 had revealed that human trafficking was the second most lucrative industry in the Maldives after tourism – worth an estimated US$123 million a year.