The government decreased its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. The PHTA criminalized some, but not all, forms of sex and labor trafficking. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the PHTA required transportation of a victim in order to constitute a trafficking offense. The law criminalized child sex trafficking but did not make clear if forced prostitution of adults was considered a form of trafficking. Article 16 criminalized debt bondage without reference to transportation. The PHTA prescribed penalties of seven to 15 years imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The Maldives Police Service (MPS) reported investigating one labor trafficking case, a decrease from 10 forced labor and one sex trafficking case during the previous reporting period. The Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) continued prosecuting four labor trafficking cases against five Maldivian and seven Bangladeshi defendants from the previous reporting period. It also initiated the prosecution of one new sex trafficking case against one Maldivian defendant compared with four new prosecutions in the previous reporting period. The government did not secure any convictions during the reporting period compared with three foreign nationals convicted under the PHTA in the previous reporting period.
MPS reported the elevation of the anti-human trafficking unit from a unit level to a department level under the Head of Crime Investigations to increase its future access to resources and funding. In May 2017, MPS, in partnership with an international organization, launched an online trafficking case management system which also allowed potential victims to submit cases to the police online; however, it was only available in English, which limited its utility. Maldives Immigration continued to implement a mandatory training curriculum on trafficking for new recruits. MPS conducted a training during the reporting period for two officers who separately participated in an international anti-trafficking training conference with the Republic of Korea. Despite these trainings, officials conflated human trafficking with smuggling and undocumented migrants, and government efforts focused mainly on transnational labor trafficking to the possible detriment of addressing sex trafficking cases. Government officials acknowledged a need for more training.
Private employers and some government agencies held the passports of foreign workers they employed. These included the education and health ministries, which held the passports of foreign teachers and health care workers. Maldives Immigration investigated cases of employer passport retention and negotiated the return of documents to employees; however, the government did not report whether it penalized employers for such acts or investigated potential labor or trafficking crimes among these populations. Authorities recognized the lack of law enforcement cooperation agreements with source country governments as an obstacle to investigations in cases with foreign victims or perpetrators; they did not report collaborating with other governments during the reporting period. The absence of dedicated foreign language interpreters for victims and witnesses continued to hamper law enforcement and victim protection efforts. Observers stated some traffickers operated with impunity because of their connections with influential Maldivians and alleged the government was more likely to prosecute foreign suspects than Maldivian suspects. Observers reported some officials warned businesses in advance of planned raids for suspected trafficking offenses or other labor abuses. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses.