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2017-2021 ARCHIVED CONTENT

You are viewing ARCHIVED CONTENT released online from January 20, 2017 to January 20, 2021.

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MAURITIUS: Tier 2

The Government of Mauritius does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Mauritius remained on Tier 2. These efforts included identifying and assisting more trafficking victims, including for both forced labor and sex trafficking; delicensing and referring several labor recruitment companies for criminal investigation; increasing labor inspections of migrant worker employment sites; increasing educational sessions on migrant worker rights; and increasing efforts to address passport seizure, including returning passports to migrant workers and referring perpetrators for criminal investigation. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not convict any traffickers during the reporting period and protection services for adults remained lacking, with neither specialized shelters nor systematic provision of care. The government continued to lack a government ministry that was responsible for adult sex trafficking victims. While case conferencing had begun, coordination between law enforcement and prosecutors still needed improvement and the judicial process continued to be prohibitively slow, discouraging some victims from pursuing legal redress. The inter-ministerial committee on trafficking did not adopt a national action plan.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS

Improve protection services for adult trafficking victims by developing and implementing standardized procedures for proactive victim identification and referral to protective services, especially among at-risk populations including women in prostitution and migrant workers, and ensuring provision of adequate assistance once identified. • Continue increasing efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and sentence traffickers to adequate penalties. • Continue to implement and consistently enforce strong regulations and oversight of labor recruitment companies, including eliminating recruitment fees charged to migrant workers, and hold fraudulent labor recruiters criminally accountable. • Continue to improve coordination between law enforcement and prosecutors to decrease the length of the judicial process, including continued case conferencing and prosecution-led investigations, and consider establishing a fast-track for trafficking cases. • Implement a witness protection program to increase protection for victims and increase victim willingness to cooperate in prosecutions. • Continue vigilant monitoring of employers of migrant workers to identify and investigate indicators of trafficking. • Increase bilateral labor negotiations with source country governments to increase protections for migrant workers. • Continue to provide specific anti-trafficking training to law enforcement officials, labor inspectors, social workers, prosecutors, and magistrates to improve case investigation and victim identification and referral to appropriate care. • Prioritize the inter-ministerial committee’s role in driving coordinated national efforts to combat trafficking. • Finalize the national action plan to combat trafficking, allocate sufficient funding to its implementation, and ensure clear roles and responsibilities in its implementation. • Utilize the national centralized anti-trafficking data collection and reporting tool.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained overall anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, but did not convict any traffickers during the reporting period. 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. In addition, the amended Child Protection Act of 2005 criminalized child sex and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties for child trafficking offenses of up to 30 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 2009 anti-trafficking law prohibited the recruitment of workers by using fraudulent or deceptive offers; however, the law did not extend to foreign recruiters who operated outside Mauritius.

With training and support from an international organization, the government had access to a national centralized anti-trafficking data collection and reporting tool; although it had been fully deployed during the reporting period, government use of the tool was limited. In 2018, the government reported initiating four investigations into at least five suspects; specifically, there was one investigation into child sex trafficking, two investigations into adult sex trafficking, and one investigation into forced labor. The government reported initiating prosecutions of 15 suspects and charging suspects under both the 2009 anti-trafficking law and the 2005 child protection act for sex trafficking; three of these cases were in front of the intermediate court at the end of the reporting period with one trafficker pleading guilty but not yet sentenced. The government reported convicting zero traffickers during the reporting period. This compared to four investigations, six prosecutions, and two convictions in 2017. Law enforcement and prosecutors reported increased case conferencing and coordination; however, coordination required further improvement and the judicial process continued to be prohibitively long, frequently many years, which at times dissuaded victims from seeking legal redress.

The Mauritius Police Force (MPF) continued the operation of an internal coordination committee to combat trafficking as well as a “TIP desk,” where two police officers focused on trafficking cases and served as a resource to other police units. The Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development, and Family Welfare’s Child Development Unit (CDU), responsible for all child protection issues, including trafficking, hired an additional 17 officers; these officers received anti-trafficking training during the reporting period. In 2018, the Mauritius Police Training School provided anti-trafficking courses to 462 law enforcement officers; this compared to 442 trained in 2017. The government trained 30 airport officials on identifying child trafficking victims. Despite these training efforts, some law enforcement officers continued to lack an understanding of the anti-trafficking law. Proper investigations, including collection of evidence and adequate witness testimony, remained difficult for law enforcement, often leading to lengthy and poor investigations and prosecutions. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking.

PROTECTION

The government increased efforts to identify and protect victims of sex and labor trafficking, but the availability of services for adult sex trafficking victims remained lacking. In 2018, the government identified 11 trafficking victims, including nine adult labor trafficking victims and two sex trafficking victims; this compared to five victims identified in 2017. The government provided medical assistance, counseling, and victim support to the two victims of sex trafficking. The government provided the nine adult male Bangladeshi victims of forced labor, identified in the textile industry, with new work permits without charge; police escort to their new places of employment; and translators during the investigation. However, the government did not report providing medical or psychological assistance to these victims or taking any further law enforcement actions against the trafficker. The government reported funding the repatriation of foreign labor trafficking victims, but did not report how many victims received this service during the reporting period. The CDU continued to systematically employ the standard referral procedure after identifying child trafficking victims. However, the government continued to lack standard identification and referral procedures for adult sex or labor trafficking victims and there continued to be no clear government agency responsible for assisting adult sex trafficking victims. The government continued the operation of a shelter for female child sex trafficking victims, which could host up to 32 children, but did not report how many it assisted during the reporting period. Child victims could leave the shelter to attend school and received medical and psychological assistance. The government continued to provide funding of 14 million Mauritian rupees ($409,960) for several anti-trafficking NGOs; several NGO-run daycare centers for trafficking victims; the children’s shelter; and a drop-in center, operated by a local NGO, for trafficking victims.

There was neither specialized shelter, nor systematic provision of medical, psychological, or financial assistance for adult trafficking victims. However, there were at least three NGO-run shelters female victims could utilize, but there were no shelters available for men. In 2019, the government allocated 700,000 Mauritian rupees ($20,500) for an adult shelter for male and female trafficking victims; however, this shelter was not operational during the reporting period. The Passport and Immigration Office (PIO) continued to conduct raids to identify foreign persons with expired visas; and during the raids, PIO officers continued to proactively screen migrant workers to identify potential labor trafficking victims. There were no reports that the government inappropriately detained or penalized trafficking victims for crimes traffickers compelled them to commit; however, due to the lack of identification measures and gaps in understanding of human trafficking among some law enforcement officers, some adult victims of sex trafficking via forced prostitution and forced labor may have remained unidentified in the law enforcement system. For example, police officers generally did not screen women in prostitution for trafficking indicators. During the reporting period, immigration officials continued to regularly turn back single Malagasy women, traveling on their own with small amounts of money, who attempted to enter the country on tourist visas, on the grounds that they might be coming to Mauritius to engage in prostitution.

An NGO reported that not all migrant workers had freedom of movement beyond work hours and many employers provide housing facilities that were comparable to compounds, with fences and security guards. The 2009 anti-trafficking law provided victims limited legal alternatives to removal to countries in which they would face hardship. The law allowed the Minister of Home Affairs to decide to allow a trafficking victim to remain in the country for up to 42 days before deportation, and could issue a temporary residence permit, but only if the victim agreed to cooperate with the investigation and prosecution of the trafficking case. The law allowed the Minister of Home Affairs to extend the trafficking victim’s permit on humanitarian grounds. The government generally encouraged, but did not require, victim cooperation in investigations and prosecutions; however, without cooperation, there was no basis under the law for a foreign victim to remain in the country. In the prior reporting period, an NGO reported that some companies in Mauritius actively deterred and prevented migrant workers from petitioning for their rights and some companies used informants to expose the leaders of potential protests and subsequently canceled their contracts and deported them. The government did not report efforts to address these abuses by employment agencies.

The government keeps victim identities confidential. The anti-trafficking law allowed the courts to award a victim up to 500,000 Mauritian rupees ($14,640) in restitution from the convicted trafficker; however, the courts did not award any restitution to victims during the reporting period. The law also allowed victims to file civil suits against their alleged traffickers for compensation for damages exceeding the amount of restitution awarded during criminal proceedings; however, civil suits could be prohibitively expensive and lengthy and there were no reports of suits filed during the reporting period. In an effort to encourage cooperation, victims and witnesses could request police protection by contacting their local police, a service the government reported providing to nine victims during the reporting period; protection included transport and police escort to their new places of work.

PREVENTION

The government increased prevention efforts. While the government had a high-level inter-ministerial coordination committee to address trafficking, the committee was not the primary driver of national anti-trafficking efforts, as it met only once during the reporting period. However, the National Steering Committee on Trafficking in Persons (NSCTIP), the working-level anti-trafficking body under the inter-ministerial committee, met monthly during the reporting period; continued drafting the national action plan; organized awareness campaigns, including the production of brochures on migrant worker rights in seven languages; and supervised the renovation of an adult trafficking shelter. There was still confusion within the government on which department was responsible for addressing adult sex trafficking. The government remained without an anti-trafficking national action plan. The government operated two hotlines available to report crimes, including trafficking; the hotlines were available 24 hours a day and in multiple languages. Calls to the hotlines resulted in the government identifying two cases of trafficking during the reporting period. The government conducted several awareness raising campaigns during the report period. The government educated 1,811 people regarding the commercial sexual exploitation of children and ran awareness campaigns on the radio and television, which focused on labor trafficking among migrant workers. The Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development, and Family Welfare, in partnership with an NGO, organized awareness campaigns in primary and secondary schools on the commercial sexual exploitation of children and trafficking and reached approximately 6,851 children and 487 adults; they also provided workshops on child protection, including trafficking, to 18,000 people at community centers and social welfare centers. The government distributed approximately 10,000 anti-trafficking posters to police stations, high schools, and community centers. In partnership with a foreign government, the government produced and distributed approximately 40,000 migrant worker rights brochures, translated into seven languages.

The Ministry of Labor (MOL) conducted nearly 2,940 individual sessions to sensitize migrant workers of their rights, including producing relevant documents in the native language of the migrant worker; this compared to 603 sessions in 2017. The MOL’s Special Migrant Workers Unit—responsible for monitoring and protecting all migrant workers and conducting routine inspections of their employment sites—increased the number of inspectors from nine to 12 during the reporting period. The unit responded to 563 complaints from migrant workers and conducted 2,233 inspections, compared to 872 in the previous reporting period. To address the widespread issue of passport seizure by employers, a vulnerability for forced labor, the MOL and PIO undertook an initiative to randomly survey migrant workers and found that 39 were not in possession of their passports; the ministry referred these cases to the police and arranged the return of passports to their rightful owners.

The government reported delicensing two labor recruitment companies following complaints of fraud and illegal fee charging, but the government did not report taking law enforcement actions against either company. The government also referred one labor recruitment company to the police for criminal investigation for charging illegal fees to migrant workers, but the government did not provide further details. However, the government did not report prosecution of fraudulent labor recruitment companies during the reporting period. Although the MOL was required to approve all employment contracts before migrant laborers entered the country, some migrant laborers reportedly entered the country with contracts that were incomplete or had not been translated into languages the workers could read. The Ministry of Health was required to grant initial approval for migrant worker dormitory buildings; however, an NGO reported that subsequent periodic checks were not required, and thus many buildings have fallen into disrepair and failed to meet the minimum health and occupancy standards after the initial inspection. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, but did make efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel during the reporting period. The government did not sign any bilateral labor agreements with source countries to protect migrant workers during the reporting period.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Mauritius. Peers, significant others, family members, or businessmen offering other forms of employment will exploit girls from all areas of the country in child sex trafficking via prostitution. Taxi drivers allegedly transport child sex traffickers to their victims with whom they engage in commercial sex acts. Malagasy women transit Mauritius en route to employment as domestic workers in the Middle East, where traffickers subject many to forced labor and sex trafficking. Mauritius’ manufacturing and construction sectors employ approximately 39,500 foreign migrant workers from India, Nepal, China, Sri Lanka, and Madagascar, with the vast majority from Bangladesh, some of whom traffickers subject to forced labor. Employers operating small and medium sized businesses employ migrant workers, mainly from Bangladesh, that 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 small and medium enterprises, rather than in larger businesses that recruit directly without the use of intermediaries. Despite the illegality, employers routinely retain migrant workers’ passports to prevent them from changing jobs and creating a vulnerability to forced labor.

U.S. Department of State

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