The In­dian Ocean par­adise of the Mal­dives has a sad tale to tell of hu­man traf­fick­ing which tar­nishes its grow­ing rep­u­ta­tion as a pro­gres­sive na­tion in South Asia.

Southasia - - Contents - By Huma Iqbal

Hu­man traf­fick­ing is on a rise in this

In­dian Ocean par­adise.

Hu­man traf­fick­ing in the Mal­dives is an in­dus­try worth U.S. $123 mil­lion and stands as the sec­ond great­est con­trib­u­tor of for­eign currency to the econ­omy af­ter tourism.

The U.S. State Depart­ment’s 2010 Hu­man Traf­fick­ing re­port placed the Mal­dives on the Depart­ment’s watch­list for hu­man traf­fick­ing, fol­low­ing the coun­try’s fail­ure to “in­ves­ti­gate or pros­e­cute traf­fick­ing-re­lated of­fenses or take con­crete ac­tions to pro­tect traf­fick­ing vic­tims and pre­vent traf­fick­ing in the Mal­dives.” Iron­i­cally, the an­nounce­ment came less than a month af­ter the Mal­dives was given a seat on the UN Hu­man Rights Coun­cil.

One year since hence, con­di­tions are no dif­fer­ent. In its 2011 Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons Re­port, the U.S. State Depart­ment has listed the Mal­dives in its Tier 2 watch­list for hu­man traf­fick­ing. This watch­list com­prises coun­tries that are not fully com­pli­ant with the Traf­fick­ing Vic­tims Pro­tec­tion Act of 2000 (TVPA) and where hu­man traf­fick­ing in­ci­dents are climb­ing at alarm­ing rates or out­pac­ing ef­forts to com­bat them.

How ex­actly does hu­man traf­fick­ing take place in the Mal­dives? An on­go­ing po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion terms the high num­ber of il­le­gal for­eign work­ers as one of the ma­jor rea­sons be­hind mas­sive hu­man traf­fick­ing in the coun­try.

The Mal­dives Depart­ment of Im­mi­gra­tion cur­rently puts the numbers of il­le­gal ex­pa­tri­ate work­ers at above 40, 000, caus­ing the govern­ment to lose Rf130 mil­lion an­nu­ally in non­paid visa fees.

But how do these for­eign work­ers end up en­ter­ing il­le­gally in the Mal­dives and man­age to stay back? Af­ter a string of op­er­a­tions last year, Pres­i­dent Nasheed’s of­fice stated that peo­ple have been cre­at­ing fraud­u­lent com­pa­nies and us­ing job-seek­ers to ap­ply for fraud­u­lent work per­mit quo­tas. These quo­tas are then di­rected to bring in il­le­gal work­ers. As a re­sult, a would-be worker [over­seas] works for a cou­ple of years to make the pay­ment which ac­cord­ing to the in­ves­ti­ga­tions is of­ten as much as U.S. $2000.

The po­lice have iden­ti­fied a ma­jor­ity of these il­le­gal work­ers as com­ing from Bangladesh who sell their land, their prop­erty and move their fam­i­lies to pay the fees de­manded by the bo­gus re­cruiters, only to find the job a to­tally dif­fer­ent one from what they were led to ex­pect. Nowhere to go and no home to re­turn to, these work­ers then fall easy prey to forced la­bor.

The ex­pan­sive in­ves­ti­ga­tion saw 18 ‘pa­per com­pa­nies’ raided by the po­lice in July this year, seiz­ing 4000 pass­ports con­fis­cated from traf­ficked work­ers. On part of the Mal­di­vian govern­ment, se­nior of­fi­cials of the Im­mi­gra­tion Depart­ment and the Minis- try of Hu­man Re­sources are also said to be in­volved in the process.

The work per­mit quo­tas for nonex­is­tent projects were ap­par­ently ob­tained from the Hu­man Re­sources Min­istry by steal­ing the iden­ti­ties of un­wit­ting Mal­di­vians, or even the de­ceased.

On le­gal grounds, the govern­ment of the Mal­dives has made lim­ited ef­forts to en­force anti-hu­man traf­fick­ing laws in the coun­try. For in­di­vid­u­als found guilty of the crime, la­bor traf­fick­ing presently rep­re­sents a vi­o­la­tion of the Em­ploy­ment Act, and only car­ries a small fine in Mal­dives.

The govern­ment needs to con­duct anti-traf­fick­ing and ed­u­ca­tional cam­paigns and take steps to cre­ate an in­ter-agency struc­ture – such as a com­mit­tee or plan of ac­tion – for co­or­di­na­tion on anti-traf­fick­ing mat­ters. A La­bor Tri­bunal, cre­ated as part of the 2008 Em­ploy­ment Act, should also be given the le­gal teeth to en­force its de­ci­sions in cases in­volv­ing for­eign work­ers.

Even though the ac­cu­sa­tions of hu­man traf­fick­ing have been ap­par­ent for the last few years in the Mal­dives, the ex­tent to which the sit­u­a­tion has de­vel­oped needs a holis­tic ap­proach be­fore it gets worse. The writer is As­sis­tant Editor at SouthA­sia Mag­a­zine. She writes on so­cio-po­lit­i­cal and de­vel­op­men­tal is­sues of the re­gion.

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