New equality minister urged to change stance on decriminalising prostitution

Coalition on Human Trafficking and Prostitution Reform says government’s current position fails to ‘acknowledge the inescapable link between legalised prostitution and human trafficking’

Owen Bonnici
Owen Bonnici

Malta’s Coalition on Human Trafficking and Prostitution Reform has urged newly appointed Equality Minister Owen Bonnici to change its position on prostitution from that which was adopted by Rosianne Cutajar.

The coalition said that the significant addition to Bonnici’s portfolio provided an opportunity to fully reflect on the government’s position on related issues, including its intention to fully decriminalise prostitution and sex buying in Malta.

“The government’s position, spearheaded by former Parliamentary Secretary Rosianne Cutajar, was ill-informed of the human, societal and economic costs of the proposal to legalise sex-buying. It fails to acknowledge, much less address, the many perverse and damaging consequences that this course inevitably steers us towards,” it said. 

The coalition said that the proposal failed to acknowledge the inescapable link between legalised prostitution and human trafficking. “Local johns aside, even if only 10% of our 2.5 million tourists came for sex, where would the women and girls come from to service them?” 

Despite demonstrably strengthening the resolve and capacity to combat trafficking, the collation said that the US State Department’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report finds Malta still failing to achieve minimum standards for its elimination.

The report highlights inadequacies in Malta’s capacity to identify victims, coordinate between ministries, enforce labour recruitment regulations and monitor massage parlours where there was a higher incidence of trafficking indicators.

“Accepting the inevitability of increased trafficking as a result of the government’s current proposal, these existing difficulties will be exacerbated. Malta will slide deeper into failing to meet minimum standards with more disenfranchising consequences for us all,” the collation said.

It urged that the current proposals would create dysfunction. “For example, maintaining the prohibition against brothels begs the question, where will prostitutes loiter and solicit (both of which will be legal)? Presumably, as in other countries, it will happen outside our homes, schools, hotels, restaurants and bars. And where will they have sex? In hotel rooms and apartments across the islands? How will we protect women and girls from being exposed and drawn into this glitter studded trade of abuse and exploitation?”

The collation pointed out that Malta could not afford to slip further beneath international standards. “With our FATF greylisting, we must also improve our capacity to investigate and prosecute money laundering and tax evasion,” it said.

It said Cutajar’s position was informed by a Technical Committee lacking the technical and field expertise in the human, social and economic realities of these challenging and complex issues.

“It has excluded the wisdom and experience of multidisciplinary experts, including any of our Coalition’s 46 member organisations representing all of Malta’s leading experts and many of Europe’s,” the collation said.

It urged Bonnici to work on a reform that translates into a law that does not criminalise victims of the sex industry but removes the exploitative and abusive power and control of johns, pimps and traffickers whilst ensuring that trafficking does not expand.

“To do so, we also urge Dr Bonnici to revisit the constitution of his Technical Committee, appointing the range and depth of expertise required to provide the comprehensive advice required to produce a law that will protect our people, society, economy and reputation,” the coalition said.