Malta made significant efforts to fight human trafficking but convictions remain low, US report finds

The US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report acknowledges Malta’s progress but says more improvement is required, especially in prosecuting suspected traffickers and the regulation of massage parlours

The report found that Malta was still not up to standard in fighting human trafficking, but noted that significant improvements had been made
The report found that Malta was still not up to standard in fighting human trafficking, but noted that significant improvements had been made

The Maltese government has made significant efforts to meet the US State Department’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, according to the 2019 Trafficking in Humans Report.

The report is considered by the department as the US government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking.

“The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period,” reads the entry on Malta, which has once again been classified as a Tier 2 country.

The Maltese efforts included prosecuting more traffickers, hiring a social worker dedicated to trafficking victims, removing all residency and work permit fees for foreign victims of trafficking, “and for the first time, identifying and referring a child victim to care”.

Tier 2 countries are those nations whose governments do not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but which are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance. Countries can be classified as Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List and Tier 3.

Despite the registered improvement, the report notes that Malta has only convicted one trafficker since 2012, which resulted in a fully suspended sentence.  

Malta also identified fewer victims, continued to lack coordination among ministries, and did not effectively control licensing for massage parlours, which are identified as being of high vulnerability for sex trafficking.

According to the report, the Police Vice Squad conducted three investigations in 2018, compared to seven in 2017. The police also conducted seven investigations for illegal prostitution in massage parlours, but found no evidence of trafficking.

10 people were prosecuted compared to two in 2017. In 2018, the court convicted a sex trafficker for 2008, the first conviction since 2012. The accused however was only handed a suspended sentence, notes the report.  

The report calls on Malta to “vigorously and expeditiously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, including convicting traffickers and sentencing convicted traffickers to significant prison terms”,

It also calls for more efforts and training of staff engaged in proactively identifying victims among vulnerable immigrant populations, as well as for better coordination efforts among ministries.

Malta was also advised, to improve license control for massage parlours, to increase collaboration between police and other stake holders, and to take steps to increase the police and the judiciary’s focus on working with victims.

The victims of trafficking in Malta

Malta is a described as a country where human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims, sex traffickers mainly exploit women, with labor traffickers exploiting both men and women.    

Forced labor victims originate from China, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia, with increasing numbers from the Philippines.

Women from Southeast Asia working as domestic workers, Chinese nationals working in massage parlors, foreign male soccer players, and women from Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, and Ukraine working in nightclubs represent populations that are particularly vulnerable to trafficking, according to the report.  

Moreover, it said the roughly 5,000 irregular migrants from African countries residing in Malta are vulnerable to trafficking in industries like construction, hospitality and other domestic sectors.

Government welcomes report findings

In a statement, the parliamentary secretariat for citizenship and reforms said it welcomed the report.

It said that although Malta was not yet a Tier 1 country, the report had recognised Malta’s “continued improvements in its approach towards human trafficking”, adding that there had been a substantial increase in the country’s allocated budget.

 “[The secretariat] notes [the report’s] recommendations to introduce regulation to combat sexual exploitation within massage parlours and expedite the investigation, prosecution and conviction of traffickers,” read the statement.

It said that the two issues were addressed in the government’s consultation document, which it said would be launched in the coming weeks.

The consultation process will be the first step towards the creation of a “holistic national strategy against human trafficking”.

A nation-wide education campaign about human trafficking will also be launched in the same period.