Advertising loophole led to conversion therapy act being violated, Gabi Calleja explains

Xtra on TVM | Former MGRM coordinator Gabi Calleja says advertising loophole in conversion therapy act is what led to new amendments

An ambiguous definition of advertising led to a loophole in the conversion therapy bill allowing for its promotion through word of mouth.

Malta was the first country in Europe to ban conversion therapy in 2016, but the original law only prohibited the “advertising” of such practices without defining what constitutes advertising.

“When the legislation was passed, it criminalized the promotion of such acts but did not define what we mean by ‘advertising’,” former MGRM coordinator Gabi Calleja said on TVM’s Xtra when interviewed by Saviour Balzan.

Calleja, who is now head of the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Unit (SOGIGESC), said that this has made it difficult for police to respond to violations of the law.

As the law stands now, it is unlawful to advertise conversion practices, but the proposed amendment would more clearly define what constitutes the promotion or advertising of conversion therapy.

It would also carry harsher penalties.

Alex Caruana, a senior program officer and psychosocial expert with MGRM, added that a study shows that over half of conversion therapy patients are under 24 years of age, with the majority being under 18, making them particularly vulnerable to the practice.

“Sometimes we hear stories, like when a small girl accidentally lets it slip that she is being taken to a prayer group to be ‘prayed for’, and we have no way of knowing what is going on,” Caruana explained when recalling cases faced by MGRM.