A Maltese girl was among a number of victims of sex trafficking in Malta last year, according to the Trafficking in Persons report by the US State Department, published on Friday.
Police identified 23 foreign trafficking victims and one Maltese victim, compared to 30 foreign victims in the previous reporting period, the report says.
Forced labour victims included 17 Filipinos (13 from a single case), three Mauritians, one Nepali, and one Pakistani.
Sixteen of the forced labour victims were male and six were female.
Sex trafficking victims included one Moldovan woman and one Maltese girl—the first government-identified child victim to date.
The police vice squad, which is responsible for trafficking, conducted three investigations in 2018, compared to seven in 2017. Police also conducted seven investigations for illegal prostitution in massage parlours, but they found no evidence of trafficking.
The government prosecuted 10 persons (eight for labour trafficking and two for sex trafficking) compared to two in 2017.
Three labour trafficking prosecutions initiated in 2014 and a 2004 case involving a police official for collusion with a trafficker remained pending at the close of the reporting period.
In March 2018, the government convicted one sex trafficker from a 2008 case, however the court fully suspended the prison sentence; this was the first conviction since 2012.
“The perennial issue of slow court proceedings continued to hamper prosecutions and convictions,” the report states.
There were no new investigations or prosecutions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses.
Tier 2 country
The Government of Malta does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so, the report says.
The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Malta remained on Tier 2. These 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. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. It has only convicted one trafficker since 2012, which resulted in a fully suspended prison sentence, identified fewer victims, continued to lack coordination among ministries, and did not effectively control licensing for massage parlours, where there was a high vulnerability for sex trafficking.
In September 2018, the Ministry of Home Affairs and National Security delivered several training sessions to new police recruits, domestic and foreign border guards, and immigration officials.
The government maintained standard operating procedures for victim identification that allowed a range of entities to refer victims to the government’s social welfare agency. The government funded the UK to provide training to immigration officials on victim identification and referral.
The training was compulsory for all officials responsible for issuing residence permits and visas. In March 2019, the government also funded training for labour officials and inspectors on victim identification.
The report recognized that Malta increased prevention efforts.
The inter-ministerial anti-trafficking committee continued to implement the 2017-2019 national action plan. The committee convened several times throughout 2018; however, authorities and NGOs continued to report a lack of effective interagency coordination on trafficking issues.
The government maintained its anti-trafficking budget of €20,000 for 2018, but reduced the budgeted amount to €16,000 for 2019. The government also provided €53,000 for victim services, an increase from €35,000 in 2017, and spent an undisclosed amount on training programs.
It also increased awareness campaigns, including television commercials. Additionally, it allocated €120,000 for a national anti-trafficking campaign scheduled for 2019.
The report recommended that Malta vigorously and expeditiously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, including convicting traffickers and sentencing convicted traffickers to significant prison terms.
It also urged Malta to increase efforts and training of relevant staff and officials to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable immigrant populations, particularly migrant workers and women in prostitution.
Another recommendation was for improvement in coordination efforts among ministries to effectively implement the national action plan.
It also recommended an improvement of license control for massage parlours.
Reacting, the Parliamentary Secretariat for Reforms, Citizenship and Simplification of Administrative Processes said the TIP report noted “the country’s successful efforts to prosecute more traffickers, facilitate and fast-track the support granted by the state to the victims and increase awareness about human trafficking.”
Although Malta is not yet a Tier 1 country, the TIP report recognised Malta’s continued improvements in its approach towards human trafficking, it said.
“The Parliamentary Secretariat positively welcomes this report and notes its recommendations to introduce regulation to combat sexual exploitation within massage parlours and expedite the investigation, prosecution and conviction of traffickers. The two issues are addressed in the government’s consultation document which will 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 on human trafficking will also be launched in the same period.”