The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labour, with the police filing charges against only two individuals for forced prostitution last year, the US global report on human trafficking noted while relegating Malta to a category shared by some of the worst human rights offenders in the world.
The report noted that Malta has not obtained a trafficking conviction since early 2012, despite it being shown over the past five years that Malta is a source and destination country for women subjected to sex trafficking and a destination for women and men subjected to labour trafficking.
Women and children from Malta have also been subjected to sex trafficking within the country, the report states.
The Shift News investigation on massage parlours operating as brothels has shed some light on an industry below the radar.
Read more: Malta’s sex slaves – Hiding in plain sight
The US report states that forced labour victims originate from China, eastern Europe and southeast Asia.
“Women from southeast Asia working as domestic workers, Chinese nationals working in massage parlours, foreign male soccer players, and women from central and eastern Europe, Russia, and Ukraine working in nightclubs represent populations vulnerable to exploitation,” the report states.
Malta has maintained its ranking as Tier 2 – governments of countries that do not fully meet the minimum standards but “are making significant efforts to do so”.
The kind of effort being deployed can be assessed by looking at other countries sharing the same ranking: Oman, Turkey, UAE, Thailand, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Ghana, Mozambique, Morocco, Pakisatan and Qatar, among others.
The Trafficking in Persons Report 2018 produced annually by the US State Department sheds light on where modern slavery thrives and highlights specific steps each government can take to protect victims of human trafficking, prevent trafficking crimes, and prosecute traffickers.
The report notes that in Malta, 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. The slow pace of court proceedings continued to hamper prosecutions relying on victims to provide testimony in court.
The approximately 5,000 irregular migrants from African countries residing in Malta are vulnerable to trafficking in the country’s informal labour market, including within the construction, hospitality and domestic sectors, the report states.
The US report makes a list of recommendations, including that the government “vigorously and expeditiously investigate and prosecute trafficking offences, and pursue adequate sentencing for 294 convicted trafficking offenders”.
Read more: Massage parlours – A happy ending?
The report notes that the police identified 30 foreign trafficking victims (35 in 2016). These included 24 Ukrainian labour trafficking victims (all from a single case) and six female victims (four Chinese nationals and two Hungarian nationals).
The government increased its anti-trafficking budget from €20,000 in 2017 to €35,000 in 2018, which excluded government funds provided to agencies for victim support provided elsewhere in the Budget. Yet, the government did not conduct any awareness campaigns during the reporting period.
Additional recommendations for Malta in the report include a reduction in turnover of police working in anti-trafficking roles and an increase in efforts to identify victims among vulnerable immigrant populations and women in prostitution.
Article 248A-G of the criminal code criminalized all forms of trafficking and prescribed penalties of four to 12 years imprisonment.