It generates an estimated $150 billion plus annually. Most of us come into contact with it on a routine basis yet we remain largely ignorant of it. As consumers, most of us benefit from it but prefer not to know about it while some of us use the ‘services’ it generates often feigning ignorance of its context and origins.

Malta has been lauded for improving the situation somewhat but has also been castigated for not doing enough and for ignoring blatant abuse. The government insists the issue is limited in scope while researchers and voluntary agencies insist the problem is consistently under-reported.

Human trafficking affects an estimated 40 million people worldwide with the two most commonly known forms being sexual exploitation and forced labour. However, there are many other forms including in sectors such as construction, garment and textile manufacturing, catering and restaurants, agriculture and entertainment. 

Human trafficking continues to happen in both plain sight as well as in hidden circumstances. It has a number of defining characteristics including the widespread use of force and deception, low or no pay, the use of threat and violence and widespread inhumane conditions.

As has been reported frequently over the past 10 years, human traffickers exploit both domestic and foreign victims in Malta. Sex traffickers (both local and foreign) exploit men, women and children.

Labour trafficking has included victims from China, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia (with increasing numbers from the Philippines). Also vulnerable women from Southeast Asia working as ‘domestics’, Chinese working in massage parlours and women from Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and Ukraine working in nightclubs. 

Also considered vulnerable to trafficking in Malta are the estimated 5,000+ ‘irregular’ migrants from African countries working in the informal labour market, especially in construction, hospitality and in domestic situations.  In its 2021 report, GRETA, the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, concluded that,  despite some progress in implementing agreed measures, Malta still had much to do on many of the basics. The group argued that Malta’s failure to convict human traffickers alongside the absence of effective and appropriate sanctions undermined action to combat human trafficking.

Although Malta has been identified by GRETA (and by the US State Department) as essentially a country of destination for trafficked persons, the government effectively records that Malta has no human trafficking problem. According to official sources, in 2019, zero victims were identified while in 2020 it was just four.

And, yet, in the same period, Malta recorded 5,600 people rescued at sea and disembarked in Malta but had no data on the number of potential human trafficking victims among them.

Official commentators on Malta’s observance of agreed international norms and standards on the issue have also expressed concern at the lengthy period it takes for criminal proceedings to occur, the leniency of sentencing for traffickers and the fact that not one victim has ever received compensation.

State-provided legal aid has not been forthcoming and all trafficking victims in Malta have so far been represented by NGO lawyers. NGOs have also been the major source of information on the rights of victims in Malta, especially those who have experienced sexual exploitation.

Malta’s Anti-Trafficking Stakeholders Task Force, intended to oversee and coordinate Malta’s anti-trafficking agenda, has met only irregularly while the government actually reduced the budget of the Anti-trafficking Monitoring Committee from €20,000 (2017/2018) to €16,000 (2019/2020).

There is no regular training on human trafficking for key figures including judges, prosecutors or police officers.

Human trafficking occurs actively in Malta and affects some of the most vulnerable individuals, often with devastating consequences. But our government continues to treat the issue with a negligence bordering on disdain.

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