The Malta Independent 21 September 2021, Tuesday

Blue heart

Owen Bonnici Friday, 30 July 2021, 07:25 Last update: about 3 months ago

Today is the day chosen by the United Nations as the World Day against trafficking in persons.   

Malta is joining the global Blue Heart Campaign to raise awareness about this heinous crime, and the various forms it takes. When we think about trafficking in persons, some of us may think it only happens in some forlorn country, far away from us.  Unfortunately trafficking in persons happens all over the world, in all four corners of the globe.

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Perhaps we may find it hard to come to terms with the idea that on such a tiny island, where everyone knows everyone as the saying goes, persons can be trafficked.  As social mobility increases, as societies continue to diversify, human trafficking keeps finding new ways to infiltrate our societies all over the regions of the world and blend in with our daily lives in the most inconspicuous of ways.

Trafficking in persons may be for domestic servitude, labour exploitation or sexual exploitation. It may take different forms, but in each and every case, the victim ceases to be human for the perpetrator and is reduced to a mere commodity, that one can buy, consume as one pleases and sell again, over and over. Victims are ripped away from their loved ones, and isolated in every way. They are made to believe they are on their own, that no one can help them and seeking help will only make their situation worse.

This is a crime that goes completely against the victims’ fundamental rights, robs their freedom and causes irreparable physical and psychological harm to those involved. A victim of trafficking does not fall victim to a crime on one single episode. When one is trafficked,  victimisation happens every single day for the rest of his or her life until support comes his or her way. A crucial element of this crime is the forced exploitation of individuals by those in a position to exert power over them, physically or psychologically.

Trafficking in persons is a complex crime, that involves organized crime, often over multiple countries and it intersects with various legal and social issues such as human rights law, the rule of law, law enforcement and crime control, corruption, inequality, discrimination, economic deprivation, children’s rights, and migration. Measures taken to fight trafficking are often entangled with various other issues such as immigration, people smuggling, drug dealing, and prostitution. The fight against human trafficking is not a fight anyone can tackle single-handedly, and it cannot even be tackled on its own.

It needs to start with awareness, and it needs to be tackled as a whole nation presenting a united front against the senseless, cruel exploitation of other people.  We need to be aware of the complexity of this crime, and learn to recognize its different forms.

Governments around the world have been grappling with human trafficking for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought forward a new dimension, a new urgency to this issue. The socio-economic consequences of the pandemic resulted in marginalized people becoming even more vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation. One might think that travel restrictions all over the world, quarantines and curfews may have slowed down human trafficking, but instead, it had the opposite effect. Perpetrators pushed their criminal activity further underground, making it harder to detect and harder for victims to seek help while strengthening their insidious networks through the use of communication technology. In the meantime, the pandemic was posing greater difficulties for state authorities and NGOs to reach out to victims or potential victims of trafficking.

The Government of Malta will not stand by as millions of individuals are victimised and robbed of their freedoms and their lives, threatened, endangered and exploited mercilessly for the profit of others. The Government is committed to prioritising the fight against trafficking in persons, in all its forms. The latest addition was the establishment of a specialized unit within the Human Rights Directorate within the Ministry of Equality, Research and Innovation, which will play a crucial role in policy-making and the implementation of strategies, projects, and measures against human trafficking. The unit will also engage with all other entities already working in the sector, recognising the importance of a coordinated and united effort.

The Government is working on drafting a multiagency strategy with a human rights perspective that focuses on the victims. The Human Rights directorate is also carrying out an intensive study, on the model of the ‘3Ps’: Prosecution, Prevention and Protection of persons who are victims or potential victims of trafficking.

In line with the theme of this year’s campaign ‘Victims’ Voices lead the Way’, this research is studying a number of human trafficking cases, analysing the social differences that make them particularly vulnerable to falling victims of trafficking. As for prosecution, the legal definition of the term ‘human trafficking’ will be analysed under the criminal codes. For this purpose, a detailed analysis of the case-law of the Maltese Courts is commencing, to shed more light on the specific elements of this offence.

One crucial aim of this study is to provide a relevant and reliable set of recommendations for measures of protection for the victims of human trafficking, keeping in mind that the assurance of victim protection is crucial, in order for them to pluck up the courage and seek help.

While we are all aware of the magnitude and complexity of this problem, we are hopeful and optimistic to see the commitment of a number of experts from various fields and professions who are coming together to fight this crime, prevent it through law and policy and provide support and justice to the victims of this horrible crime.

The Blue Heart Campaign our country is joining in, will not be over when the blue lights go out. This campaign is only a mark of this Government’s commitment towards a better Malta, a better quality of life, and a chance for all who live in this country, to experience complete equality and to live with the dignity they deserve.

 

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