The Malta Independent 11 August 2022, Thursday

Dismantling human trafficking

Owen Bonnici Friday, 26 November 2021, 08:12 Last update: about 10 months ago

Trafficking in human beings takes many forms and affects people of all ages, genders, and races.   From the physical violence and torture of victims, to the psychological and emotional trauma endured, and the economic and political implication of the relentless crime, the repercussions of Human Trafficking are extensive and far-reaching. 

As a result, it is evident that this crime has an undeniable impact on every one of us and the fight against it needs to be stronger and more effective. 

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This week, I participated – through virtual means – in a two-day high-level meeting to review progress in implementing the UN Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons under the auspices of the same organization.

The President of the UN General Assembly Abdulla Shahid was correct in stating that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated factors that fuel human trafficking such as poverty, unemployment and gender-based violence.   Therefore, the international community must boost its efforts to prevent and respond to this “vile crime”. 

Malaika Oringo from Uganda, who is also the founder of an organization called Footprint to Freedom, referred directly to experiences of survivors who want their voice to be heard in order.

“Because survivors know first-hand the tactics, the strategies, that traffickers use to bind victims into slavery, for this reason I call you all, Member States, to leverage survivor wisdom and invest in survivor leadership,” she said. 

Truly, we are aware that, most of the time, traffickers search for those people who are vulnerable or find themselves in a vulnerable situation.  They prey on the poor, isolated and weak.  It is evident that certain factors contribute and make individuals, social groups, and communities more vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation. 

As a Government we are raising awareness on factors which are known to be the underlying cause of inadequate employment opportunities, political and economic insecurity, as well as violations of human rights such as discrimination and gender-based violence.

Over the past years, the problem of human trafficking has become a focus for us and we have joined advocacy agendas worldwide.  We remain committed to suppress this crime through several initiatives, including the development of victim assistance services, training of government officials, and raising of public awareness through national campaigns. 

Furthermore, the legislative framework related to actions against trafficking in human beings has also evolved considerably.  As a way of example, in 2018, the minimum penalty for this crime was increased from four to six years, while the maximum penalty is that of twelve years. 

Moreover, the Victims of Crime Act was further amended to introduce two new services to the list of minimum services offered to victims of crimes, namely medical treatment, and protection measures against the risks of intimidation and retaliation.   In this regard it is important to emphasize that these services are provided to human trafficking victims even when the offence was committed outside the Maltese territories. 

Special support measures for child victims of trafficking are also incorporated in Maltese legislation.  The Minor Protection (Alternative Care) Act allows for the formulation of a comprehensible child-friendly framework aligned with children’s rights, specifically aimed at addressing abuse, neglect, harassment, ill-treatment, exploitation, abandonment, exposure, and trafficking of minors. 

The act contains several important protection measures that are delineated in the council of Europe’s Guidelines of the committee of Ministers of the council of Europe on Child-friendly Justice.  It covers various aspects of child protection, including a review of the childcare system, protection of children during judicial procedures, the availability of children’s advocates and issues related to foster care. 

In September 2019, a public consultation was launched with a view to carrying out a reform on human trafficking and prostitution.  As part of this process, the Government intends to develop a comprehensive National Strategy against this crime.  The anti-trafficking portfolio is a particular focus of the overall work of the Human Rights Directorate within our Ministry. 

The Human Rights Directorate has also reporting duties in relation to Human Trafficking for questionnaires and surveys both at national and international level.  It also coordinates and collaborates with other ministries as necessary to ensure that the Government procures the necessary resources to spearhead the anti-human trafficking policy and succeed in its endeavors. 

The newly created Human Rights Initiatives unit is coordinating the reform on human trafficking.  In this regard, Malta is expected to achieve its ultimate objective of designing and implementing a new strategy and to strengthen the existing action plan, to address and deter the phenomenon of this crime. 

This reform requires special attention and expertise due to its complex, urgent, and transnational nature.  Once implemented, the strategy should present strategic goals and specific objectives which are clearly defined both qualitatively and quantitatively and which are based on public measures and activities to be supported institutionally and financially, and it will include measures which are verifiable through a detailed monitoring and assessment process. 

It is essential to underline our commitment to take a comprehensive approach in combatting this crime and enlists all relevant stakeholders that can help fight this phenomenon.  Several initiatives and programmes have enabled the government to strengthen the capacity of national and local authorities, as well as civil society organization, in preventing the crime, protecting the victims, and prosecuting the perpetrators.

In this regard, the ‘Human like you’ campaign is a national campaign intended to raise awareness on the offence and encourages victims to reach out for help.   Moreover, training law enforcement agencies and other practitioners have also aided and strengthened the prosecution efforts to enable them to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice.

Human trafficking is a one of the major contemporary challenges of the international community.  Let us work together to dismantle it.

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