President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on Sunday ratified the first amendment brought to the Maldives Anti-Human Trafficking Act (Act no. 12/2003).
The amendment, made to Article 60(b) of the Act, concerns the composition of the National Anti-Human Trafficking Steering Committee (NAHTSC).
Per the revision, the number of members of the National Anti-Human Trafficking Steering Committee (NAHTSC) will be downsized to 10 members. Previously, the steering committee consisted of 14 members.
Under the amendment, the NAHTSC will comprise of a representative from the Ministry of Defence, the Attorney General's Office, Maldives Immigration, Maldives Customs Services, Maldives Police Services, Labor Relations Authority, Ministry of Economic Development, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services, and a member of a civil society organization that works to cease human trafficking.
Previously, the steering committee was stipulated to include a representative from the Parliament, a Supreme Court Justice, Prosecutor General's Office and Ministry of Islamic Affairs.
The amendment was submitted to the parliament by the parliamentary representative for the Hinnavaru constituency, Lhaviyani Atoll, Jeehan Mahmood on November 20, 2019 at the 19th sitting of the year's 69th parliamentary session.
Speaking to The Edition, MP Jeehan stated that she proposed the amendment having found that the committee was not functional in its former state, adding that a committee meeting had not been held in two years.
The committee was too large, she added, holding a quorum proved impractical. The MP further explained that the removal of four previously included institutions was intended to avoid possible conflicts of interest.
The Human Rights Commission acts in the capacity of an oversight committee, hence to be involved in the process of making policy that they would then act as a watchdog for, presented a clash. Similarly, the Supreme Court and Prosecutor General's Office had both held a seat for issues in which they act as the administrator of justice, making for a certain roadblock.
In the case of the Islamic Ministry, the MP stated that exhausting the ministry's resources for several committees seemed futile, noting that the law did not prevent NAHTSC from seeking the ministry's advice when required.
"The purpose of my proposal was to provide a legislative solution that would serve to make anti-human trafficking work more functional and therefore be better poised to achieve the important goal of putting an end to human trafficking".
"However," she highlighted, "there are other provisions that could be made to the Act to widen its scope, for instance extending the definition of human trafficking to include 'harbouring', thus bringing it in line with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol and streamlining NAHTSC's operation as well as a chapter on human smuggling, in order to protect vulnerable people from further exploitation".
Stating that she is currently working with the government on said issues, MP Jeehan revealed that the government has given word that they are working on the proposed amendments and that she is optimistic about the outcome.
Regarding the present amendment, a new committee must be formed within 10 days from ratification. The previous committee will continue to function until the new members are appointed and the new committee formed.
The amendment was passed by the parliament on March 18, 2020, during the 22nd sitting of the year's first parliamentary session.
Following ratification, the amendment was then published in the government's official gazette.
Internationally, Maldives has been pinpointed as a destination country which numerous men, women, and children are subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. It is widely known that migrants, primarily those of Bangladeshi and Indian nationality, who are working both legally and illegally in the construction and service sectors are often faced with conditions such as forced labour including fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, nonpayment and withholding of wages as well as debt bondage.
In March 2020, Maldives does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Given the above, the United States of America's state department has placed the country on Tier 2 Watch List, meaning that at this time, Maldives does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.