Trafficking in Persons Report 2017 - Country Narratives - Malawi

MALAWI: Tier 2

The Government of Malawi does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Malawi remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by working with a foreign government to repatriate a larger number of trafficking victims than in the previous reporting period; drafting a national action plan; convening the first meeting of the National Coordination Committee; using the 2015 anti-trafficking act to prosecute all trafficking crimes during the reporting period; and increasing cooperation between district-level police stations and the national police service. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government continued to lack standardized procedures to effectively identify and refer victims. It did not provide victims adequate protection and continued to rely on international organizations and NGOs to fund most anti-trafficking programs.


Enter lists of enforcement and protection officers and shelters for trafficking victims in the official gazette in order for the law to be fully operational; fully implement the prosecution and protection provisions in the 2015 anti-trafficking law; vigorously prosecute and sentence both sex and labor trafficking offenses under the 2015 law; ensure all convicted traffickers receive jail time by consistently applying sufficiently stringent punishments; support training and increase funding for judges, prosecutors, labor inspectors, and police to identify, investigate, and prosecute trafficking crimes; develop formal guidelines to identify trafficking victims, especially among vulnerable populations, and refer them to available services; increase the availability of shelters and protection services for victims, including through in-kind or material support to NGOs for expansion of direct service provisions; improve and expand the collection of national prosecution and protection data; and increase awareness and monitoring of trafficking crimes, as well as efforts to identify traffickers and victims at border crossings and internal police checkpoints.


The government demonstrated uneven anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2015 Trafficking in Persons Act prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes punishments of up to life imprisonment, without the option of fines. Penalties prescribed under other relevant statutes range from small fines to 14 years of imprisonment. The use of fines in lieu of imprisonment is an ineffective deterrent against trafficking crimes. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with punishment prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.

In 2016, the Malawi Police Service (MPS) reported anti-trafficking law enforcement data from seven of Malawi’s 34 district-level police stations. Officers in seven districts sent trafficking information and statistics to police headquarters every month via a text messaging application and the MPS analyzed that data to assess trafficking trends. MPS reported it arrested and prosecuted at least 30 alleged traffickers and convicted 18, a significant decrease from 68 traffickers prosecuted and 58 convicted during the previous reporting period. All cases were prosecuted under the 2015 anti-trafficking act. During the year, the courts sentenced some traffickers to 14 years imprisonment; others, however, were suspended resulting in no jail time for convicted traffickers. The Ministry of Home Affairs, which includes MPS and immigration officials, maintained primary responsibility for the prosecution of trafficking crimes and enforcement of trafficking laws.

The MPS retained anti-trafficking training in its curricula for the Limbe, Mtakata and Mlangeni Police Training School and Zomba Police College. The Department for Immigration trained an unknown number of new immigration officers on victim identification and assistance to potential trafficking victims. A high court judge, in partnership with the Women Judges Association of Malawi, trained magistrates on the prevalence of trafficking in the country and on the 2015 anti-trafficking law with a particular focus on sentencing guidelines for offenders. In October, the Ministry of Gender and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Secretariat conducted a training for 39 law enforcement officers, including police, immigration officials, social workers, and prosecutors on the legal instruments available to counter trafficking. Despite media reports that several police, health, and immigration officials were complicit in trafficking young women to Kuwait, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses. In November 2016, a United States District Court for the District of Maryland issued a default judgement awarding more than $1 million in damages to a domestic worker who sued her former employer, a Malawian diplomat for trafficking; the diplomat left the United States in 2012 and remains in the Malawian Foreign Service. The government did not take any action during the reporting period to hold the diplomat accountable.


The government maintained inadequate protection efforts. The government continued to lack systematic procedures for the proactive identification of victims and their referral to care. Given severe resource constraints, the government relied largely on NGOs to identify victims and provide long-term care. The government did not provide in-kind or financial support for most NGO services, including those offered at the only dedicated shelter for trafficking victims in the country, which is operated by an international NGO. The national government lacked comprehensive data on the number of victims it identified, referred, or assisted during the reporting period; however, MPS reported it identified at least 168 trafficking victims, a decrease from 197 identified during the previous reporting period. The government actively worked with officials in Kuwait to repatriate 53 women victims of domestic servitude. The government ran one social rehabilitation center in Lilongwe for vulnerable children, orphans, and child trafficking and gender-based violence victims, providing counseling and rehabilitation services. The center is chronically underfunded and poor conditions there reportedly led some child sex trafficking victims to leave the shelter and return to the brothels from which they had been removed. The lack of adequate and sustained assistance left victims vulnerable to re-trafficking.

Some of the approximately 300 police sub-stations at the village level housed victim support units (VSUs) to respond to gender-based violence and trafficking crimes; however, the VSUs lacked capacity to respond adequately and the quality of services remained variable throughout the country. Some foreign victims avoided these centers due to fear of deportation. Malawian law does not provide foreign victims with temporary residency or other legal alternatives to their removal to their countries of origin; foreign victims faced deportation unless they challenged their immigration status in court. In 2016, there were no credible reports of trafficking victims being detained, fined, or jailed for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being subjected to trafficking; however, due to a lack of formal victim identification procedures during the reporting period, and the absence of alternatives to deportation for trafficking victims, some unidentified trafficking victims may have remained in the criminal justice system or been deported.


The government maintained modest efforts to prevent trafficking. The National Coordination Committee, established under the anti-trafficking act which came into force in November 2015, held its first meeting during the reporting period. The Malawi Network Against Child Trafficking, comprised of government officials, NGOs, and international stakeholders, convened two national level meetings, compared with zero the previous year. The government drafted a national action plan to combat trafficking, which is now awaiting final ministerial approval. As a member of SADC, the government adopted the ten-year SADC Regional Plan of Action on Trafficking in Persons. The government conducted awareness campaigns by placing anti-trafficking messages on billboards throughout urban areas and the inspector general of police spoke publicly on several occasions about the dangers of trafficking. Nonetheless, most public awareness campaigns continued to be spearheaded by NGOs. Compulsory universal birth registration, enacted in 2012, became effective during the reporting period.

Malawian officials worked with the Government of Kuwait to negotiate a modified visa regime whereby Malawians could no longer receive visas for unskilled household work positions, which traffickers used to recruit at least 53 women who they later exploited. The government did not conduct any labor inspections for the second consecutive year; however, the Ministry of Labor recruited and trained 21 new labor inspectors during the reporting period. Due to lack of funding, more than sixty percent of positions within the Ministry of Labor were vacant, impeding efforts to identify and penalize fraudulent labor recruitment during the year. The government did not demonstrate efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. Malawi did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. With support and assistance from foreign entities, the government ensured Malawian troops received anti-trafficking training prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.


As reported over the past five years, Malawi is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. To a lesser extent, it is a destination country for men, women, and children from Zambia, Mozambique, the Great Lakes region, and the Horn of Africa who are subjected to labor and sex trafficking, and a transit country for people from these countries exploited in South Africa. Most Malawian trafficking victims are exploited within the country, generally transported from the southern part of the country to the central and northern regions for forced labor in agriculture (predominantly the tobacco industry), goat and cattle herding, and brickmaking. Many cases of child labor external to the family involve fraudulent recruitment and physical or sexual abuse, indicative of forced labor. Traffickers—primarily facilitators or brothel owners—typically lure children from their families in rural areas under pretenses of employment opportunities, clothing, or lodging for which they are sometimes charged exorbitant fees, resulting in prostitution coerced through debts. Traffickers subject teenage boys to forced labor on farms and young girls to sexual exploitation in nightclubs or bars. Children are subjected to forced labor in begging, small businesses, and potentially in the fishing industry; in past years, some were coerced to commit crimes. Adult tenant farmers are vulnerable to exploitation, as they incur debts to landowners and may not receive payment during poor harvests. Malawian victims of sex and labor trafficking have been identified in Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, and Tanzania. Some young girls are drugged, gang-raped, and exploited in commercial sex. Some girls recruited for domestic service are instead forced to marry and subsequently subjected to child sex trafficking by their “husbands”. Fraudulent employment agencies lure women and girls to Gulf states where they are exploited in sex and labor trafficking.