2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Malawi

MALAWI: Tier 2

The Government of Malawi does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Malawi remained on Tier 2. These efforts included initiating more trafficking investigations and prosecutions; identifying more trafficking victims; developing standard operating procedures (SOPs) and an implementation plan to identify victims within refugee camps and refer them to appropriate care; and establishing four new district-level anti-trafficking coordination committees. The government formally recognized and provided official licensing certificates to four trafficking-specific shelters—the first in the country—initiating the process for the four shelters to become operational. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Government efforts to address sex trafficking were inadequate compared to the scale of the problem; the government did not report investigating any sex trafficking crimes or identifying any sex trafficking victims during the year. Due to the lack of shelters and other protections, police often detained victims during the investigation process and did not take adequate measures to prevent the re-traumatization of victims participating in criminal proceedings. Credible reports of official complicity continued to impede the government’s efforts to carry out anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and proactively identify trafficking victims. The U.S. Department of State suspended the A-3 visa sponsorship privileges afforded to Malawi bilateral mission members as a result of an unpaid default judgment rendered against a now former Malawian diplomat by a federal district court in 2016 for trafficking. For the third consecutive year, the former diplomat failed to pay the outstanding judgment.


Using the established standard operating procedures and national referral mechanism, systematically and proactively identify trafficking victims by screening for trafficking indicators among vulnerable populations, including individuals involved in commercial sex, refugees, and foreign workers, and refer all victims to appropriate services. • Vigorously investigate and prosecute sex and labor trafficking crimes and sentence convicted traffickers to adequate penalties under the 2015 anti-trafficking law, including complicit government officials. • Collaborate with NGOs and international organizations to increase the government’s capacity to provide shelter and protective services to more trafficking victims. • Increase protective services for victims participating in the criminal justice process to prevent re-traumatization, including establishing child-friendly interviewing spaces and ensuring victims receive basic needs. • Expand the collection of law enforcement and victim protection data for trafficking cases, specifically the number of victims referred and provided protective services, and compile data from all districts. • Disperse funds allocated to the Anti-Trafficking Fund to provide care to victims and to expand training for law enforcement and protection officers on investigating trafficking crimes, identifying trafficking victims, and providing adequate protection services. • Train labor inspectors to identify potential forced labor victims during routine inspections and to report potential trafficking violations to appropriate officials. • Develop and institutionalize a mandatory pre-departure anti-trafficking training for all Malawian diplomats. • 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 slightly increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2015 Trafficking in Persons Act criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking, and prescribed punishments of up to 14 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim and up to 21 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

In 2020, the Malawi Police Service (MPS) reported anti-trafficking law enforcement data from five of Malawi’s 34 district-level police stations, compared with data from 11 district-level police stations during the previous reporting period. The government reported investigating 44 trafficking cases and arresting 54 suspected traffickers, compared with reporting 48 arrests in an unspecified number of investigations during the previous reporting period. Of these 44 cases, 35 involved forced labor; the government did not report the types of trafficking in the remaining nine cases and did not report investigating any sex trafficking crimes during the reporting period. The government noted that the majority of alleged traffickers were Malawian nationals, while others were foreign nationals from Zambia, Mozambique, Pakistan, and China. Four investigations remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The government initiated prosecutions of 33 cases involving 39 suspected traffickers, compared with 30 alleged traffickers prosecuted in 2019. The government reported convicting 29 traffickers, compared with 30 convictions during the prior reporting period. Ten prosecutions remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period. Courts sentenced convicted traffickers to prison terms ranging from one to five years’ imprisonment. The government reported 13 traffickers received suspended sentences; four did not serve any prison time. Courts acquitted two alleged traffickers for unspecified reasons. The government reported that pandemic-related restrictions, such as travel limitations and spread of the virus among law enforcement officials, may have inhibited or slowed some efforts, particularly investigations, during the year.

During the reporting period, the government, in partnership with an international organization, trained 247 police and social welfare officers on trafficking, compared with at least 153 officials trained on investigations, victim identification, and data collection in the previous reporting period. The MPS retained anti-trafficking training in its curricula for the Limbe, Mtakata, and Mlangeni Police Training Schools and Zomba Police College; however, the government did not report the number of recruits trained. The government noted pandemic-related restrictions and widespread infection among officials negatively affected training opportunities during the reporting period. Despite previous trainings, police reported a continued lack of financial resources and coordination with neighboring countries to conduct timely cross-border investigations; pandemic-related border closures and travel restrictions further affected transnational anti-trafficking efforts during the year.

Widespread corruption, coupled with a lack of capacity and resources, led to limited documentation and poor data collection on trafficking cases. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. In recent years, law enforcement officers regularly failed to screen individuals engaged in commercial sex for trafficking indicators and were allegedly complicit in sex trafficking crimes by arresting and charging girls and women in commercial sex if they did not provide free sexual services to the arresting officer. Furthermore, officers often made little effort to discern the age of individuals in commercial sex or investigate such cases as child sex trafficking crimes, despite indications of children being involved. During the reporting period, officials suspended 12 police officers in Mzuzu for reportedly assisting traffickers; the government did not provide further details on these allegations or report criminally investigating these cases. In April 2019, the Department of State suspended for two years the A-3 visa sponsorship privileges afforded to Malawi bilateral mission members as a result of an unpaid final judgment against a former Malawian diplomat for approximately $1.1 million rendered by a federal district court in a civil human trafficking case involving a domestic worker who sued her former employer, the former Malawian diplomat, for trafficking. The former diplomat left the United States in 2012. During the reporting period, the former diplomat and the domestic worker reportedly discussed settlement but were unable to reach agreement. For the third consecutive year, the government did not report taking any further action to hold the diplomat accountable.


The government increased efforts to identify trafficking victims, while efforts to provide services to victims remained weak. The government identified 199 trafficking victims, a significant increase compared with 140 victims identified in the previous reporting period. The government reported traffickers exploited 144 of these identified victims in forced labor; it did not provide details on the type of trafficking the other 55 victims experienced. The government did not report identifying any sex trafficking victims during the reporting period. Of the 199 victims identified, 57 were children; however, government reports did not distinguish between child trafficking victims and the children of trafficking victims in its records. Consequently, some of the child victims reported in 2020 may have been the dependents of identified adult victims. The government continued to use the SOPs and national referral mechanism for victim identification and assistance launched during the previous reporting period; however, observers noted government officials continued to lack an understanding of trafficking, hindering proactive identification and referral efforts. During the reporting period, the government, in partnership with international organizations and foreign donors, developed and finalized SOPs for victim identification and referral, as well as a case reporting form, to increase protection efforts in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp.

During the reporting period, the government formally recognized and provided official licensing certificates to the first trafficking-specific shelters—in Limbe, Lilongwe, Mchinji, and Zomba—initiating the process for the four shelters to become operational and support identified victims of trafficking. The government, in partnership with NGOs, had already identified facilities to house these shelters and assigned protection officers from the Ministry of Gender to oversee the shelters once operational. The government referred at least 96 victims to NGO-run protection services, where they received counseling, medical care, food, and livelihood training, as appropriate; however, observers reported that government efforts to provide protection services to trafficking victims remained minimal. The government operated one center in Lilongwe that provided counseling and specialized care for vulnerable children, which could include child trafficking victims; however, the government did not provide specific numbers of trafficking victims who benefited from these services during the reporting period. 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 varied throughout the country. The government and civil society reported pandemic-related preventative measures, such as limitations on gatherings, travel restrictions, border closures, and curfews, limited victim care during the reporting period.

Despite the government’s reliance on civil society organizations to provide care to trafficking victims, it did not report providing financial or in-kind support to such organizations during the reporting period. In 2020, the government allocated 150 million Malawian kwacha ($182,930) to the anti-trafficking fund, the same amount allocated in 2019 and 2018; the government utilized the fund for various activities during the reporting period, including support for victim repatriation and capacity building for protection service providers. A significant lack of resources, capacity, and anti-trafficking training among police and social welfare officers led to ad hoc assistance, a lack of victim-centered approaches, and potential re-traumatization of victims. Observers reported police often transported victims, particularly children, and suspected traffickers in the same vehicle, resulting in potential intimidation and further traumatization of victims. Officials occasionally placed victims in detention, due to a lack of shelter space; in some cases, victims reportedly ran away from detention after officials failed to provide them basic needs, such as food. The 2015 anti-trafficking law allowed courts to provide immunity to victims for crimes their trafficker compelled them to commit, including potential immigration violations; however, previous reports alleged foreign victims faced deportation unless they challenged their immigration status in court. Malawian law did not allow for foreign victims to receive regularization of immigration status and temporary residency.


The government slightly increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The National Coordination Committee Against Trafficking in Persons, led by the Ministry of Homeland Security and charged with overseeing national anti-trafficking efforts, met once during the reporting period, compared with quarterly meetings in prior years. The government established four new district coordination committees against trafficking in persons in Dedza, Karonga, Mangochi, and Mzimba and began developing district-level action plans for each committee; this expanded the total number of district coordination committees to six, including in Mchinji and Phalombe. Members of the informal Malawi Network Against Child Trafficking, comprising government officials, religious leaders, NGOs, and international stakeholders, also continued to meet. The government continued to implement its 2017-2022 anti-trafficking national action plan, including by establishing new district coordination committees, training police and social welfare officials, and conducting awareness campaigns. During the reporting period, the government developed and finalized an implementation plan to increase anti-trafficking efforts within the Dzaleka Refugee Camp. The government reported conducting fewer awareness campaigns compared with the previous reporting period, citing pandemic-related restrictions on in-person gatherings; however, the government conducted some national and community-level radio campaigns to raise awareness of trafficking crimes. The government did not operate a hotline to report trafficking crimes or provide services to victims; however, it partnered with an NGO-run hotline to assist victims and track trafficking crimes. The government and NGO registered 82 potential trafficking crimes – 65 involving children and 17 involving adults – through the hotline during the reporting period. With support from an international organization, the government contributed information on trafficking cases identified during the reporting period to a national centralized anti-trafficking data collection and reporting tool. The Ministry of Labor carried out an unknown number of inspections, primarily in response to complaints of forced or exploitative labor on large commercial farms; however, the government did not report identifying any trafficking victims or further investigating potential trafficking violations found during these inspections. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Due to pandemic-related restrictions on travel and gatherings, the government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel, compared with one training during the previous reporting period. However, the government reported developing an anti-trafficking training program for diplomats during the reporting period.


As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Malawi, and traffickers exploit victims from Malawi abroad. Traffickers exploit most Malawian victims within the country, generally lured 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, family members, or brothel owners — lure children in rural areas by offering employment opportunities, clothing, or lodging, for which they are sometimes charged exorbitant fees, resulting in sex trafficking. Traffickers exploit teenage boys in forced labor on farms and girls in sex trafficking or other forms of sexual exploitation in nightclubs or bars. As a result of restaurant and bar closures during the pandemic, observers report that private homes, especially in Lilongwe and Blantyre, have started operating as illegal brothels and bars; operators of these establishments exploit girls in sex trafficking. Traffickers exploit children in forced labor in begging, domestic servitude, small businesses, and potentially in the fishing industry; in past years, some children were coerced to commit crimes. During the pandemic, school closures from March to October 2020 and January to February 2021 increased children’s vulnerability to exploitation, including sex trafficking and forced labor in agriculture. Adult tenant farmers are at risk for exploitation, as they incur debts to landowners and may not receive payment during poor harvests. Traffickers exploit adults and children from Mozambique, Zambia, the Great Lakes region, and the Horn of Africa in labor and sex trafficking. In response to the pandemic, traffickers began using unmonitored and irregular border crossings to facilitate transnational trafficking, avoiding traditional border crossings requiring COVID-19 test certificates; observers also report traffickers’ increasing use of smaller, less obvious transportation methods, such as bicycles and motorbikes, versus trucks or buses to transport potential trafficking victims.

Malawi hosts more than 49,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, primarily from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Somalia, in Dzaleka Refugee Camp. Traffickers exploit men in forced labor and women and girls in sex trafficking both inside and via the camp. Criminal networks facilitate sex trafficking and forced labor, primarily in farming and domestic servitude, of refugees in Malawi or the transportation of refugees and vulnerable migrants for the purpose of sexual exploitation to other countries in Southern Africa. Malawian victims of sex and labor trafficking have been identified in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia, as well as in Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Some girls recruited for domestic service are instead forced to marry and are subsequently exploited in sex trafficking by their “husbands.” Fraudulent employment agencies lure women and girls to Gulf states, where traffickers exploit them in sex and labor trafficking.