What is Human Trafficking and Exploitation?

Human Trafficking is a crime against the individual’s freedom and dignity

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What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking has been defined in the “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children” (known as the “Palermo Protocol”) to the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC), which Malta ratified on the 24th September 2003.


Click here to access The Palermo Protocol.


Human trafficking is also defined in the 2010 Council of Europe Convention on “Action against Trafficking in Human Beings”, known as the Warsaw Convention. Click here.


An offence of Human Trafficking entails an infringement of the provisions of the Criminal Code (Cap. 9 of the Laws of Malta) falling under the heading ‘Of the traffic of persons.’ Click here.


A person may be accused of human trafficking if he/she exploits another person in: 


1.       the production of goods or the provision of services (including working in conditions that infringe labour standards, prostitution and other sex-related services); 

2.       slavery or practices similar to slavery; 

3.       servitude; 

4.       activities associated with begging; or, 

5.       other activities, including the removal of any organ of the body.


In order for a trafficking accusation to subsist, the exploitation of a person of age (18 years and over) would be conducted by means of: 


  1. violence or threats, including abduction;
  2. deceit or fraud;
  3. misuse of authority, influence or pressure; or
  4. the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of the person having control over another person.  


If the victim of human trafficking is a minor (under 18 years of age), the person abusing him or her may be considered a trafficker even if the means referred to above (e.g. violence or threats) have not been used. Therefore, if a minor is say recruited and transported to Malta for the purpose of sexual exploitation, the person conducting such operation would still be subject to prosecution as a human trafficker even if the minor has not been abducted, and/or subjected to violence and/or has not been deceived by the trafficker at any stage.


Typically a human trafficker forces another person to perform acts or work against his or her will. For this reason human trafficking is an offence against the individual’s freedom and dignity.


Human Trafficking is not migrant smuggling. Whilst human trafficking is exploitation-based, migrant smuggling is transportation-based.


Migrant smuggling, which is defined in the UNTOC “Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air”, is the activity whereby a person is brought to Malta in contravention of the Immigration Act (Cap. 217 of the Laws of Malta).


The smuggler is therefore involved in the unlawful transportation, or the facilitation of the unlawful transportation of migrants from another State to Malta. Alternatively, a migrant smuggler may facilitate the unlawful transportation of a migrant from Malta to another State.


Therefore, the smuggler facilitates irregular migration, and his or her relationship with the smuggled person is based on the payment of a fee by the smuggled person in return for the aforementioned unlawful transportation



Victims of human trafficking: Who are they?What kind of abuses do they suffer from?



Trafficking for the purpose of Sexual Exploitation


Victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation can be women or men, girls or boys. Students and job seekers may fall victim to human trafficking for sexual exploitation, as the traffickers would lure them with promises of better work or educational opportunities abroad.


Traffickers usually intimidate and control their victims. Such control may be exercised by physically locking up the victim or by resorting to less obvious means, such as threatening to harm family members in the country of origin or through debt bondage.


It should also be noted that a person may knowingly decide to work in the sex industry, including prostitution, but consequently be forced to continue providing sex-services or prostitution. In such cases, the exploiter would still be regarded as a human trafficker at law and the victim as a victim of human trafficking.


Trafficking for Forced Labour


A person may be ‘assisted’ by a human trafficker to travel to another country (including by legal means) in order to take up employment there. The victim would be assigned a particular job, usually underpaid, and told to pay back the trafficker for having ‘assisted’ with the travel arrangements and/or any other matter. This often brings about a situation of debt-bondage, particularly as interests at a high rate would often have to be paid.


Such victims would typically be employed by the trafficker or a close associate, and may be controlled by several means, including physical segregation. There may be instances where such victims would have no knowledge of the language of the host country, thereby further increasing their vulnerability through inability to communicate. Such victims may also be living and working in sub-standard conditions, further to working excessively long hours.


Other forms of Trafficking


Other forms of trafficking have been encountered in Europe and elsewhere, including the trafficking of children for the purpose of conducting petty crime and begging activities, as well as organ removal, among others.


Human Trafficking is an ever-changing phenomenon and forms of exploitation and the profiles of victims may change over time.


Cases of human trafficking in Malta


The cases of human trafficking encountered in Malta so far involved the sexual exploitation of women, with the victims being mainly east Europeans who would have entered the country legally.


Leisure Clothing Case judgement delivered last Friday 6th January 2023 by the Criminal Court of Appeal presided over by Hon. Judge Edwina Grima: Case of Police vs Bin Han / Jia Liu


Investigations and procedures relating to other cases, including alleged cases of human trafficking for labour exploitation, are ongoing.


You can play a role: Trafficking Indicators

Victims of human trafficking can be found in a variety of situations. Any person, professional or otherwise (e.g. neighbour), can come across victims of human trafficking and can play an important role in their identification.

1. What is an ‘indicator’ of human trafficking?

An indicator is a fact or even an attitude adopted by a person that may point to a human trafficking situation, as such fact or attitude is often associated with a human trafficking situation.


The indications hereunder outline what one is to look for when encountering potential victims:


1.       Is the victim in possession of identification and travel documents; if not who has control of the documents?


Remember that a trafficker seeks to exercise control over his or her victims, and therefore he or she may take possession of documents.


2.       Does the victim show distrust towards the authorities?


Remember that the victim may have been told that if he or she is apprehended by the authorities he or she would be deported, or suffer some other undesirable consequences. Deception often plays a central role in human trafficking.


3.       Does the victim have restricted or controlled freedom of movement?


Remember that some traffickers actually control the physical movement of their victims and sometimes have them accompanied by someone else wherever they go.


4.       Was the victim recruited for one purpose and forced to engage in some other job?


Remember that deceit is a major component of human trafficking offences.


Before departure from their home country victims are told that they would be performing specific well-paid jobs, possibly including glamorous activities such as modelling, or that they would gain access to educational opportunities, only to find out, upon arrival, they are being forced into prostitution or into under-paid jobs, often in very poor working conditions.


5.       Is the victim being held in compulsory service in payment of a debt?


Remember that bondage through debt is a form of control that may be exercised by human traffickers. Although some cases of usury may only involve usury itself, others may in fact involve other crimes, including human trafficking. Foreign victims are forced to perform a certain job, often under-paid and in poor conditions, in order to pay back the trafficker for having arranged their trip to the country of destination.


6.       Does the victim show any signs that appear to be the result of the use of control measures, such as use of force or threats?


Remember that some victims have suffered from prolonged psychological abuse, as a result of which they may be withdrawn and intimidated. Others would also have suffered physical abuse, possibly including rape.


7.       Was the victim forced to perform sexual acts or engaged in commercial sex?


Remember that trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation is one of the main forms of this crime. Moreover, a victim trafficked for other purposes may be sexually exploited as well.


8.       Has the victim been subjected to violence or threats of harm against her/himself or against family members or loved ones?


Remember that threats constitute one of the means whereby a trafficker exercises control. Traffickers that are in a position to convince their victims that they may cause harm to their family members are often able to control such victims without resorting to physical forms of control, including incarcerating the victim.


Such cases may be more difficult to detect because control is exercised subtly.


9.       Has the victim been deprived of basic needs, medical care or other life necessities?


Some victims of human trafficking suffer from several forms of abuse, including neglect. Restrictions on their communications may mean that they would have been unable to seek medical attention.


10.       Has the victim been unable to communicate freely with members of the family or friends?


Remember that a trafficker will seek to isolate his or her victims, in order to exercise full control over their lives.


11.       Has the victim been living in an unsuitable place or in the same place where he/she works?


Remember that some victims of human trafficking are accommodated in poor living conditions and some even live in big groups in a small place. This consideration however has to be looked at in the light of any other circumstances surrounding the alleged victim, since this scenario could also subsist in cases of illegal immigration.


12.       In the case of a juvenile, has the victim been engaged in work that is not suitable for children?


Child trafficking is also an unfortunate reality. As for adults, children could be forced into prostitution or labour trafficking.


13.       Has the victim been subjected to domestic servitude?


Remember that some traffickers restrict the movement of their victims and make use of their services in specific contexts where it is easy for them to exercise control. Such victims would be forced to work for excessively long hours, further to being also prone to other forms of abuse, possibly including violence and rape.


Who to call if in need of assistance​


Police, ‘Crime Stop’ number 119 or, in case of an emergency, 112  


If you think that you are a victim of human trafficking you are urged to contact the Police authorities at the very earliest possible opportunity: call ‘Crime Stop’ number 119 or, in a situation of emergency, 112.


The Police will ensure that you are separated from the trafficker. They will also refer you to Aġenzija Appoġġ for you to receive the support you need, including shelter.


If you are not a victim, but have reasons to suspect that someone you know is, then it is your duty to report to the Police authorities either on ‘Crime Stop’ number 119 or, in case of an emergency, 112.


Victim Support Agency


If you are a victim of a crime, there are a number of ways you can access the victim support services

By calling our designated phone line

Through a live chat function available on Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/VictimSupportAgencyMalta/ where trained professionals can provide you with assistance. Chat available during office hours from Monday to Friday excluding public holidays and weekends

By email through

Victim Support Agency is located at:
52, Old Theatre Street, Valletta


Foundation for Social Welfare Services - Aġenzija Appoġġ, free phone 179


Aġenzija Appoġġ is the national agency providing social welfare support services. Such services are also offered to victims of Human Trafficking. In this regard, Aġenzija Appoġġ provides shelter facilities and professional support to respond effectively to the needs of victims of human trafficking.

Aġenzija Appoġġ can be contacted by means of free phone 179, which is intended to provide information and initial assistance and support to victims.

​To report working conditions:  DIER - 1575
​​To report working conditions:  Jobsplus - https://jobsplus.gov.mt/forms
​​For support: GU Clinic - 25457494 or 25457491