President of the National Human Rights Commission Mr Ahmed Saleem, Excellency High Commissioner from Bangladesh Dr Selina Mohsin, Representative of the International Organisation for Migration, Representatives of SAARC countries, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen.

I am very pleased that you are holding a dissemination meeting of the review of the SAARC Convention on Trafficking of Women and Children for Prostitution.

I would like to congratulate ADB and the IOM for undertaking this review. I also congratulate the Human Rights Commission, and the Department of Immigration for organizing this meeting.

The Convention covers one of the most serious transnational crimes against dignity and the human rights of the most vulnerable people in this region. The Convention aims to criminalize and punish trafficking offenses. It also aims to strengthen regional cooperation and law enforcement.

But it looks like the review points out that there are serious shortcomings both in the coverage and implementation of this Convention.

I am concerned that the Convention, although it has been forceful for almost 4 years, has not been adequately enforced and applied in the region. Specially, there has been several concerns regarding scope, definition, limited use of HR perspectives, limited regional cooperation for law enforcement, insufficient data analysis, and finally the absence of an independent monitoring mechanisms. Specific limitations include the exclusion of male victims, limitation of definition only to prostitution excluding other forms of trafficking such as forced labour, sex slavery, begging and other slave like practices.

The absence of an effective and independent compliance mechanisms undermine effective of this Convention. Similarly, there is inadequate provision for victim protection and rehabilitation.

We all know that the primary cause of trafficking is greed and brutal disregard for human rights.

Trafficking, specially for commercial sexual exploitation has become a worldwide multi billion dollar industry. The problem is global. Some of the worst forms are found in Asia where more than a million people are exploited each year. Trafficking on this level cannot escape the attention of local and national law enforcement authorities. I would like to call upon, primarily, our own law enforcement agencies and concerned authorities of the government, and also to our counterparts in other neighboring countries to enforce both our laws and except our obligations under this Convention.

This illicit trafficking is expanding through the use of other means. I believe internet is playing a very important role in promoting pornography - the low cost of internet advertising for commercial sexual exploitation trade and attracting sex tourists and pedophiles. Many of the activities are explicitly banned in all of our countries, but we seem to somewhat helpless in stemming the problem. The problems of trafficking seem to be increasing all of our countries. Specially concerning is the trafficking of children especially girl children.

The effects of sexual exploitation are profound and may be permanent. Normal sexual, physical and emotional development is stunted; self esteem and confidence are undermined. Sexually exploited children are especially vulnerable to the effects of physical and verbal violence, drugs and sexually transmitted diseases.

We are concerned that human trafficking could become a growing problem in our country. This report mentions the Maldives as both a source country and a destination country.

This provides us today and in the next few months and excellent opportunity for serious review internally and to take corrective actions. Those actions must include improving our legal framework, ratification of relevant conventions including the UN trafficking protocol which is much more comprehensive in its definition of trafficking, and the Convention on migrant workers.

The report recommends that the Maldives enact comprehensive anti trafficking legislation and make provision for repatriation of victims. We are aware that the government of the Maldives is working on this at different fronts. Already there is a mechanism in place for smooth repatriation of those who are victims of trafficking.

I wish you a very productive workshop and hope that this is the beginning of a new, more vigorous effort to put in place not only the system but also the legislation and also the governmental machinery to combat trafficking. While we talk about government intervention, it is also important to strengthen civil society. I have worked in two countries here - both Bangladesh and Nepal where civil society is extremely active and plays a very important and productive role in addressing the issue of trafficking. As you know the most vulnerable populations are being affected by this – those who are poorest and most vulnerable.

So often young women and men, of course, are lured into attractive employment offers but end up serving as sex slaves and being exploited both internally and also abroad in other countries.

International cooperation is particularly important in this context. Cooperation among law enforcement agencies is paramount in order to prevent this. We have to set up capacities internally and to raise awareness among parents and civil society organizations. Build capacity to put in place community level interventions to detect, to identify, and to prevent children and women from becoming victims of this trade.

So I hope that you will have a chance to discuss these issues comprehensively and specifically in the context of the Maldives because it is an emerging and very dangerous trend, and be able to assist all concerned government agencies to put in the correct measures.

I am glad that the Human Rights Commission is taking the lead in this as it should, but also the Department of Immigration. I hope that the Maldives Police Service is also involved in it, we see the State Minister from the Ministry of Home Affairs here.

I think all law enforcement agencies have to work together in this. So if there is anything I can do to assist, as you know, I am always most willing to work with you.

Thank you very much.