Guatemala is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Guatemalan women, girls, and boys are exploited in sex trafficking within the country, as well as in Mexico, the United States, and Belize. Guatemalan men, women, and children are subjected to forced labor within the country, often in agriculture or domestic service, and particularly in the highland region and near the Mexican border. Guatemalan children are exploited in forced labor in begging and street vending, particularly in the border area with Mexico. Guatemalan men, women, and children also are found in conditions of forced labor in agriculture, the garment industry, and in domestic service in Mexico, the United States, and other countries. Indigenous Guatemalans are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. Women and children from other Central American countries and Colombia are exploited in sex trafficking in Guatemala. Foreign child sex tourists, predominantly from Canada, the United States, and Western Europe, as well as Guatemalan men, exploit children in prostitution. Organized crime networks continue to be involved in some cases of human trafficking, and gangs recruit children to commit illicit acts, sometimes using force or coercion.
The Government of Guatemala does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the year authorities strengthened the anti-trafficking law enforcement infrastructure by creating new, dedicated police and prosecutorial units and by establishing two new specialized courts to handle trafficking cases, along with crimes against women and sexual violence. The government maintained efforts to convict sex trafficking offenders, and increased funding for NGOs that provide care services to girl sex trafficking victims. Officials’ complicity in trafficking crimes, however, remained a serious and largely unaddressed problem. Efforts to prosecute and punish forced labor offenders and proactively identify forced labor victims were inadequate. Victim identification and referral efforts were uneven and largely ineffective for adult victims, and services were almost exclusively provided by NGOs to child sex trafficking victims, leaving adult victims vulnerable to re-trafficking.
Recommendations for Guatemala: Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, especially suspected cases of forced labor and domestic servitude, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; improve victim referral mechanisms to ensure that all identified victims, including victims of forced labor and all adult victims, are referred to appropriate services, including shelters; enhance the availability of specialized victim services throughout the country, including through increased funding of and partnerships with civil society, and ensure the security of specialized shelters; proactively investigate and prosecute public officials complicit in trafficking; develop formal guidelines for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as people in prostitution and indigenous workers, and ensure officials implement these guidelines; collect comprehensive data on prosecution efforts and on victim protection; and continue to train officials, including labor and health officials, on how to identify and assist trafficking victims to increase victim identification.
The government increased resources for specialized police and prosecutorial units during the year and continued to prosecute and convict sex trafficking offenders, but corruption remained a serious impediment to law enforcement, and efforts against forced labor were weak. The Guatemalan penal code prohibits all forms of trafficking, and prescribes penalties from eight to 18 years’ imprisonment. Such penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The penal code also conflates irregular adoption with human trafficking. The government trained police officers for a greatly expanded specialized unit to handle human trafficking and other crimes, with one sub-unit for sex trafficking and another for forced labor. The government also elevated the anti-trafficking prosecutor’s unit to a directorate, creating specialized units to handle sex trafficking and forced labor. In addition, authorities reported creating two new specialized courts in 2012 for crimes against women, sexual violence, and human trafficking. Anti-trafficking police and prosecutors’ ability to conduct investigations on a national scale continued to be limited by a lack of funding, staffing, and awareness.
Officials did not report the number of investigations initiated during the year for forced labor or sex trafficking. There were no reports that law enforcement investigated cases of children who may have been forced by gangs to engage in illicit activities as human trafficking. Authorities reported prosecuting at least 23 new sex trafficking cases during the reporting period and convicted seven sex trafficking offenders using the anti-trafficking law; sentences ranged up to 10 years’ imprisonment, plus fines. In comparison, during the previous year, the Guatemalan government reported convicting five sex trafficking offenders. There were no reported prosecutions or convictions involving forced labor offenses during this and the previous reporting periods.
Official complicity remained a serious impediment to law enforcement efforts, but authorities did not report efforts to prosecute or convict and punish any public officials for alleged complicity in human trafficking. Two mayors were under investigation for being clients of a sex trafficking network, though they had not been stripped of their immunity, which prevented their arrest. Some judges reportedly dismissed trafficking cases or acquitted trafficking offenders due to a lack of understanding of the crime or complicity with trafficking offenders. Credible reports from international organizations, NGOs, and several government officials continued to indicate that corrupt public officials impeded anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and facilitated trafficking activity by accepting or extorting bribes, falsifying identity documents, sharing information about impending police raids to suspected traffickers, and ignoring trafficking activity in commercial sex sites. During the year one judge in a specialized court for crimes against women refused to listen to evidence against an accused trafficking offender and proceeded to release the suspect. It was widely speculated that this was due to the accused trafficking offender’s relationship with a prominent member of the Guatemalan bar association. Separately, a request to move a trafficking prosecution to a high-impact court in the capital—because of the high-profile nature of the sex trafficking ring’s clients—was denied, allegedly because one of the accused trafficking offenders’ defense attorney is the son of a supreme court magistrate.
Guatemalan authorities held training sessions aimed at educating and building capacity among judges, police, prosecutors, immigration officers, and other government officials, and reported training almost half of the judges in the country on trafficking. Most training efforts were conducted in partnership with civil society and with funds from foreign governments or international organizations.
During the year, government efforts to protect trafficking victims remained inadequate and, due to officials’ weak implementation of victim referral protocols, the government-run shelter for adult trafficking victims remained severely underused. NGOs continued to provide specialized services for female sex trafficking victims and authorities increased funding for two NGOs, but services remained inadequate for many victims, particularly outside of the capital. While authorities reported that they had standard operating procedures on how to assist sex trafficking victims, it appeared this protocol was rarely employed, and there were no procedures for identifying forced labor victims among vulnerable populations. Most NGOs remained critical of the government’s ability to identify and refer trafficking victims effectively, particularly among detained migrants, and authorities did not maintain comprehensive victim statistics. Trafficking prosecutors reported identifying 41 girls, 14 boys, and 72 women for a total of 127 potential trafficking victims during the year. Authorities reported referring all child victims to NGO-operated shelters, and one of these shelters assisted 85 sex trafficking victims. The government provided two NGOs with total funding equivalent to approximately $660,000 during the year, some of which was used to provide services to trafficking victims; this represents an increase in funding from the previous year. The absence of an effective identification and referral mechanism impeded adult victims’ access to specialized services, and it was unclear how many of the adult victims identified by authorities were referred to or received services. During the year, only five adult victims stayed in the government-operated shelter, which has a capacity to care for 20 victims at a time. Authorities considered ceasing operation of this shelter due to low victim referral numbers and security concerns, and while it remained open, it was profoundly underutilized. During the year authorities also ended a program to provide services to victims of trafficking and sexual abuse, which was found to have been ineffective. The government facilitated but did not fund the repatriation of Guatemalan trafficking victims exploited abroad.
Although Guatemalan authorities encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders and, many did so during the year in large part due to legal and psychological support from NGOs, many other victims did not file complaints due to fear of violence or reprisals, lack of faith in the judicial system, and the limitations of the government’s witness protection program. Guatemalan law allowed for victim testimony via video. Guatemalan law prohibited detaining, fining, or otherwise penalizing identified victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. NGOs reported, however, that some foreign victims in Guatemala did not have their victim status recognized by Guatemalan authorities before being deported as undocumented foreigners. Guatemalan law provided legal alternatives to removal of foreign victims who may face hardship or retribution upon repatriation.
The Government of Guatemala maintained prevention efforts in 2012. The Secretariat Against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons (SVET) was responsible for coordinating government efforts through the interagency commission. NGOs and some officials reported that this commission was not effective—meeting three to four times in 2012, despite being mandated to meet monthly—and that interagency coordination was uneven, particularly at the local level. With international funds, SVET conducted public awareness activities and made steps to establish a monitoring and statistics unit. There were continued reports of child sex tourism and SVET organized a workshop on the issue with the national tourism institute and civil society. As in previous years, however, there were no reported prosecutions or convictions of child sex tourists. Authorities provided training on human trafficking to Guatemalan troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.