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, Belize, and, to a lesser extent, other foreign countries. Foreign child sex tourists, predominantly from Canada, the United States, and Western Europe, as well as Guatemalan men, exploit children in prostitution. Women and children from other Latin American countries, principally from other Central American countries and Colombia, are exploited in sex trafficking in Guatemala. Guatemalan men, women, and children are subjected to forced labor within the country, often in agriculture or domestic service. Indigenous Guatemalans are particularly vulnerable to labor trafficking. Guatemalan children are exploited in forced labor in begging and street vending, particularly within Guatemala City and along the border area with Mexico. Guatemalan men, women, and children are also found in conditions of forced labor in agriculture, the garment industry, small businesses, and in domestic service in Mexico, the United States, and other countries. Transnational criminal organizations are reportedly involved in some cases of human trafficking, and gangs reportedly recruit children to commit illicit acts; some of these children may be trafficking victims. Latin American migrants transit Guatemala en route to Mexico and the United States. Some of these migrants are subsequently exploited in sex trafficking and forced labor in the destination countries of Mexico and the United States, and to a lesser extent, in Guatemala.
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. The Secretariat against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons (SVET) greatly enhanced government coordination on anti-trafficking initiatives. The government increased funding for the anti-trafficking secretariat and for an NGO providing comprehensive services to girl victims of trafficking. Authorities significantly increased their capacity to identify labor trafficking cases during the year and vigorously pursued the conviction of child sex trafficking offenders, though authorities did not convict any labor traffickers or sex traffickers who exploited adult victims during the reporting period. Officials identified a large number of potential victims and referred all victims to shelters. All minor victims received shelter, though few adults used government-offered services. The government took steps to establish three new shelters for trafficking victims. The attorney general’s office continued to investigate cases involving official complicity in human trafficking. Authorities throughout the Guatemalan government greatly increased awareness efforts.
Recommendations for Guatemala:
Continue to improve access to specialized services for all victims, including for adult and male victims, and provide victim services in areas outside the capital; take steps to ensure that minor trafficking victims are housed in specialized care facilities; continue to strengthen oversight of government victim protection efforts nationwide; continue efforts to vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, especially suspected cases of forced labor and domestic servitude, with the goal of convicting and punishing trafficking offenders; enhance reintegration, and as appropriate, security strategies for victims after they leave shelters; increase anti-trafficking training for judges; continue to strengthen efforts to proactively investigate and prosecute public officials complicit in trafficking; sustain efforts to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as people in prostitution and detained migrants; as appropriate, include trafficking victims in vocational training programs; continue to increase data collection; and continue to train officials on how to identify and assist trafficking victims.
The government strengthened efforts to convict sex trafficking offenders and significantly increased law enforcement efforts against labor traffickers, but convicted no labor traffickers during the reporting period. The anti-trafficking law of 2009 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 conflates irregular adoption with human trafficking.
Authorities reported 271 new trafficking investigations in 2013, 128 of which remained open at the end of the reporting period. The government did not specify how many involved labor trafficking and how many involved sex trafficking; however, supporting law enforcement data indicated that while the vast majority of investigations involved sex trafficking, there was an increase in labor trafficking investigations compared to previous years. In comparison, authorities did not report how many cases of trafficking as defined by international law were investigated in 2012. Officials investigated numerous labor trafficking cases, including one case that involved 42 women and girls working in tortilla production in the capital. Authorities reported prosecuting 67 individuals for sex or labor trafficking in 2013 and convicting 10 child sex trafficking offenders; sentences ranged from eight to 42 years’ imprisonment. This is a significant increase from 27 trafficking prosecutions and seven convictions in 2012—all for sex trafficking.
There were five ongoing prosecutions involving forced labor offenses during the year, but there were no reported convictions of labor traffickers during the reporting period. In 11 cases during the year, judges issued acquittals, including in a high-profile case involving Guatemalan women exploited in domestic servitude in Jordan. All acquitted cases were appealed by prosecutors.
The government maintained a specialized police unit to handle human trafficking and other crimes, with one sub-unit for sex trafficking and another for forced labor. The anti-trafficking prosecutor’s directorate also operated specialized units to handle sex trafficking and forced labor. This directorate addressed approximately 40 percent of trafficking complaints and was involved in 40 percent of the convictions nationwide. The rest of convictions were investigated and prosecuted by local prosecutors who did not receive the same specialized training on trafficking offenses. There were reports that in two cases in Huehuetenango sex trafficking was registered as sexual violence. Authorities operated eight specialized trial courts, six specialized sentencing courts, and a specialized court of appeals for crimes against women, sexual violence, and human trafficking. Anti-trafficking police and prosecutors’ ability to conduct investigations outside of the capital, while improved, continued to be limited by a lack of funding and logistical assets. There were reports that some individual police and judges lacked sensitivity when dealing with victims. The human rights ombudsman reported concerns about the lack of timely cooperation between police and prosecutors in some cases. The human rights ombudsman also reported that in one case a judge acquitted three alleged traffickers because the victims agreed to travel to another country to work and the judge did not take into account the victims’ subsequent exploitation. Guatemalan authorities held training sessions for the members of the dedicated anti-trafficking police unit, as well as for consular officers and other officials. With international organization support and foreign donor funding, the government trained 271 labor inspectors as well as migration and police officials on forced labor and sex trafficking. Prosecutors cooperated with their counterparts in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Colombia on possible sex trafficking investigations.
The attorney general’s office continued to investigate reports of officials involved in human trafficking, but authorities did not prosecute or convict any public officials for alleged complicity in human trafficking. Four criminal investigations into government officials complicit in trafficking in persons remained ongoing during the year. NGOs specifically praised judicial independence in one high-profile case involving the son of a late Supreme Court justice who was implicated as a client of a child sex trafficking ring.
During the year, authorities identified a significantly increased number of victims than during the previous year and strengthened funding for victim services, though most adult victims did not use specialized services offered. Authorities maintained standard operating procedures on how to identify sex trafficking victims and, during the year, officials issued and implemented a protocol to identify potential sex and labor trafficking victims during labor inspections. While authorities reported identifying 570 potential trafficking victims, they did not report how many were exploited in sex or labor trafficking or how many were victims of illegal adoption. Of these victims, 401 were female, 125 were male, and 44 were either transgender or their gender was not recorded, while 411 were adults and 159 were children. The government identified 273 adult women, 128 girls, and 105 adult men, 20 boys, and 44 individuals whose age or gender was not recorded.
Judges referred all child victims to NGO and government-run shelters and demand remained high for specialized services for child victims, particularly at NGO-run shelters. The human rights ombudsman reported that 69 percent of the potential victims identified did not receive shelter or specialized assistance, though authorities reported offering services to all victims. Out of 378 adult victims identified by authorities, only nine elected to and received services offered. The human rights ombudsman cited staffing shortages in the solicitor general’s office as a potential cause of delays of five to eight days in the provision of assistance to victims in areas outside of the capital. Authorities employed a rapid response model for cases of trafficking in persons which defines steps for government agencies to identify, protect, and provide integrated assistance to victims.
One NGO shelter provided specialized services to 66 child sex trafficking victims. The government provided this NGO with total funding equivalent of approximately $452,000 during the year, which represents a significant increase in funding from the previous year. Other NGOs also provided victims with assistance, including one NGO that received government funding and assisted two labor trafficking victims and three sex trafficking victims, and another which assisted eight sex trafficking victims. The government shelter complex for vulnerable children housed 64 victims of commercial sexual exploitation and 16 labor trafficking victims in 2013. This shelter lacked the specialized services provided by NGO-run shelters, and limited screening mechanisms meant that some child victims of trafficking were not identified as such. During the year, only nine adult victims—including two foreign victims— stayed in the government-operated dedicated trafficking shelter for adults, which had the capacity to care for 20 victims at a time. Authorities also housed 28 indigenous girl victims of labor trafficking at this shelter in 2013 when it was vacant. The human rights ombudsman reported that the shelter staff’s lack of translators for nearly two dozen indigenous languages, including these victims’ indigenous language, made communication difficult. NGO shelter operators expressed concern for safety of victims upon being discharged from shelters. They also cited insufficient ongoing case management and reintegration services in government shelters, and the human rights ombudsman reported that victims leaving government shelters were vulnerable to being exploited again by their traffickers. The SVET acquired three buildings to be used as new dedicated shelters for trafficking victims, and authorities seek to make these shelters operational in 2014. Victim assistance guidelines designed to allow child trafficking victims to be transferred into these forthcoming facilities were drafted during the year, but were not promulgated.
Guatemalan authorities encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, and an unspecified number did so during the year, in large part due to legal and psychological support from NGOs. Other victims did not file complaints due to a variety of factors. There were no reports that identified victims were detained, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. Guatemalan law provided legal alternatives to removal of foreign victims who may face hardship or retribution upon repatriation, but all known foreign victims opted for repatriation. The Guatemalan government collaborated with the Government of Mexico to facilitate the return of five female Guatemalan trafficking victims.
The Government of Guatemala significantly increased prevention efforts. SVET, which reports directly to the vice president, was responsible for coordinating government efforts against human trafficking as well as gender-based violence. SVET received the equivalent of approximately $1 million in funding in 2013, a significant increase from 2012 when it received the equivalent of approximately $640,000. SVET oversaw the interagency anti-trafficking commission, which met on a monthly basis and included civil society organizations. The commission drafted a new anti-trafficking action plan and public policy in 2013, although these remained unpublished pending final approvals. Authorities reported operating local-level interagency commissions against human trafficking and sexual violence in 10 of the country’s 22 departments in 2013, and SVET worked with these commissions to develop local plans of action. SVET conducted a variety of public awareness activities, some in partnership with civil society organizations and other governments in the region, including hosting a regional anti-trafficking conference in February 2014. The Ministry of Education and SVET conducted an awareness campaign about trafficking, sexual violence, and related crimes in public schools, reportedly reaching almost 60,000 individuals. The government partnered with civil society organizations and the tourism sector to launch a code of conduct against child sexual exploitation within the tourism industry, encouraging signatories to report potential child sex tourism to authorities. In an effort to reduce the demand for commercial sex, authorities continued to prosecute and convict individuals for paying children for commercial sex. Despite a known child sex tourism problem, as in previous years, there were no reported prosecutions or convictions of child sex tourists. In partnership with an international organization and with some foreign government funding, the government strengthened training and guidelines for labor inspectors to increase their ability to identify victims of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor, though inspectors continued to face challenges in inspecting certain agricultural plantations, including those producing palm oil. Authorities provided training on human trafficking to Guatemalan troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.