HONDURAS: Tier 2
Honduras is principally a source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor; to a much lesser extent, it is a destination for women and girls from neighboring countries subjected to sex trafficking. Honduran women and children are exploited in sex trafficking within the country and in other countries in the region, particularly Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, and the United States. LGBTI Hondurans are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking. Honduran men, women, and children are subjected to forced labor in agriculture, street vending, domestic service, and the informal sector in Honduras, and forced labor in other countries, particularly in Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States. Children from indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, particularly Miskito boys, are vulnerable to forced labor, including on fishing vessels; children living on the streets are vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. NGOs and the media report that criminal organizations, including gangs, exploit girls in sex trafficking, force children into street begging, and coerce and threaten young males in urban areas to transport drugs, commit extortion, or commit acts of violence, including murder; this occurs primarily in urban areas, but one NGO reported an increase in gang activity in rural areas. During the year, there were continued reports of children being subjected to sex trafficking on the streets of large cities, particularly the economic center of San Pedro Sula, under the guise of street begging or vending. Honduras is a destination for child sex tourists from Canada and the United States. Some Honduran migrants to the United States are subjected to forced labor, forced criminal activity, or sex trafficking en route or upon arrival. Latin American migrants transit Honduras en route to northern Central America and North America, where some are exploited in sex trafficking and forced labor. During the year, there were reports of child sex trafficking victims being brought into prisons and exploited by prisoners, raising concerns over the potential complicity of prison authorities. Overall corruption remained a challenge for law enforcement efforts. Prosecutors reported some local police provided protection to brothel owners or tipped them off about impending raids, and security officials have been involved in child sex trafficking.
The Government of Honduras does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Authorities prosecuted and convicted more sex traffickers, but there were no investigations or prosecutions for suspected cases of forced labor or the recruitment of children for forced criminal activity. For the second year, the government provided a budget to its interagency, multi-stakeholder commission on child trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation (CICESCT), and it developed a national action plan for 2016-2020. The government’s “immediate response team” strengthened referral to services for female child sex trafficking victims, but services for other populations remained limited and there were reports that the government re-victimized adult victims by ordering restrictions on their communication and movement while compelled to reside in an NGO shelter. The government did not develop guidelines to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations. Authorities demonstrated progress in addressing trafficking-related complicity by convicting one police officer and one military official for purchasing sex acts from child trafficking victims.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HONDURAS:
Increase efforts to prosecute trafficking offenses and to convict and sentence traffickers, including for crimes involving forced labor, sex trafficking of adults, and forced criminal activity of children; develop and implement formal procedures to identify victims among vulnerable populations and refer them to service providers; increase the identification and assistance of adult victims, forced labor victims, and children forced to commit crimes, including among repatriated Hondurans; continue to strengthen victim referral mechanisms and provide specialized services and shelter to all victims, including through increased funding to government entities or civil society organizations; ensure adult victims are not detained in shelter facilities against their will; develop policies and train officials to protect both child and adult victims from re-victimization in the criminal justice system; sustain efforts to prosecute and convict public officials for complicity in trafficking offenses; enforce laws punishing brokers for illegal practices that facilitate trafficking, such as fraudulent offers of employment or illegal fees for migration or job placement; increase training and resources for the dedicated anti-trafficking police and prosecutorial units, as well as staff on the “immediate response” team; amend the anti-trafficking law to include a definition of human trafficking consistent with international law; and implement the national action plan for 2016-2020.
The government continued law enforcement efforts to combat child sex trafficking and made progress in holding complicit officials accountable, but efforts to investigate and prosecute other forms of trafficking were negligible. The 2012 Honduran anti-trafficking law prohibits all forms of trafficking, prescribing penalties ranging from 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law is inconsistent with international law in that it conflates human trafficking with other crimes, such as illegal adoption, and establishes the use of force, deceit, or intimidation as an aggravating factor, rather than an essential element, of most trafficking crimes. Civil society organizations reported concerns that traffickers were often prosecuted for lesser crimes with lower penalties, such as pimping. Authorities reported investigating 18 cases of suspected trafficking and initiating prosecution of 24 suspects in nine cases for sex trafficking. It convicted 13 traffickers in 10 cases—some of which had been opened in previous years; this is an increase from four prosecutions and no convictions in the previous reporting period. Convicted offenders received sentences ranging from 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment. One convicted trafficker is believed to have been the leader of a sex trafficking ring that catered to “clients” in the police and military, who also provided the criminal operation with protection against investigation. In the same case, two public officials—one police officer and one army lieutenant colonel—were convicted for purchasing commercial sex acts from trafficking victims and sentenced to five years and four years and six months in prison, respectively. These convictions demonstrated progress in addressing impunity for trafficking-related complicity. Despite evidence of force or coercion used by gangs to compel children and adults to engage in illicit activities, authorities did not investigate or prosecute any such crimes as human trafficking. Furthermore, the government did not investigate or prosecute any suspected cases of forced labor. A lack of adequate human and material resources limited the effectiveness of investigators and prosecutors, and funding was insufficient to address the magnitude of the problem. Authorities cooperated on trafficking investigations with officials from INTERPOL, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and the United States. NGOs funded by international donors continued to deliver most of the anti-trafficking training available to government officials, often with support from the government’s anti-trafficking commission.
Overall government efforts to identify, refer, and assist trafficking victims remained inadequate and authorities remained largely dependent on NGOs to fund and provide services. While immigration officials, border police, and the CICESCT “immediate response team” had victim identification tools, Honduran authorities lacked systematic procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as people in prostitution or working children. The immediate response team, which included a full-time coordinator and a trained psychologist, worked with government ministries and civil society organizations to coordinate immediate victims’ services—including food, shelter, and health screenings—as well as referrals to longer-term support services. This team provided support to 28 sex trafficking victims, including 14 women and 14 girls; three victims were Nicaraguan and one was Salvadoran, while the others were Honduran. The government did not identify any forced labor victims, male victims, or LGBTI victims in Honduras. It is unknown how many victims NGOs identified and assisted in 2015. The foreign ministry assisted 31 victims of sex and labor trafficking through Honduran missions in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico; these included three men and three girls, while the age and gender of the others was not specified. Only one of these victims was referred to the immediate response team for assistance. Of the 59 victims identified within the country and abroad, 41 were reunited with their families and received limited long-term support, four were housed in shelters, three foreign victims were repatriated to their home countries, and 11 Honduran victims remained in other countries. Honduran consular officers in Mexico helped 10 Honduran victims obtain humanitarian visas to remain in Mexico. The immediate response team operated a dedicated helpline for responding to cases of trafficking and staff of the government’s new 911 system received training on how to manage trafficking cases.
There were limited services available for victims, and services for adults or children identified outside the capital were particularly lacking. Civil society organizations continued to fund and provide the majority of services for victims. During the year, the government created a new mechanism to provide trafficking victims greater access to existing social services, though the impact of this initiative was not clear. The government continued to provide a small grant of 371,460 lempiras ($17,000) to an NGO that operated the country’s only specialized shelter for girl victims of sexual abuse and sex trafficking. Adult victims were typically placed in shelters for victims of various forms of abuse that had neither the capacity nor the specialized resources to provide appropriate care for these victims. There were reports during the year that government officials ordered restrictions on the communication and movement of adult victims housed in NGO shelters. There were few long-term support or reintegration services available for victims, leaving them vulnerable to re-trafficking. Authorities made efforts to screen for indicators of trafficking among the large numbers of Hondurans returned from abroad, including unaccompanied migrant children, but procedures for referral to follow-up services were insufficient to ensure that all identified victims received such care. The government encouraged victims to assist in investigations and prosecutions, but the lack of adequate victim and witness protection programs, exacerbated by a slow trial process and the fear of retaliation by traffickers, caused many victims—particularly adults or those victimized by criminal groups—to decline to cooperate. There were no reports of identified victims being penalized for unlawful acts committed as a result of being subjected to human trafficking. However, due to the lack of a formal mechanism to screen vulnerable populations, some unidentified victims may have been punished for such crimes. Officials acknowledged that children forced to engage in criminal activities by criminal groups were not properly identified and thus treated as criminals instead of victims. NGOs noted that the criminal justice system often re-victimized both child and adult victims due to the lack of sensitivity of some officials, lack of protective services, and restriction on movement imposed on adult victims. The government enabled some child victims to provide testimony via videoconference or pre-recorded interviews, but the necessary equipment was not always operational. Honduran law allows foreign victims to receive temporary and permanent residency status, including the ability to work; one victim remained in the country in 2015 and applied for long-term residency and a work permit with assistance from the government.
The government sustained its strengthened prevention efforts. The interagency commission on child trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, which included civil society, coordinated the government’s efforts; although overall funding remained insufficient, the government distributed 2,354,173 lempiras ($107,000) and provided office space for the commission. The commission increased the number of interagency committees to coordinate efforts at the local level to 19, up from 10 in 2014. With both government and donor funding, authorities organized and participated in activities to raise awareness about the dangers of trafficking, including through television and the distribution of printed materials. The government provided training and materials to members of the local interagency committees and conducted awareness-raising sessions in schools and other public institutions. The interagency, multi-stakeholder commission conducted a series of stakeholder meetings in early 2016 and drafted a 2016-2022 national action plan to guide the government’s anti-trafficking activities, but the plan had not been adopted by the close of the reporting period. The government did not make efforts to punish labor recruiters for illegal practices that increase migrants’ vulnerability to exploitation abroad, though in September 2015 it published an official decree requiring job placement companies to charge fees to employers and not employees. The government convicted three individuals, including two public officials, for purchasing sex acts from trafficking victims. Authorities conducted campaigns to raise awareness of child sex tourism among members of the tourist sector and local officials. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.