HONDURAS: Tier 2
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. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Honduras remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by prosecuting a higher number of suspected traffickers; identifying, referring, and assisting more sex trafficking victims; approving a national action plan for 2016-2022; issuing implementing regulations for its trafficking law; and approving a budget for the Inter-institutional Commission to Combat Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking in Persons (CICESCT). However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. There were no prosecutions for the recruitment of children for forced criminal activity or of officials complicit in trafficking. There were limited services available for adult victims, and services for victims identified outside the capital were even more limited. The lack of witness protection programs discouraged victims from cooperating in the criminal justice process and left them vulnerable to re-trafficking.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HONDURAS
Increase efforts to prosecute trafficking offenses and to convict and sentence traffickers, particularly for crimes involving forced labor and forced criminal activity of children; increase efforts to prosecute and convict public officials for complicity in trafficking offenses; increase the identification and assistance of adult victims, forced labor victims, and children forced to commit crimes, including among repatriated Hondurans and other particularly vulnerable populations; strengthen existing or develop and implement new victim referral mechanisms and provide specialized services and shelter to all victims, including through increased government funding to civil society organizations; amend the anti-trafficking law to include a definition of human trafficking consistent with international law; implement the national action plan for 2016-2022; enforce laws punishing brokers for illegal practices that facilitate trafficking, such as fraudulent offers of employment or illegal fees for migration or job placement; and continue training and properly resourcing dedicated anti-trafficking police and prosecutorial units, as well as staff on the “immediate response” team.
The government maintained law enforcement efforts. 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. However, in contrast to the international definition, the law establishes the use of force, deceit, or intimidation as aggravating factors rather than essential elements of the crime and defines illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation as a form of human trafficking. The government published regulations implementing the law in January 2017, which provided guidance on how to properly enforce the mandates of the CICESCT. The CICESCT, with funding and assistance from a foreign government, evaluated the 2012 law and issued a number of recommendations, including amending the law to include the means of force, deceit, or intimidation as essential elements of the crime; improving victim assistance by compensating victims; and providing additional financial, logistical, and technical resources for service provision.
The government reported investigating at least 41 cases of suspected trafficking and initiating prosecution of 41 suspects in 11 cases for sex trafficking. It convicted nine traffickers in eight cases, including one case of forced labor, compared with initiating prosecution of 24 suspects in nine cases and 13 convictions in the previous reporting period. In 2016, convicted offenders were fined and received sentences ranging from six to 15 years imprisonment, compared to 10 to 15 years imprisonment in 2015. Civil society organizations reported concerns that traffickers were often prosecuted for lesser crimes with lower penalties, such as pimping. Widespread impunity for all crimes, including trafficking in persons and corruption, remained a challenge. While the government convicted two complicit officials in 2015, it did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses in 2016. Authorities investigated several cases in which a gang appeared to force victims to engage in criminal activity. In the one case brought to trial, authorities found enough evidence to bring charges for sex trafficking.
A lack of adequate human and material resources limited the effectiveness of investigators and prosecutors. Authorities cooperated on trafficking investigations with officials from Belize, Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, and the United States. The government, including the CICESCT, provided anti-trafficking training to local anti-trafficking committees; justice system, immigration, labor, and health officials; NGOs; and businesses. Police and prosecutors also received training on investigating and prosecuting organized crime, including trafficking in persons, from a foreign government. NGOs funded by international donors delivered anti-trafficking training to students, parents, teachers, church communities, women’s groups, journalists, and local officials, often with support from the government’s anti-trafficking commission.
The government increased efforts to identify, refer, and assist sex trafficking victims; however, authorities remained largely dependent on NGOs to fund and provide services. The CICESCT’s “immediate response team” used protocols for identifying and referring sex trafficking victims, but Honduran authorities lacked systematic procedures to identify forced labor victims. The immediate response team, which included a full-time coordinator and a trained psychologist, worked with government ministries and civil society organizations to coordinate services for immediate victims—including food, shelter, and health screenings—as well as referrals to longer-term support services. It operated a dedicated hotline for reporting cases of trafficking, which screened 80 individuals and responded to more than 60 calls. The government identified 111 victims, provided immediate support to 93 victims (including 73 Hondurans and 20 foreign nationals in Honduras and 18 Honduran victims in Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala), and provided longer-term support to 39 victims. Local anti-trafficking committees provided longer-term support to five victims, helping them to open small businesses. The government identified LGBTI victims in 2016. NGOs identified and assisted 40 victims in 2016. The government and NGOs assisted 48 victims identified in previous years. The foreign ministry assisted 18 Honduran nationals who were victims of sex and labor trafficking through its diplomatic missions in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico; these victims included two women and one child, while the age and gender of the others were not reported. Of the 111 victims identified within the country and 19 Honduran victims identified abroad, 94 were reunited with their families and received limited long-term support, 22 remained housed in shelters, one foreign victim was repatriated, and 13 Honduran victims remained in other countries. Honduran consular officers in Mexico helped 13 Honduran victims obtain humanitarian visas to remain in Mexico. The government provided repatriation assistance to five Honduran victims.
There were limited services available for adult victims, and services for both adults and children outside the capital were even more limited. International donors and NGOs continued to fund and provide the majority of services for victims. In 2015, the government created a new mechanism to provide trafficking victims greater access to existing social services, although the impact of this initiative was not yet clear. The government continued to provide a small grant of 371,460 lempiras ($15,870) 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; such shelters had neither the capacity nor the specialized resources to provide appropriate care for trafficking victims. There were increased, but still limited, long-term support and reintegration services for victims, most of whom remained 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. 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, led some 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, officials acknowledged that many children forced to engage in illegal activities by criminal groups were not properly identified, and thus may have been treated as criminals instead of victims. NGOs noted the criminal justice system sometimes re-victimized both child and adult victims due to a lack of sensitivity by some officials, a lack of protective services, and restrictions on movement imposed on adult victims. The government enabled some child victims to provide testimony via pre-recorded interviews, but the necessary equipment was not always operational. Honduran law allows foreign victims to receive temporary or permanent residency status, including authorization to work; the government did not report that any victims received such benefits in 2016.
The government maintained its prevention efforts. The government provided the CICESCT with a budget of 2.2 million lempiras ($96,140), but officials reported that these funds were insufficient for the CICESCT to fulfill its mandate. The CICESCT continued to work with a network of 19 local interagency anti-trafficking committees. With both government and donor funding, authorities organized and participated in activities to raise awareness about the dangers of trafficking, including through television, radio, and printed materials. The government provided training and materials to members of local interagency committees and conducted awareness-raising sessions at schools and other public institutions. CICESCT approved the 2016-2022 national action plan to guide the government’s anti-trafficking activities, which it drafted in consultation with stakeholders in early 2016. Although the government issued a decree in 2015 requiring job placement companies to charge fees to employers and not employees, it did not provide information on its efforts to enforce these requirements. Authorities conducted campaigns to raise awareness of child sex tourism among members of the tourism sector and local officials, but did not report convicting any individuals for purchasing sex acts from trafficking victims, compared to three convictions in 2015. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor, but did mandate that tourism-focused businesses sign a code of conduct to reduce trafficking and sanction businesses that facilitate exploitation. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.
As reported over the past five years, 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 street vending, domestic service, and the informal sector in their own country, and forced labor in other countries, particularly 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. Criminal organizations, including gangs, exploit girls for sex trafficking, force children into street begging, and coerce and threaten young males 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 subjected to sex trafficking on the streets of large cities, particularly the country’s economic capital 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 for sex trafficking and forced labor. During the year, there was one investigation by authorities into a report 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 that 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.