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 investigating and prosecuting more traffickers, including allegedly complicit officials, and convicting more traffickers; identifying, referring, and assisting more sex trafficking victims; and approving an increased 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. The government did not obtain convictions of complicit officials or child sex tourists. The government provided limited services to adult victims, and services for victims identified outside the capital were even more limited. Despite continued reports of criminal organizations, including gangs, exploiting children in forced criminality, the government initiated only two such prosecutions.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HONDURAS
Strengthen efforts to prosecute and convict public officials for complicity in trafficking offenses; 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 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 increased law enforcement efforts. The 2012 Honduran anti-trafficking law criminalized sex and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties ranging from 10 to 15 years imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law established the use of force, fraud, or coercion as aggravating factors, rather than essential elements of the crime. The law defined trafficking broadly to include exploitative labor conditions and illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation. 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 as essential elements of the crime; improving victim assistance by compensating victims; and providing additional financial, logistical, and technical resources for service provision; but these amendments have not yet passed into law.
The government reported investigating 121 cases of suspected trafficking in 2017, compared to at least 41 cases in 2016. Authorities initiated prosecutions of 84 suspects—82 for sex trafficking and two for forced labor—in 50 cases, compared to 41 suspects in 11 cases for sex trafficking in 2016. The government convicted eight traffickers in seven sex trafficking cases in 2017, compared to nine traffickers in eight cases in 2016. In 2017, convicted offenders were fined and received sentences ranging from two years house arrest to 15 years imprisonment, compared to six to 15 years imprisonment in 2016. 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. The government investigated and prosecuted several current and a former government officials accused of sex trafficking in 2017. Prosecutors reported security officials have been involved in child sex trafficking. A lack of adequate resources limited the effectiveness of investigators and prosecutors. Authorities cooperated on trafficking investigations with officials from Belize to identify a sex trafficking network between the two countries and initiate prosecutions of four traffickers. The government held numerous training programs for police, investigators, prosecutors, judges, and other officials.
The government maintained 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 lawyer, psychologist, and social worker, worked with government ministries and civil society organizations to coordinate services for victims, including food, shelter, and health screenings, as well as referrals to longer-term support services, such as psychological, legal, and social services. The team operated a 24-hour trafficking-specific hotline, which received 45 calls in 2017 compared to more than 60 calls in 2016. The government identified 150 victims in 2017 (84 sex trafficking and 66 labor trafficking; 97 adults and 53 children), compared to 111 victims in 2016. It also provided immediate support to the 150 identified victims (all Honduran except one foreign national). The government also assisted 120 victims identified in previous years. The foreign ministry assisted and helped repatriate six Honduran nationals through its diplomatic missions in Argentina, France, Guatemala, and Mexico. Of the 150 victims identified within the country, 145 were reunited with their families and received limited long-term support and five remained housed in shelters. There were limited services available for adult victims, and services for both adults and children outside the capital were even more limited.
The government provided the CICESCT with a budget of 2.3 million lempiras ($96,550) for 2017, and other government agencies also provided funds from their budgets for victim assistance. International donors and NGOs continued to fund and provide services for victims. The government contracted with shelters with specialized sex trafficking expertise to provide services to identified victims. In 2017, CICESCT provided funding to a shelter for adults, with specialized training for supporting trafficking victims. Adult victims were typically placed in shelters for victims of various forms of abuse. There were increased, but still limited, long-term support and reintegration services for victims, including legal, psychological, and social support. Many victims 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 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 exploited by criminal groups—to decline to cooperate with law enforcement. Officials acknowledged 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. The government enabled victims to provide testimony via pre-recorded interviews in Gesell chambers and increased the number of such chambers from eight to 10 in 2017. Honduran law allowed foreign victims to receive temporary or permanent residency status, including authorization to work; the government did not report any victims received such benefits in 2017.
The government maintained its prevention efforts. The CICESCT promoted, monitored, and evaluated the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, producing an annual report documenting these efforts. The CICESCT consisted of 31 governmental and non-governmental entities, which met monthly in 2017. The CICESCT established two new local interagency anti-trafficking committees for a total of 21 such committees with which it coordinated. The government began to implement the 2016-2022 national anti-trafficking action plan. With government and donor funding, authorities organized and participated in activities to raise awareness among vulnerable populations, including through television, radio, and printed materials. Various government agencies financed or participated in the provision of training to a wide range of participants, including psychologists, social workers, doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers and reporters. Members of local interagency committees provided training to NGOs and local government officials on trafficking indicators. The government worked with other governments in the region to strengthen collaboration and establish repatriation protocols. In 2017, the Ministry of Labor issued new guidelines to enforce the 2015 decree requiring job placement companies to charge fees to employers and not employees, certified four companies’ operating licenses, and cited two companies for not complying with the decree. 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 for the second consecutive year. The government registered 230 new companies in 2017 in its national tourism registry and added these same companies as signatories of 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 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. Latin American migrants transit Honduras en route to northern Central America and North America, where some are exploited for sex trafficking and forced labor. Authorities noted family members took children into prisons to be exploited in commercial sex by prisoners, raising concerns over the potential complicity of prison authorities. Overall corruption helped facilitate trafficking crimes.