The Government of Belize does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; therefore, Belize remained on Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking, including the identification of two trafficking victims; and the investigations of 10 trafficking cases and two continued prosecutions initiated in a previous year. However, the government did not begin any new prosecutions or convict any traffickers. The government did not investigate or prosecute any public officials for alleged complicity in human trafficking-related offenses, despite reports of a significant level of official complicity. Despite the government’s raids on commercial sex establishments, few trafficking crimes were uncovered due to limited intelligence-gathering, inconsistent application of formal victim identification procedures, and suspected complicity among some law enforcement officials.
Consistently implement formal procedures to identify and refer to care victims of sex and labor trafficking among vulnerable groups, and involve Spanish-speaking social workers, NGOs, or victim advocates in the process to ensure trafficking victims are not penalized for crimes committed as a direct result of trafficking; implement victim-centered procedures during raids, including conducting interviews in a safe and neutral location and separately from immigration inquiries; implement the anti-trafficking law by vigorously investigating and prosecuting suspected sex and labor traffickers, including complicit officials, and imposing adequate penalties on convicted traffickers; consider implementing measures to expedite trafficking prosecutions; continue to provide specialized victim care, in partnership with NGOs, and increase efforts to reintegrate victims; update and implement the national anti-trafficking plan; investigate and prosecute child sex tourists; amend laws to ensure penalties are commensurate with those prescribed for rape or kidnapping; and develop and implement a targeted campaign to raise awareness among clients of Belize’s legal sex trade about the links between prostitution and trafficking.
The government maintained minimal anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Act 2013 prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties of one to eight years imprisonment for the trafficking of adults and up to 12 years imprisonment for the trafficking of children or a fine in lieu of imprisonment. When allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, the prescribed punishment is not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. The 2013 Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (Prohibition) Act criminalizes the facilitation of prostitution of children younger than 18. This law, however, does not prohibit adults from engaging in sexual activity with 16- and 17-year-old children in exchange for remuneration, gifts, goods, food, or other benefits if there is no third party involved—leaving children of this age group vulnerable to sex trafficking.
The government reportedly investigated 10 trafficking cases compared to seven in 2015, but for the second consecutive year did not initiate any new prosecutions. Authorities continued two prosecutions from 2015. The government did not convict any traffickers in the reporting period. Observers reported that a lack of communication and coordination between law enforcement and prosecutors hindered law enforcement efforts. The government did not provide detailed information on the pending investigations or prosecutions.
The government’s enforcement activity against suspected trafficking consisted of referrals from other government agencies and NGOs as well as raids on venues in Belize’s sex trade. Few trafficking crimes were uncovered during these raids due to limited intelligence-gathering, inconsistent application of formal victim identification procedures, and suspected complicity among some law enforcement officials. Many off-duty police officers provided security for sex trade establishments, which may have inhibited police from investigating allegations of trafficking in the sex trade and may have dissuaded victims from reporting trafficking. The government did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any officials for complicity in trafficking crimes despite reports of complicity. The government provided anti-trafficking training to new law enforcement officers, and prosecutors attended workshops financed and delivered by an international organization.
The government decreased efforts to protect trafficking victims. Authorities identified two victims in 2016 compared to seven sex trafficking victims in 2015 and 10 victims in 2014. The government identified 10 additional potential child sex trafficking victims, who were offered protection services. Although the government had formal written procedures to guide officials in identifying victims, in practice, officials did not consistently follow these procedures. The government did not report screening for indicators of trafficking of women and girls apprehended in raids on commercial sex establishments. There were anecdotal reports of women and girls, potentially including trafficking victims, arrested, jailed, or deported for immigration violations following raids. Victims’ fear of detention or deportation may have contributed to their reluctance to report trafficking to law enforcement officers. The government partnered with NGOs and international organizations to provide training to teachers, national utility workers, social security board inspectors, and private employers in the tourism sector on human trafficking, victim identification, and reporting.
Identified victims could be referred to the Department of Human Services, although officials made decisions for protection on a case-by-case basis. In past years, adult victims were typically referred to an NGO shelter, while children were placed in foster homes. Experts questioned the appropriateness of placing victims in foster homes because of a lack of education about human trafficking for some foster parents, uneven coordination and communication between government agencies and foster parents, and limited availability of psycho-social care for victims. NGOs were the main providers of limited medical care and psychological counseling for victims. The government encouraged victims to assist in investigations by providing witness protection and coordinating lodging; court delays and fear of retaliation by traffickers may have led foreign national victims to decline or withdraw cooperation with law enforcement and return to their home countries. The government had a policy to grant temporary residency status to victims willing to cooperate in investigations or prosecutions, seven potential trafficking victims received this benefit in 2016; one foreign victim identified in 2014 remained in the country and participated in a prosecution. Victims could apply for work permits, but the cost of 500 Belizean dollars ($250) to obtain such permits imposed a significant barrier. Belize’s anti-trafficking law exempts victims from punishment for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking; however, NGOs reported that victims not formally identified by the government were commonly arrested, jailed, and deported.
The government maintained minimal prevention efforts. Its anti-trafficking council met quarterly and reportedly began work on a new national action plan; the 2012-2014 anti-trafficking national strategic plan remained largely unimplemented. The government, in partnership with an NGO, expanded its awareness campaign through television, posters, and billboards in English, Spanish, and Mandarin. Authorities continued to disseminate public service announcements on child sexual exploitation and the links between tourism and the demand for commercial sex, but did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any child sex tourists. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.
Belize is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. The UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons reported family members facilitate the sex trafficking of Belizean women and girls. In tourist regions, foreign child sex tourists, primarily from the United States, exploit child sex trafficking victims. Sex trafficking and forced labor of Belizean and foreign women and girls, primarily from Central America, occur in bars, nightclubs, brothels, and domestic service. LGBTI men, women, and children are vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. Foreign men, women, and children—particularly from Central America, Mexico, and Asia—migrate voluntarily to Belize in search of work and are often exploited by traffickers who recruit victims using false promises of relatively high-paying jobs. Some migrants are subjected to forced labor in restaurants, shops, agriculture, and fishing or to sex trafficking. Trafficking-related complicity by government officials remains a problem.