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.