The government significantly decreased efforts to identify and protect victims. The government and NGOs identified 484 trafficking victims in 2016, a significant decrease from 673 victims in 2015, and reported data did not specify the types of trafficking involved in those cases. Of the 484 victims identified, at least 395 were women and girls, compared with a total of 456 in 2015; and 89 victims of trafficking were men and boys, a decrease from 174 in 2015. The Secretariat against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons (SVET) revised and implemented the inter-institutional protocol for the protection and attention to victims of human trafficking (the protocol) in 2016 and published a compendium of resources to assist law enforcement agencies, judges, and social workers in identifying victims of trafficking, and included check-lists, contact information and resource guides. While some government officials continued to implement a protocol to identify potential forced labor victims during labor inspections, NGOs expressed concern the labor ministry did not proactively look for indicators of forced labor, including in the agricultural sector where workers are particularly vulnerable to forced labor. The government did not report how many children were identified and removed from forced child labor in 2016 compared with at least 135 children removed from forced child labor in 2015.
Guatemalan law requires judges make all referrals to public or private shelters. In 2016, judges referred 256 victims to shelters, a slight increase from 249 referrals in 2015 but less than half of all victims identified. Judges at times referred child victims to their families, leaving some vulnerable to re-trafficking, as family members often were involved in their exploitation. Repatriated victims could be referred to services, but authorities typically did not screen for indicators of trafficking among the large numbers of Guatemalans returned from abroad, including unaccompanied migrant children. The government continued funding three government shelters, as well as NGOs that provided specialized services, mostly for child trafficking victims. The three government-run shelters housed 77 trafficking victims (74 minors and three adults) in 2016, compared to 153 in 2015. While SVET shelters were widely recognized among experts in civil society as superior to the government-run options that existed previously, the quality and availability of specialized victim services remained uneven due to a lack of services for adult and male victims. SVET made several improvements in its shelters in 2016, including adding a computer lab for residents’ use; increasing job training opportunities for victims; and implementing a “single-file” system which provided comprehensive tracking for each victim’s case information, needs, and services. Secretariat of Social Welfare shelters provided basic services, including food and housing, and more advanced services, such as healthcare, vocational education, and therapy.
In March 2017, at least 41 girls died and more were injured when a fire broke out in an overcrowded government-managed shelter for children. A court had previously ordered authorities to improve conditions at the shelter, which housed more than 700 children, including trafficking victims, despite having a capacity of 400 residents; and faced accusations of maltreatment, including lack of adequate clothing, abuse by staff, and lack of adequate food for the children in its care. Residents set fire to mattresses to protest living conditions and physical and sexual abuse and some were unable to escape because they were held under lock and key. During the aftermath of the fire, one re-housed resident of a SVET shelter for victims of sexual abuse and trafficking disappeared, and in publicizing that disappearance, the government mistakenly revealed the confidential location of a secure shelter, risking the safety of all residents of the shelter. NGOs, international organizations, and the UN reported assisting in efforts to rehouse children, recommended the government redirect the budget for this shelter to other government agencies and NGOs caring for the children, and called for investigations into the shelter’s management, which faced allegations of corruption and neglect. The families of the deceased planned to file a suit against the government for their losses. Guatemala’s president called for a restructuring of the country’s shelter system. Three government officials face charges of abuse of power, noncompliance with their duties, and maltreatment of minors.
The former government-run shelter for women closed in December 2015; the government planned to cut funding for 2017 to the only trafficking-specific NGO-run shelter for adult women and two non-trafficking specific NGO-run shelters that did not provide comprehensive services for victims. The human rights ombudsman responded by putting the shelter under a management plan and transferring children to small shelters. NGO shelter operators expressed concern for victims’ safety upon being discharged from shelters. They cited insufficient ongoing case management and reintegration services in government shelters, leaving some victims vulnerable to re-victimization or retaliation from traffickers—particularly those whose cases involved organized crime groups or public officials. The government ran 15 centers in the country’s interior, which provided non-residential reintegration assistance to child trafficking victims and families but not specialized services. The government had no specialized shelters for male victims.
Authorities encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers and made options available for private testimony; 161 crime victims, including some victims of trafficking, received such legal and psychological support from NGOs and the public ministry in 2016 compared to an unspecified number in 2015. Victims residing in government facilities did not receive adequate legal support or witness protection. Prosecutors cited the lack of appropriate protection options for adult victims as an impediment to pursuing prosecutions in cases involving adults. Judges may order restitution when sentencing traffickers, and victims also had the right to file civil claims for compensatory damages and harm suffered as a result of being subjected to trafficking; seven victims received restitution in 2016 compared to none in 2015 and 10 in 2014. There were no reports that the government detained, fined, or otherwise penalized identified victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. The government, however, did not recognize children forced to engage in criminal activity as trafficking victims; officials acknowledged some of these victims may have been prosecuted or otherwise treated as criminals. Guatemalan law provided legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims who may face hardship or retribution upon return to their home countries, but all known foreign victims opted for repatriation. Foreign victims had the same access to care as domestic trafficking victims. The government repatriated six Guatemalan trafficking victims identified in other countries.