GUATEMALA: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Guatemala does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated significant efforts during the reporting period by re-launching the Inter-Institutional Committee Against Trafficking, developing a work plan, implementing revised inter-institutional protocols for victim protection, increasing the number of prosecutors in its anti-trafficking unit, and expanding outreach to indigenous persons. The government also convicted a former government official. However, the government did not demonstrate increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. The government prosecuted and convicted significantly fewer defendants; identified fewer trafficking victims in 2016 and referred fewer than half of identified victims to shelters. At least 41 children died and more were injured when a fire broke out in a government-managed shelter already facing accusations of abuse and neglect for failing to properly provide for more than 700 children, including trafficking victims. The quality and availability of specialized victim services remained uneven due to a lack of services for adult and male victims. The number of department-level anti-trafficking committees, which identified trafficking cases and conducted prevention activities, significantly declined. Therefore, Guatemala was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.

Review shelter standards and operations in shelters providing for child trafficking victims nationwide and address overcrowding, abuse, and neglect; improve access to and quality of specialized services for all victims, including for male victims; increase efforts to hold government officials criminally accountable for complicity in trafficking; increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict child sex tourists and others engaged in sex trafficking of children; strengthen implementation of the inter-institutional protocol for the protection and attention to victims of human trafficking; amend legislation to permit adults access to open shelters and enhance comprehensive services and witness protection; investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, with increased focus on suspected cases of forced labor and domestic servitude; increase training for judges, who under Guatemalan law have the sole responsibility to refer victims to care, and ensure all victims are referred to appropriate care facilities; as part of developing a cadre of specialized prosecutors and judges outside of the capital, increase training to law enforcement and criminal justice officials so that forced labor and sex trafficking cases are investigated and prosecuted as trafficking according to the international definition of trafficking; provide reintegration and witness protection support to victims; allocate and disburse funding for specialized victim services, including those administered by NGOs; sustain efforts to identify trafficking victims, particularly among vulnerable populations, such as working children, returning migrants, individuals in the sex trade, and children apprehended for illicit gang-related activities; and target prevention activities toward the most vulnerable populations, including indigenous communities.

The government decreased law enforcement efforts to prosecute and convict sex and labor traffickers. The anti-trafficking law of 2009 prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties from eight to 18 years imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, in contrast to the international definition, the law establishes the use of force, fraud, and coercion 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 initiated investigations of 243 complaints of trafficking-related offenses in 2016, compared with 280 investigations in 2015, and prosecuted 43 defendants in 39 separate trafficking-related cases, compared with 105 defendants in 28 separate cases in 2015. These cases included suspects prosecuted for trafficking, including individuals who solicited or patronized a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, as well as illegal adoption. Authorities secured 13 convictions in 2016, compared with 39 in 2015, with sentences ranging from eight to 24 years imprisonment. The government convicted a former government official of sex trafficking and sexual abuse of a child and imposed a sentence of 22 years imprisonment and sentenced the child’s mother to 24 years imprisonment for human trafficking and crimes against a minor.

Anti-trafficking police and prosecutors’ capacity to conduct investigations outside of the capital, while improved, continued to be limited by inadequate funding and training; however, the government designated additional funds for 2017 to open prosecution branches in Quetzaltenango, Puerto Barrios, and Flores. Specialized courts, including a specialized 24-hour court in Guatemala City, continued to hear trafficking and gender-based violence cases. Some judges, especially in the interior, lacked adequate training to apply forensic evidence in prosecutions. Officials did not identify any cases of forced criminal activity. Guatemalan officials trained 100 prosecutors and paralegals on trafficking indicators and identifying trafficking victims, among other topics. Guatemalan authorities also held training sessions for labor inspectors, and businesses to enhance identification and prosecution efforts.

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.

The government slightly increased its prevention efforts. SVET continued to oversee the interagency anti-trafficking commission and coordinate government efforts against trafficking and gender-based violence. Officials oversaw 11 departmental networks in the interior of the country, down from 23 in 2015, which identified trafficking cases and conducted prevention activities; network activities decreased from 2015 due to political instability. The government conducted a wide range of initiatives to educate potential victims, the public, government officials, and tourists about the dangers, causes, and consequences of trafficking, including by launching the “Blue Heart” campaign, the first Central American country to do so. Authorities ran prevention campaigns on trafficking awareness and sex tourism targeting students, visitors to hospitals, activists, airport security officials, tourist police, and businesses. As part of the code of conduct for the prevention of child sex tourism, SVET provided training to 32 businesses across the country, reaching a total of 2,195 individuals. The government did not make discernible efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts nor investigate suspected sex tourists who purchased commercial sex with children. The government worked with NGOs and international partners to launch a campaign to prevent fraudulent recruitment of migrant workers and worked with the private sector to promote policies to exclude products made with forced labor in efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor. The government provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomats and to Guatemalan troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.

Guatemala is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Guatemalan women, girls, and boys are exploited in sex trafficking within the country and in Mexico, the United States, Belize, and other foreign countries. Commercial sexual exploitation of Guatemalan children by foreign tourists from Canada, the United States, and Western Europe, and by Guatemalan residents persists. Women and children from other Latin American countries and the United States are exploited in sex trafficking in Guatemala. Government studies of past cases suggest women recruited victims while men ran criminal organizations. Guatemalan men, women, and children are subjected to forced labor within the country, often in agriculture or domestic service, and in the garment industry, small businesses, and similar sectors in Mexico, the United States, and other countries. Domestic servitude in Guatemala sometimes occurs through forced marriages. Indigenous Guatemalans are particularly vulnerable to labor trafficking. Guatemalan children are exploited in forced labor in begging and street vending, particularly within Guatemala City and along the border with Mexico. Child victims’ family members often facilitate their exploitation. Criminal organizations, including gangs, exploit girls in sex trafficking and coerce young males in urban areas to sell or transport drugs or commit extortion. Some Latin American migrants transiting Guatemala en route to Mexico and the United States are subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor in Mexico, the United States, or Guatemala. Police, military, and elected officials have been placed under investigation for paying children for sex acts, facilitating child sex trafficking, or protecting venues where trafficking occurs.

U.S. Department of State

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