The government maintained efforts to protect victims. Authorities identified 17 potential victims in 2017—14 foreign nationals and three Belizeans; six adult females, two adult males, and nine minor females—compared to 12 potential victims in 2016. Although the government reported law enforcement, immigration officials, and social service providers used formal written procedures to identify victims, officials did not consistently follow these procedures in practice. Belize’s anti-trafficking law exempted victims from punishment for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking; however, victims identified in raids of commercial sex establishments were arrested, jailed, or deported for immigration violations or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking. Social service providers were not routinely present to screen, identify, and assist victims during law enforcement operations and raids on commercial sex establishments. The government said it screened 156 individuals for trafficking indicators during immigration operations with social workers ready to assist potential victims. Victims’ fear of detention or deportation may have contributed to their reluctance to report trafficking to law enforcement officers. The government provided training to immigration officials, law enforcement, and social workers on victim identification and referral.
The government reported the Department of Human Services coordinated and funded shelter, medical, and psychological services to adult victims and potential victims during pending criminal proceedings generally provided by private parties, while children were placed in foster homes. Experts noted deficiencies in the foster care system, to include 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. However, the government said the support offered by foster families led to a successful conviction in 2016 and empowered victims. The government provided 200,000 Belizean dollars ($100,000) to the Ministry of Human Development for the human trafficking response, which included funding for victim services, public awareness-raising, and the national anti-trafficking council. The government encouraged victims to assist in investigations by providing witness protection, confidentiality, and coordinating lodging and services. 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. While the government had a policy to grant temporary residency status to foreign national victims willing to cooperate in investigations or prosecutions, it did not provide any victims this benefit in 2017, and anecdotal evidence suggested victims were often deported. Victims could apply for work permits free of cost, but the government did not grant any such permits in 2017.