The government decreased efforts to identify and protect victims. The government and NGOs identified 316 trafficking victims in 2017, a significant decrease compared to 484 in 2016 and 673 in 2015. Reported data did not specify the types of trafficking involved in those cases. Of the 316 trafficking victims identified, 292 were children and 24 were adults. The government made efforts to address child forced labor by conducting a simultaneous operation against 36 tortilla vendors and identified 22 possible child labor victims and arrested nine alleged traffickers. The Secretariat against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons (SVET) provided training, published in several Mayan dialects, and continued to implement the inter-institutional protocol for the protection and attention to victims of human trafficking, first published in 2016. While some government officials continued to implement another 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 were particularly vulnerable to forced labor.
Guatemalan law required judges make all referrals to public or private shelters. The attorney general published a new victim assistance protocol and victims’ bill of rights in 2017 with the goal of improved investigation and prosecution while maintaining victim services. In 2017, judges referred 210 victims to care facilities for assistance compared to 256 victims referred in 2016. In practice, judges did not make timely referrals, delaying access to needed assistance. Judges at times referred child victims to their families, leaving some vulnerable to re-trafficking, as family members often were involved in their exploitation. Authorities repatriated eight trafficking victims in coordination with foreign consular officials and in accordance with an established protocol. The government screened returning unaccompanied children for trafficking indicators using Secretariat of Social Welfare (SBS) protocols for the attention and reception of such children in two government shelters. The government provided 17.6 million quetzals ($2.4 million) in funding for three government shelters, as well as NGOs that provide specialized services, mostly for child trafficking victims. The three government run shelters housed 89 trafficking victims (80 girls, seven boys, and two women) in 2017, compared to 77 in 2016.
NGOs housed and provided services to 127 trafficking victims, including victims of sex trafficking and forced labor, adults and children, female and male victims. Observers reported NGOs provided the highest quality and most comprehensive care for child victims, including food, housing, medical and psycho-social services, education, and reintegration services. One NGO shelter provided services to adult female victims, but did not allow freedom of movement for such victims. SVET shelters also provided such services in cooperation with other government agencies and implemented improvements to provide vocational training leading to certifications in computer programming and cooking. SBS shelters provided basic services, including food and housing, and more advanced services, such as health care, vocational education, and therapy. The quality and availability of specialized victim services remained uneven due to a lack of services for adult and male victims. NGO shelter operators expressed concern for victims’ safety and vulnerability to re-trafficking upon being discharged from shelters. They cited insufficient ongoing case management and reintegration services in government shelters, leaving some victims vulnerable to re-trafficking or retaliation from traffickers—particularly those whose cases involved organized crime groups or public officials. The government prosecuted seven government officials for offenses including, but not limited to, abuse of power, neglect of their duties, and maltreatment of minors for the March 2017 fire in an overcrowded government-managed shelter, which resulted in the deaths of 41 girls and injuries to others. The shelter had previously faced allegations of corruption, sexual exploitation, and a UN investigation into the shelter’s management. Following the fire, Guatemala’s president called for a restructuring of the country’s shelter system, and in March 2018 the government published a new 2017-2032 action plan on the protection of children and adolescents, which includes an objective of protecting trafficking victims and children in state-run institutions.
Authorities encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers and made options available for private testimony. 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; the government did not report any victims who received restitution or a civil damages award, compared to seven victims who received restitution in 2016. The government 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 five Guatemalan trafficking victims identified in other countries.