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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 developing its national anti-trafficking action plan for 2018-2022, prosecuting and convicting more traffickers, opening a new regional anti-trafficking unit, and publishing its victim protection protocol in several Mayan dialects. However, the government did not demonstrate increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. The government identified fewer trafficking victims for the second consecutive year; did not address underlying problems in the nation’s shelters providing for children, including trafficking victims; and specialized victim services remained inadequate given the scope of the problem and lack of services for adult victims. Corruption and complicity remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action. Therefore Guatemala remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR GUATEMALA

Review shelter standards and operations in shelters providing for child trafficking victims nationwide and address overcrowding, abuse, and neglect; investigate and hold government officials criminally accountable for complicity in trafficking; improve access to and quality of specialized services for adult victims; sustain efforts to identify trafficking victims, particularly among vulnerable populations, such as working children, returning migrants, individuals in prostitution, and children apprehended for illicit gang-related activities; fully implement the 2018-2022 national anti trafficking action plan; increase training for judges, who under Guatemalan law have the sole responsibility to refer victims to care, and ensure all victims are referred quickly to appropriate care facilities; investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, with increased focus on suspected cases of forced labor and domestic servitude; allocate and disburse funding for specialized victim services, including those administered by NGOs; increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict child sex tourists and others engaged in sex trafficking of children; 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; and target prevention activities toward the most vulnerable populations, including indigenous communities.

PROSECUTION

The government increased law enforcement efforts. The anti-trafficking law of 2009 criminalized sex and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties from eight to 18 years imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law did not consider the use of force, fraud, or coercion as an essential element of an adult trafficking offense. The law defined trafficking broadly to include labor exploitation and illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation.

The government initiated investigations of 254 complaints of trafficking-related offenses in 2017, compared to investigations of 243 complaints in 2016. In previous years, the government did not specify how many of the total offenses were specifically trafficking rather than related offenses; however, in 2017, the government reported 127 of these complaints were specifically trafficking in persons offenses. Authorities prosecuted 52 defendants for sex trafficking and forced labor compared to 43 defendants in 2016. Authorities secured 19 convictions, including for forced labor in 2017, compared to 13 convictions in 2016, with sentences ranging from eight to 15 years imprisonment. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses, despite significant concerns of official complicity and corruption. The government opened a 12-person regional anti-trafficking unit in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second largest city, which had jurisdiction over eight departments and 38 percent of the country’s population, including those closest to the Mexican border. Some judges, especially in the interior, lacked adequate training to apply forensic evidence in prosecutions, which led to cases tried as sexual assault rather than trafficking. Guatemalan officials trained police academy recruits, crime scene experts, prosecutors, and judges on trafficking indicators and processing trafficking cases.

PROTECTION

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.

PREVENTION

The government maintained prevention efforts. SVET served as the secretariat for the interagency anti-trafficking commission, coordinated government efforts against trafficking, and held 13 meetings attended by both government officials and NGOs. In 2017, SVET initiated 13 departmental networks, adding to the 11 existing networks, which identified trafficking cases and conducted prevention activities. The anti-trafficking commission, with technical assistance from international partners, developed and published its national anti-trafficking action plan for 2018-2022. The plan assigned specific goals and responsibilities to relevant government agencies. 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 partially funding the “Blue Heart” campaign for a second year. SVET also ran prevention campaigns on trafficking awareness and sex tourism targeting students, visitors to hospitals, activists, airport security officials, tourist police, businesses, tourism operators, and travelers. The government did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any suspected sex tourists who purchased commercial sex with children during the reporting period. The government developed draft regulations related to labor recruiting of Guatemalan workers. The government worked with NGOs and international partners to promote 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 demonstrated efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex. The government provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomats and to Guatemalan troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, Guatemala is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Guatemalan women, transgender persons, girls, and boys are exploited in sex trafficking within the country and in Mexico, the United States, Belize, and other foreign countries. Foreign child sex tourists, predominantly from Canada, the United States, and Western Europe, as well as Guatemalan men, patronize child sex trafficking victims for commercial sex acts. Women and children from other Latin American countries and the United States are exploited in sex trafficking in Guatemala. Guatemalan men, women, and children are exploited in forced labor within the country, often in agriculture or domestic service, and in the garment industry, and domestic service in Mexico, the United States, and other countries. Domestic servitude in Guatemala sometimes occurs through forced marriages. Indigenous Guatemalans, including children, are particularly vulnerable to and exploited in forced labor, including in tortilla making shops. Guatemalan children are exploited in forced begging and street vending, particularly within Guatemala City and along the border with Mexico. 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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