The government increased protection efforts. The government identified 371 trafficking victims (308 female victims and 63 male victims) in 2018, compared with 316 in 2017, 484 in 2016, and 673 in 2015. Reported data did not specify the types of trafficking involved in those cases. The government made efforts to address child forced labor by conducting an operation in coordination with three municipalities against 82 tortilla vendors and convenience stores, which resulted in the identification of 47 possible child labor victims and arrest of 17 alleged traffickers. The interagency anti-trafficking commission initiated the development of a new victim identification guide and planned to finalize and disseminate it in 2019. Meanwhile, officials use the inter-institutional protocol for the protection and attention to victims, first published in 2016. The commission worked to strengthen the Immediate Response Team (ERI) convened by the Public Ministry and led by the Secretariat against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons (SVET), including by developing an ERI action guide on the formal process for identifying, referring, and protecting victims. While some government officials received training 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.
The attorney general implemented a victim assistance protocol and victims’ bill of rights by establishing procedures for victim attention, investigations, protection, and reparations. Guatemalan law required judges make all referrals to public or private shelters. In 2018 judges referred 239 victims to care facilities compared to 210 in 2017 and 256 victims 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 four Guatemalan victims from abroad in 2018. Authorities repatriated two Honduran trafficking victims in coordination with foreign consular officials and in accordance with an established protocol. Civil society expressed concern some adult foreign victims chose to leave shelters and return to their home countries due to lengthy investigation processes. 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. An NGO maintained a specialized shelter for unaccompanied minors that assisted repatriation, deterred irregular migration, and screened for trafficking. The government provided 19.4 million quetzals ($2.51 million) in funding in 2018 for government shelters, as well as NGOs that provide specialized services, mostly for child trafficking victims compared to 17.6 million quetzals ($2.28 million) in 2017. The government allocated 21 million quetzals ($2.72 million) in funding for 2019. While funding has increased, NGOs advocated for additional funding to increase service provision.
The government and NGOs provided shelter and services to 238 trafficking victims, compared to 127 trafficking victims in 2017, including victims of sex trafficking and forced labor, adults and children, female and male victims. SVET shelters 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 healthcare, vocational education, and therapy. SBS adopted a new shelter model to limit the number of children per shelter to 15 and a process to evaluate each child within the first 72 hours before determining treatment. As of January 1, 2019, SBS assumed leadership over two of the three SVET-managed shelters for child trafficking victims. Authorities determined the third shelter would better serve the gap in shelter for adults and began the process of dedicating it strictly for adult trafficking victims and migrants. SVET developed a protocol for specialized attention to children in shelters, which it distributed to public and private shelters, and a model of integral attention for adult victims to be used in the new adult shelter. The government-run shelters housed 77 trafficking victims (74 females and three males) in 2018 compared to 89 trafficking victims (82 females and seven males) in 2017 and 77 in 2016. SVET reported the average time victims stayed in its shelters was four months, and SBS reported the average time children stayed in its specialized program in Coatepeque was 10 months. Four NGOs provided shelter and services to 161 children and adults ranging from housing, healthcare, education, psychological services, and legal services. Observers reported NGOs provided the highest quality and most comprehensive care for child victims. One NGO shelter provided services to adult female victims, but it restricted victims’ freedom of movement. Observers expressed concern the government had not established a mechanism to provide victims with follow-up and reintegration support once they leave shelters, which could jeopardize victims’ safety and increase vulnerability to re-trafficking.
Observers reported monitoring and oversight of all government shelters for children remained weak, noting the government did not implement structural changes to overhaul the system in the aftermath of 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. In addition, Guatemala’s president had called for a restructuring of the country’s shelter system and authorities published a new 2017-2032 action plan on the protection of children and adolescents, including trafficking victims and children in state-run institutions. In the previous reporting period, the government prosecuted seven government officials for offenses including, but not limited to, abuse of power, neglect of their duties, and maltreatment of minors, some of whom may have been trafficking victims, for the March 2017 fire and as of March 2019, the courts planned to proceed to trial in May 2019 against three government officials.
Authorities encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers and made options available for victim testimony to be given either in a Gesell Chamber or from behind a partition in the courtroom to protect the victim’s identity and privacy. The Public Ministry employed social workers and psychologists to serve as liaisons between the office and victims, accompany victims through the proceedings against their traffickers, and assist victims in accessing medical services; the Public Ministry assisted 270 individuals in 2018. Judges must 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 traffickers exploiting them in sex trafficking or forced labor; the government did not report any victims received restitution or a civil damages award in 2018 or 2017, compared to seven victims who received restitution in 2016. The Judiciary reported judges consistently order restitution, but observers reported a gap in enforcement of orders for payments. 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.