The Government of Honduras does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Honduras remained on Tier 2. These efforts included increasing prosecutions, convictions, and sentencing of traffickers, and adding two new prosecutors to its anti-trafficking unit. The government coordinated with several foreign governments to secure the conviction of a Honduran trafficker who operated in an international network of Belizean traffickers. The government improved screening of children migrating out of, and returning to, Honduras and repatriated 27 Honduran nationals through its diplomatic missions. The government increased its public awareness campaigns and prevention training activities, particularly related to migrant children and victims of forced displacement. The First Lady’s Migration Task Force mobilized several executive branch agencies to coordinate activities designed to stop irregular migration and associated trafficking risks. The government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not allocate sufficient resources for prosecution and protection activities. The government again demonstrated inadequate efforts to address forced labor crimes through prosecution, identification and protection of victims of forced labor, and prevention of such crimes.

Increase law enforcement investigations and labor inspections to identify forced labor among domestic and agricultural workers.Increase efforts to prosecute trafficking offenses and to convict and sentence traffickers, particularly for crimes involving forced labor and forced criminal activity.Develop and implement new victim identification and referral mechanisms for forced labor cases, including forced criminal activity.Strengthen efforts to prosecute and convict public officials for complicity in trafficking offenses.Increase government funding for victim services, including to NGOs.Increase the identification and assistance of all victims, including among particularly vulnerable populations such as adult migrants.Enforce laws punishing brokers for illegal practices that facilitate trafficking, such as fraudulent offers of employment or illegal fees for migration or job placement.Increase training and dedicated resources for anti-trafficking police and prosecutorial units, as well as the “immediate response team.”

The government increased prosecution efforts but maintained inadequate efforts to prosecute forced labor crimes. The 2012 Honduran anti-trafficking law criminalized sex and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties ranging from 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law established the use of force, fraud, or coercion as aggravating factors, rather than essential elements of the crime. The law defined trafficking broadly to include illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation. The Honduran National Congress adopted a new penal code in May 2019, which was expected to enter into force June 2020 and includes amended anti-trafficking provisions. While the new law aligned the definition of trafficking with the definition under international law by including force, fraud, or coercion as an essential element of the crime, it also significantly lowered the penalties for trafficking offenses to five to eight years’ imprisonment. By doing so, the penalties for sex trafficking will no longer be commensurate with the penalties prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape.

The government reported investigating 91 cases of suspected trafficking, compared to 145 cases in 2018, 121 cases in 2017, and at least 41 cases in 2016. The government launched 14 law enforcement operations to identify nightclubs, massage houses, and other locations where traffickers allegedly exploit minors, men, women, and LGBTI individuals in sex trafficking; as a result of these operations, the police made 32 arrests and identified 41 minors from criminal groups, some of whom were trafficking victims. Among these efforts, the Attorney General’s specialized anti-trafficking unit, created in 2018, coordinated two major law enforcement operations that led to the arrests of traffickers and victims identified. Authorities initiated prosecutions of 55 suspects (37 for sex trafficking, 16 for procuring commercial sex acts, and two for forced labor), compared to 35 suspects (29 for human trafficking, six for procuring commercial sex acts) in 2018, 84 suspects (82 for sex trafficking, two for forced labor) in 2017, and 41 suspects for sex trafficking in 2016. The government convicted 34 traffickers (33 for sex trafficking/procuring commercial sex acts and one forced labor); this compared to 16 traffickers (10 for human trafficking and six for procuring commercial sex acts) in 2018, eight traffickers in 2017, and nine traffickers in 2016. Courts sentenced convicted traffickers with sentences ranging from four to 52 years’ imprisonment along with monetary fines of 75 to 200 times the minimum wage; this compared to five to 15 years’ imprisonment in 2018, two years house arrest to 15 years’ imprisonment in 2017, and six to 15 years’ imprisonment in 2016. The government continued prosecutions of a current and a former government official accused of sex trafficking in 2017, and reported each case remained pending trial at the end of the reporting period. The government also investigated an alleged crime of sexual exploitation of a female prisoner within a correctional facility. Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns.

The government strengthened its specialized anti-trafficking unit by adding two new prosecutors, for a total of 10 prosecutors, and also incorporating a cybercrime unit to strengthen its investigations of trafficking crimes on social media platforms. Experts, however, observed the government remained understaffed and lacked sufficient resources to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes. Civil society organizations reported prosecutors often charged suspected traffickers for lesser crimes with lower penalties, such as pimping. An NGO noted courts delayed trafficking cases despite a requirement in the anti-trafficking law to process such cases in a timely manner. Experts stated the absence of specialized human trafficking courts in Honduras was an obstacle to successful prosecutions and convictions, because many judges did not have specialized knowledge of or experience in dealing with human trafficking cases. The government cooperated with the governments of Argentina, Belize, Spain, Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States to investigate trafficking cases and detain suspects. Through this coordination, the government secured the conviction of a Honduran trafficker who operated in an international network of Belizean traffickers. In November 2019, law enforcement officials met with representatives from the Governments of Guatemala and El Salvador in San Salvador to discuss the improvement of mechanisms to investigate trafficking crimes and counteract human trafficking in the region.

The government maintained protection efforts but demonstrated weak identification and protection efforts for forced labor victims. The government identified 75 victims in 2019 (66 sex trafficking and 9 labor trafficking), compared to 73 victims in 2018 (63 sex trafficking and 10 labor trafficking), 150 victims in 2017 (84 sex trafficking and 66 labor trafficking), and 111 victims in 2016. The government reported that NGOs identified an additional 78 victims in 2019. The Inter-institutional Commission to Combat Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking in Persons (CICESCT) used an “immediate response team” protocol for identifying and referring sex trafficking victims and distributed the protocol to other institutions, but authorities lacked systematic procedures to identify forced labor victims. The immediate response team, which included a full-time lawyer, psychologist, and social worker, worked with government ministries and civil society organizations to coordinate services for victims, including food, shelter, and health screenings, as well as referrals to longer-term support services, such as psychological, legal, and social services as well as family reintegration and, when necessary, repatriation. The government hired an additional psychologist and a social worker to the immediate response team during the reporting period. The team operated two trafficking-specific hotlines for victim referrals, one of which received 500 calls in 2019, of which 16 were trafficking-related; the hotline referred 15 of these calls to law enforcement. This compared to 65 calls received in 2018 resulting in 25 investigations, 45 calls in 2017, and more than 60 calls in 2016. The government improved screening of children migrating out of, and returning to, Honduras, but inconsistently screened Honduran adults returned from abroad.

The Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion provided psychological services, economic support, and, in coordination with the Ministry of Health, provided services to the 75 newly identified victims and ongoing support to victims identified in previous reporting periods. The Child Welfare Agency administered initial assessments and services for child victims and referred foreign victims for repatriation and Honduran children to certified centers for medical, psychological, and psychiatric services and social reintegration following legal hearings. The foreign ministry, in partnership with international organizations, assisted and repatriated 27 Honduran nationals through its diplomatic missions in Mexico, Belize, Spain, and Guatemala, compared to 12 Honduran nationals through its diplomatic missions in Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize in 2018 and six Honduran nationals through its diplomatic missions in Argentina, France, Guatemala, and Mexico in 2017.

The government provided 5.5 million lempira ($221,400) of funding to CICESCT. This compared to 7.9 million lempiras ($316,000) in 2018 and 2.3 million lempiras ($92,000) in 2017. Other Honduran government agencies provided funds from their budgets for victim assistance. Observers noted that the budget and human resources were not adequate for victim protection efforts, and the government relied heavily on international assistance for its anti-trafficking efforts, including for protection efforts. CICESCT coordinated with several NGOs to provide services and shelter for victims. In 2019, CICESCT provided funding to an NGO to provide shelter and services for adult female victims. The government offered services to sex trafficking victims, but provided services to a disproportionately low number of forced labor victims despite evidence that forced labor is more prevalent in the country. Providers at the local and national levels reported insufficient resources from the government. Government officials also noted the need for increased support for NGOs operating shelters for trafficking victims and for a victim data collection and analysis system.

Of the 75 new victims, 62 participated in the investigations and prosecutions of their perpetrators. The government provided witness protection services to victims who assisted in investigations and prosecutions, which included measures to protect the identity of the victim and witnesses, shelter, and economic, medical, and psycho-social assistance. The government did not report how many victims received these protection services in 2019, compared to 15 victims assisted in 2018. An independent assessment of trafficking in Honduras revealed the majority of victims did not file criminal complaints due to fear of reprisal, a lack of knowledge about the crime, and a low level of trust in the system. The government maintained Gesell chambers in which victims could provide testimony via pre-recorded interviews, and it reported using them 25 times for trafficking cases during the reporting period. Honduran law prohibited the prosecution of trafficking victims who committed crimes during the time they were exploited. NGOs, however, reported authorities did not properly identify many children forced to engage in illegal activities by criminal groups and thus may have treated them as criminals instead of victims. CICESCT coordinated with the National Migration Institute and the Returned Migrant Assistance Center to evaluate cases of migrants who might be trafficking victims. If CICESCT identified a foreign victim, it worked with the victim’s local diplomatic representation to secure protection services for the victim. Honduran law allowed foreign victims to receive temporary or permanent residency status, including authorization to work; the government did not identify foreign victims in 2019 who could have received such benefits. Honduran law provided for restitution to be awarded upon a trafficking conviction, but the government did not provide restitution to victims in 2019.

The government increased prevention efforts, but it demonstrated few proactive efforts to prevent forced labor. CICESCT promoted, monitored, and evaluated the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, producing an annual report documenting these efforts. CICESCT consisted of 32 governmental and nongovernmental entities, which met periodically in 2019. The government implemented its 2016-2022 national anti-trafficking action plan by conducting trainings and extensive public awareness campaigns, as well as implementing improved methods to detect trafficking crimes. CICESCT launched a public website and held a variety of public events where it provided anti-trafficking information. First Lady Ana Garcia de Hernandez’s Migration Task Force played an important role in mobilizing several executive branch agencies to coordinate activities designed to stop irregular migration and associated trafficking risks. The minister of education provided a guide for teachers supporting reintegration of returned migrant children and victims of human trafficking and forced displacement. The government launched new public awareness campaigns, with a special focus on migratory routes through Guatemala and Mexico, and officially joined the UN Blue Heart Campaign Against Trafficking in Persons. CICESCT provided anti-trafficking training to police, judges, lawyers, immigration officials, municipal authorities, psychologists, social workers, tourism professionals, students, and nongovernmental organization representatives throughout Honduras.

The Ministry of Labor (MOL) conducted 21,949 labor inspections but did not identify any forced labor cases in 2019. Experts noted the number of labor inspectors was not sufficient and inspectors did not have enough office facilities, training, and resources to carry out inspections and enforce the law effectively. Because labor inspectors continued to be concentrated in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, full labor inspections and follow-up visits to confirm compliance were far less frequent in other parts of the country. Officials also noted that problems in identification of forced labor victims were due to inadequate enforcement of existing regulations. In September 2019, the government signed a memorandum of understanding with the United States to improve the oversight of labor recruiters in the United States’ H visa program. In 2017, the MOL issued new guidelines to enforce the 2015 decree requiring job placement companies to charge fees to employers and not employees, but did not report any enforcement of these guidelines in 2018 or 2019. The Secretariat of Labor and Social Security (STSS) utilized the Regulation for the Operation of Private Employment Agencies and Related Services, the Labor Inspection Law, and the Regulation of the Special Regime and Progressive Affiliation of Domestic Workers to prevent and protect individuals in private employment, including national and foreign national domestic workers, from trafficking. The STSS also implemented an agreement regarding temporary Honduran migrant workers in Canada, which, along with Honduras’ consular network, monitored for trafficking crimes involving Hondurans abroad. The law for the recruitment and placement of Hondurans in the cruise industry also aimed to prevent trafficking crimes. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Honduras, and traffickers exploit victims from Honduras abroad. Traffickers, some of whom are family members or friends, exploit Honduran women and children in sex trafficking within the country and in other countries in the region such as Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, Spain, and the United States. Traffickers particularly target women, children, LGBTI Hondurans, migrants, internally displaced persons, and individuals who are unemployed, in poverty, with low education levels, disabled, and lack access to healthcare. Traffickers exploit Honduran men, women, and children in forced labor in street vending, domestic service, drug trafficking, and the informal sector in their own country, and forced labor in other countries, particularly Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States. Children, including from indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, particularly Miskito boys, are at risk for forced labor in the fishing, mining, construction, and hospitality industries. Children living on the streets are at risk for sex and labor trafficking; fines for child labor are not sufficient to deter violations. Criminal organizations, including gangs, exploit girls in sex trafficking, force children into street begging, and coerce and threaten young males and females to transport drugs, commit extortion, or commit acts of violence, including murder; this occurs primarily in urban areas, but one NGO reported an increase in gang activity in rural areas. Criminals expanded the use of social network platforms to recruit victims and continued to target vulnerable populations. Honduras is a destination for child sex tourists from Canada and the United States. Migrants from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central America, the Middle East, and South America who transit Honduras en route to the United States are vulnerable to being exploited in trafficking. Authorities noted family members took children into prisons to be exploited in commercial sex by prisoners, raising concerns over the potential complicity of prison authorities. Overall corruption helped facilitate trafficking crimes.

U.S. Department of State

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