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.