The government maintained efforts to protect victims. Authorities identified 20 potential victims in 2020, compared to 24 potential victims in 2019 and 17 potential victims in 2018. The victims included two men, three women, three boys, and twelve girls. The government did not report how many were victims of sex trafficking and how many of labor trafficking. The government referred two victims to shelters and reported providing other care to all 20, although it did not specify which services the victims received. The government reported assisting all the foreign victims with repatriation. The government reported the Police A-TIP Unit screened prison inmates during the reporting period to identify potential trafficking victims who may have been mistakenly penalized due to insufficient screening; authorities identified one female who was a potential trafficking victim in the prison population. In the previous reporting period, authorities identified seven potential trafficking victims who were later found not to have been victims of trafficking, one of whom chose to remain in Belize and received services during the current reporting period.
The government reported the Police A-TIP Unit conducted screening for trafficking indicators and responded to referrals while adhering to the guidelines set out by the National Oversight Committee. The government incorporated training on screening procedures into the police academy syllabus for the first time during the reporting period. The government reported Immigration and Labor Department officials trained in victim identification and referral also routinely screened for human trafficking during each investigation. The government reported that when Immigration Department officials conducted immigration enforcement operations, they coordinated with the Police A-TIP Unit, which assisted with screening detainees and identifying victims of trafficking. The government reported the Department of Social Services officers were available to provide victim services if needed. The government reported the Police A-TIP Unit had trained female officers to conduct screenings for female victims. The government reported screening could occur in Spanish or English. The government reported the screening process emphasized that trafficked victims could not be penalized for unlawful acts they were compelled to commit, including immigration violations. However, due to gaps in identification procedures, authorities may have punished mis- or unidentified victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, and victims’ fear of detention or deportation may have contributed to their reluctance to report trafficking to law enforcement officers. Civil society reported that the liquor licensing department routinely failed to conduct inspections of bars and restaurants where commercial sex was known to be offered, largely to avoid investigations into possible human trafficking; these allegations became less frequent after the closure of bars, clubs, and discos due to the pandemic. The Anti-Trafficking in Persons (A-TIP) Council and an NGO continued to review and update standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification. The government reported law enforcement, immigration, and social services officials used the SOPs while conducting interviews and screening potential victims for trafficking indicators. The government reported that for foreign victims, authorities contacted the relevant embassies for potential consular services. Victims identified during the screening process could also apply for refugee status. The government reported adapting several victim protection procedures due to the pandemic, including social distancing, quarantining victims, and providing health screenings. Observers reported more consistency in victim identification than in previous years but stated gaps still existed, such as authorities failing to respond to credible reports of potential trafficking victims by NGOs, possibly leading to fewer victim identifications and weak victim protection. Media reported Chinese workers at a Chinese government-funded construction project may have been victims of forced labor. The number of Cuban medical professionals in Belize grew to 59 in March 2020 due to the pandemic. The government did not report screening the Cuban workers for trafficking indicators.
DHS lacked resources to aid victims as required by the law. While the law stipulated the government should provide psychosocial counseling, housing, food, education, and refugee and worker status to victims and potential victims of trafficking, the government had a limited ability to consistently support victims during criminal proceedings and reintegration. NGOs often provided the necessary services and shared their costs with the government. The government reported assigning two Spanish-speaking social workers to all trafficking cases to ensure victim safety and support, but that they were not sufficient for the number of victims.
The government coordinated and funded shelter, medical, and psychological services to adult victims through the Alternative Care Unit and to child victims through the Child Protection System and foster care. The government lacked sufficient public shelter space for all victims and partnered with domestic violence NGOs to provide shelter and services to adult female trafficking victims. During the reporting period the Ministry of Human Development, Families, and Indigenous Affairs made arrangements with an NGO to shelter male victims for the first time; the government did not report any male victims using the shelter during the reporting period. Government and NGO service providers developed victim care plans with victim participation with the goal of encouraging independence, and these plans allowed adult victims to stay in shelters or safe houses, and placed children in the child protection system or in family care and independent living upon reaching adulthood. Per the SOPs, DHS procured subsidized services for disabled trafficking victims, including sign language interpretation; all social workers were trained in basic sign language. DHS reported it improved and adjusted programs and care provided to trafficking victims based on victim feedback.
Government social workers monitored foster care placements for child victims and developed individual case plans for each child, which included a home study to determine if placement was in the best interest of the child. Experts expressed concerns about the lack of education on trafficking for some foster parents, uneven coordination and communication between government agencies and foster parents, and limited availability of psychosocial care in general, including for trafficking victims. Child victims could access the educational system until age 14.
The government did not allocate a specific amount within the anti-trafficking budget for victim services; it reported actual spending of 35,000 Belizean dollars ($17,500) during the reporting period, compared to 109,000 Belizean dollars ($54,500) in 2019, which included food, clothing, medical expenses, counseling, stipends, and repatriation expenses, among other services.
The government reported it did not place conditions or time limits on the services provided to victims cooperating with law enforcement or prosecutors. The government reported victims could stay in separate chambers from their accused traffickers during court proceedings. The government allowed victims to provide testimony through video but lacked the equipment necessary to do so during the reporting period. As an interim measure, victims had the option of testifying from behind a screen in the court, protecting the victim’s identity. The law also allowed for written statements to be provided as evidence in cases where repatriated foreign victims did not wish to return. The government reported counseling was available during testimony. During the reporting period, the government did not report any cases of victims assisting with an active prosecution. The government reported it encouraged victims to participate but did not compel them; court delays and fear of retaliation by traffickers may have led foreign national victims to decline or withdraw cooperation with law enforcement and return to their home countries. Even those who wished to assist in prosecution were sometimes unavailable to do so, having chosen repatriation or onward migration in the years between. The government reported it provided foreign victims of human trafficking with the same victim services as domestic victims. Authorities did not deport foreign victims identified in potential trafficking cases, and they could grant temporary residency status and work permits regardless of victims’ cooperation with investigations or prosecutions. A court could order restitution upon a trafficker’s conviction but did not do so in 2020.
The police unit acted as the primary provider for counter-trafficking training throughout the country, training prison officials, immigration officers, customs agents, and any other officials who might encounter potential victims. The police unit conducted training sessions year-round for immigration officers, customs agents, regular police units and the police academy, special branch officers, prison guards and officials, and truancy officers on screening procedures to identify victims and the requirement of all officials to immediately report suspected trafficked cases. Authorities reported some of the training during the reporting period moved to virtual platforms due to the pandemic, and a few trainings were postponed. The government funded these trainings, including transportation, facilitators, and venues. In April 2020, the National Organization for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, a government entity, funded training for 58 teachers and education officials from eight public and private shelters on identifying trafficking victims. In May and June 2020, the A-TIP Council and an international organization held a workshop with 118 tourism sector workers to create awareness of human trafficking, victim identification, and referral procedures. In July 2020, the government provided support for participants in an NGO-led and foreign government-funded workshop for 170 members of the Belize Defense Force, customs officers, police officers, Coast Guard officers, teachers, and staff from the Ministry of Human Development, Families, and Indigenous Affairs on Protection and Enabling Environment for Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence.