HONDURAS: Tier 2

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, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Honduras remained on Tier 2. These efforts included identifying more victims of labor trafficking, including children forced to commit unlawful acts, and increasing funding for the Inter-institutional Commission to Combat Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking in Persons (CICESCT). CICESCT sustained its efforts to provide immediate protection to victims and coordinate additional services among other stakeholders without interruption throughout the pandemic. The government adapted its training and awareness-raising activities targeting groups at high risk of trafficking and potential first responders to online platforms, reaching a broader geographic range of stakeholders. The government also enacted a new penal code provision that brought the definition of trafficking in line with the definition under international law. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The new amendments to the penal code lowered the penalties for trafficking crimes, resulting in penalties that were not commensurate with those prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. The government identified fewer victims overall and investigated, prosecuted, and convicted fewer suspects. The government did not report penalizing any employment agencies for fraudulent recruitment practices or charging recruitment fees to workers.

Increase investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of suspected traffickers, including complicit officials and forced labor crimes. • Amend the penal code to ensure the penalties prescribed for trafficking crimes are commensurate with the penalties prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. • Develop and implement standardized procedures for victim identification and referral, including screening for indicators of forced criminal activity among children involved in gang-related crimes. • Increase government funding for victim services, including to NGOs, and anti-trafficking police and prosecutorial units. • Increase efforts to identify victims, including among particularly vulnerable populations such as adult migrants, and provide assistance to all victims, including forced labor victims. • Enforce laws punishing brokers for illegal practices that facilitate trafficking, such as fraudulent offers of employment or illegal fees for migration or job placement. • Institutionalize training for anti-trafficking police and prosecutorial units, judges, and CICESCT’s immediate response team.

The government maintained prosecution efforts. Article 219 of the Honduran penal code, which came into effect in June 2020, criminalized sex and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of five to eight years’ imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent. However, with respect to sex trafficking, these penalties were not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.

The government reported investigating 82 cases of suspected sex trafficking and related crimes in 2020, compared with 91 suspected cases investigated in 2019 and 145 in 2018. Authorities initiated prosecutions of nine suspects (seven for sex trafficking and two for forced labor), compared with 55 initiated in 2019 (53 for sex trafficking including procuring commercial sex acts and two for forced labor) and 35 in 2018. The government convicted 14 traffickers, including 10 for sex trafficking, two for forced labor, and two for both sex trafficking and forced labor, compared with 34 traffickers convicted in 2019 (33 for sex trafficking/procuring commercial sex acts and one for forced labor) and 16 traffickers (including six for procuring commercial sex acts) convicted in 2018. Courts issued prison sentences ranging from three to 13 years for convicted adult traffickers and ordered some of them to pay monetary fines to the government. The juvenile penal system issued a sentence of six months’ house arrest for one convicted trafficker who was a child. The government investigated two police officials for suspected trafficking crimes and six police officials for smuggling crimes that may have increased migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking. Authorities convicted two government officials, one on pimping charges and one for paid sexual relations, for their involvement in sex trafficking crimes in 2017. The government did not provide an update on its investigation of alleged sexual exploitation of a female prisoner in a correctional facility from the previous year. Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year.

The government maintained a specialized anti-trafficking prosecution unit, but experts observed the unit remained understaffed and lacked sufficient resources to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes. Authorities reported restrictions implemented to mitigate the pandemic impeded investigations in commercial venues where trafficking has been known to occur and slowed investigations and prosecutions of trafficking crimes. An NGO noted courts continued to delay trafficking cases despite a requirement in the anti-trafficking law to process such cases in a timely manner, an issue further exacerbated by the pandemic. The Public Ministry trained 160 prosecutors on human trafficking including on new provisions in the penal code, and the government’s judicial training school trained select magistrates, judges, and justices of the peace on human trafficking issues. Experts observed that judges’ lack of specialized knowledge or experience in handling trafficking cases impeded successful prosecution and conviction of cases. The government cooperated with the Governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico to investigate trafficking cases and detain suspects.

The government maintained strong protection efforts, with CICESCT’s immediate response team providing robust assistance to victims throughout the year. The government and NGOs identified 42 trafficking victims in 2020, including 31 exploited in sex trafficking and 11 in forced labor; two of the labor trafficking victims were children forced to commit unlawful acts. In comparison, the government identified 75 victims (66 in sex trafficking and 9 in forced labor) and NGOs identified 78 victims in 2019, and the government identified 73 victims (63 in sex trafficking and 10 in forced labor) in 2018. Authorities identified five of the victims through calls to government hotlines, and 16 were identified in Mexico or Guatemala and repatriated to Honduras. The government’s disaggregated victim data included some victims of related crimes such as child pornography; all identified victims were Honduran citizens and included 43 children and 24 adults, 56 females and 10 males, and one LGBTQI+ individual. First responders referred potential trafficking victims to CICESCT’s immediate response team, composed of two psychologists and a social worker, for immediate support. This team continued to operate during the pandemic despite restrictions on movement and inadequate funding for personal protective equipment. The immediate response team provided 67 victims of trafficking and related crimes with assistance, including legal advice, immediate protection, and psychological services. In accordance with the government’s intersectoral protocol on victim protection, CICESCT coordinated with relevant government institutions and NGOs to provide additional services to victims, including mental health counseling, legal services, medical care, lodging, food, family reintegration, and repatriation. CICESCT referred 37 victims—five boys, 22 girls, and 10 women—to government and NGO shelters for additional care. Victims who tested positive for COVID-19 faced delays or limitations in receiving services from shelters. The government provided 31 victims with witness protection services including measures to protect their identity; shelter; and economic, medical and psychosocial assistance.

Law enforcement, immigration, and social service providers had written procedures for identifying and assisting victims, including screening for indicators of trafficking among vulnerable populations and referring potential victims to CICESCT’s immediate response team. CICESCT and the anti-trafficking prosecution unit each operated trafficking-specific hotlines that functioned throughout the pandemic. The government reported 41 calls to the CICESCT hotline led to 22 potential cases referred for investigation. Officials in the Returned Migrant Assistance Center conducted evaluations of returned Hondurans and referred suspected trafficking cases to CICESCT; however, screening for trafficking indicators was not systematic among returned migrants, and the government did not report whether these efforts resulted in identification of any victims during the year. The government followed a regional protocol to facilitate the repatriation of victims identified abroad and funded food, transportation, and lodging for such victims through a fund administered by the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Child victims could receive care from government or NGO shelters, while women had the option of receiving assistance from NGO shelters; there were no specialized shelters for trafficking victims and no shelters that accepted men. The government offered services to both forced labor and sex trafficking victims but identified a disproportionately low number of forced labor victims compared to the estimated prevalence of forced labor in the country.

The government initially allocated 8.93 million lempiras ($357,150) to CICESCT but later decreased its actual disbursement to 6.18 million lempiras ($247,020) due to pandemic-related funds redistribution and budget cuts. This amount was an increase from 5.53 million lempiras ($221,400) provided in 2019, though officials reported they lacked adequate financial and human resources to provide comprehensive victim care, support victims throughout the country, and collect and analyze victim data. CICESCT provided 76,970 lempiras ($3,080) to an NGO operating a shelter that accommodated women, girls, and boys up to age 12 and dedicated 318,040 lempiras ($12,720) to victims’ immediate needs including food, hygiene supplies, and lodging. Other Honduran government agencies also provided funds from their budgets for victim assistance.

Some victims provided testimony through pre-recorded interviews in secure Gesell chambers or, due to the pandemic, video calls. Honduran law prohibited the prosecution of victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. However, the government lacked formal procedures for identifying victims among children apprehended for gang-related criminal activity. NGOs reported authorities did not properly identify children forced to engage in illegal activities by criminal groups, reporting that the government may have inappropriately treated such children as criminals instead of victims. Honduran law allowed foreign victims to receive temporary or permanent residency status, including authorization to work, though the government did not identify any foreign victims in 2020.

The government maintained prevention efforts. The CICESCT convened a network of 32 government agencies and NGOs and coordinated the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, including implementation of the 2016-2020 national anti-trafficking action plan. The government allocated insufficient funds for implementation of the plan and relevant agencies relied on additional support from foreign donors to implement its activities. CICESCT maintained a public website and launched social media accounts to share information on human trafficking with the public. Government agencies, including CICESCT, its local committees, the Public Ministry, the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the Supreme Court of Justice, and the Secretariat of Education, provided anti-trafficking trainings to police, lawyers, judges, other government officials, tourism professionals, civil society organizations, teachers, and members of the public throughout the country; due to the pandemic, the government conducted the majority of trainings virtually, which allowed them to reach more stakeholders and decrease costs. The events targeted members of at-risk groups—including children and students, individuals with disabilities, and indigenous persons—as well as potential first responders and officials from key sectors such as education and tourism. CICESCT reported using online training platforms to educate stakeholders on the impact of pandemic-related restrictions on trafficking trends and how to adapt. Officials from several ministries conducted additional trainings and awareness-raising activities with support from NGOs and international organizations.

First Lady Ana Garcia de Hernandez’s Migration Task Force continued to coordinate a whole-of-government approach to informing Hondurans about the dangers of irregular migration, including trafficking risks, and the government continued public awareness campaigns warning of trafficking risks along migratory routes through Guatemala and Mexico. The government conducted law enforcement operations targeting irregular migration and increased border enforcement, leading to 160 arrests for smuggling crimes that increased migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking. Labor inspectors did not identify any suspected trafficking cases in 2020. The Secretariat of Labor and Social Security (STSS) monitored and regulated compliance with labor laws and policies that could decrease workers’ vulnerability to trafficking, including those regulating private employment agencies and establishing protections for vulnerable classes of workers such as domestic workers, seafarers, and temporary workers in Canada; however, the government did not provide details on enforcement. Honduran regulations prohibited charging recruitment fees to workers, but the government did not report enforcement of these regulations in 2020. The government modernized its national identification card system and began distributing new national identification cards in February 2021. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Honduras removed the offense of sex tourism from its amended penal code, and the government did not investigate or prosecute any suspected trafficking cases in the tourism sector.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Honduras, and traffickers exploit victims from Honduras abroad. Traffickers exploit Honduran women and children in sex trafficking within the country and in other countries such as Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Spain, and the United States. Traffickers particularly target LGBTQI+ Hondurans, migrants, IDPs, persons with disabilities, children in child labor, children whose parents have migrated, and individuals living in areas controlled by organized criminal groups. Officials report family problems, unemployment, and lack of access to healthcare exacerbate these risks. Traffickers exploit victims within their own homes or communities, including sometimes their own family members or friends. Traffickers exploit Honduran adults and children in forced labor in street vending, forced begging, domestic service, drug trafficking, and the informal sector in their own country, as well as 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 agricultural, construction, manufacturing, mining, and hospitality industries. Children living on the streets are at risk for sex and labor trafficking. Criminal organizations, including gangs, exploit girls in sex trafficking, force children into street begging, and coerce and threaten children and young adults to transport weapons, sell drugs, commit extortion, or serve as lookouts; this occurred 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, often with false promises of employment, and continued to target vulnerable populations. The pandemic, as well as Hurricanes Eta and Iota, negatively affected economic opportunity and furthered inequality, resulting in an increased number of individuals vulnerable to trafficking. Among the 45 Cuban medical professionals the government contracted to assist during the pandemic, some may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. 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. Overall corruption helped facilitate trafficking crimes.

U.S. Department of State

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