The government maintained protection efforts. Authorities identified 92 victims (67 exploited in sex trafficking, 13 in forced labor, and 12 not specified), and NGOs identified an additional 333 victims (153 exploited in sex trafficking, 88 in forced labor, and 92 not specified). The total number of victims identified, 425, was similar to 439 victims identified in 2020; however, comparable data was not available for the number of victims identified by the government. Among the identified victims of sex trafficking, there were 183 girls, eight boys, 26 women, one man, and two LGBTQI+ individuals whose age and gender were not specified. Victims of forced labor included 45 girls, 42 boys, and 14 women. The additional victims included 75 girls, 21 boys, seven women, and one man. Thirty-seven identified victims were foreign nationals (23 exploited in sex trafficking, 13 in forced labor, and one not specified), and the remainder were Guatemalan. In 2021, the government referred 218 victims to NGO and government shelters, where they received services including psycho-social support, medical care, legal assistance, and/ or educational and vocational training, an increase from 170 victims referred to shelters in 2020. There were two government-run shelters and four main NGO-run shelters with specialized services for trafficking victims. The government served 92 victims in government-run shelters during the reporting period. In comparison, government shelters served 83 residents in 2020. Government agencies and NGOs cooperated to provide services to victims such as food, housing, psychological care, healthcare, education, and apprenticeships. The government did not report its expenditures for shelter and specialized services. In 2020, it provided 9 million quetzals ($1.17 million) in funding for government-run shelters and specialized services, compared with 7.04 million quetzals ($914,290) in 2019, 19.4 million quetzals ($2.52 million) in 2018, and 17.6 million quetzals ($2.29 million) in 2017.
Officials followed an inter-institutional protocol to coordinate victim identification, referral, and service provision among relevant institutions. The Public Ministry’s Immediate Response Team employed social workers who conducted individual needs assessments and referral to services for victims. The government began a process to update its victim identification guide with contributions from both government and civil society experts; however, it did not make any changes during the year. With assistance from international organizations, SVET developed and implemented an online training course to guide front-line officials in identifying and assisting possible trafficking victims. The government held numerous sessions of the virtual workshop reaching more than 400 Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance participants from across the country, and it later expanded the course to the public, reaching more than 200 private citizens. Immigration officials identified a foreign victim who had been deceived by a false job offer in Guatemala’s agricultural sector and forced to beg on the street after his arrival in the country. Officials followed the inter-institutional protocol to provide the victim referral and services. The government screened returning unaccompanied migrant children for trafficking indicators using Secretariat of Social Welfare (SBS) protocols for the attention and reception of such children in two government shelters, and an NGO maintained a specialized shelter for unaccompanied migrant children that assisted with repatriation, discouraged irregular migration, and screened for trafficking. However, authorities returned the majority of unaccompanied children to their families without taking steps to decrease their vulnerability to exploitation. The government did not have a trafficking-specific hotline but encouraged the public to call three hotlines operated by the National Civil Police, the Attorney General’s office, and the human rights ombudsman (PDH), which operated 24 hours a day year-round, were available in Spanish and Mayan languages, and accepted reports anonymously. In addition, the Public Ministry launched a platform for crime victims to file complaints electronically, allowing authorities to immediately refer victims via email to relevant institutions for assistance and services. The government did not report whether any trafficking victims benefitted from this new system.
Judges in Child and Adolescent Courts referred child trafficking victims to shelters. Guatemalan law required all referrals for children to public or private shelters be made by these courts; however, judges often did not make timely referrals, delaying access to needed assistance. Judges placed some child victims with family members, at times leaving them vulnerable to re-trafficking, as family members often were involved in their exploitation. Experts noted there was a shortage of shelters for male and LGBTQI+ trafficking victims and additional services were needed for trafficking victims with young children. Local observers noted challenges in interagency coordination affected shelter functioning and complicated victim care processes. The government made efforts to improve operations at its shelters, but overall monitoring and oversight, especially for facilities serving children, remained weak. The government still had not implemented 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 and sexual exploitation, and it was the subject of a UN investigation into the shelter’s management. Six former government officials remained in pretrial detention on multiple criminal charges related to the lethal fire.
The government provided few services to Indigenous victims and others in rural locations where government presence was limited, but it made efforts to improve outreach and assistance to these communities. SVET partnered with international organizations to launch UNIVET, a program deploying five mobile units across 17 rural departments, to provide information and service referral for victims and at-risk individuals in remote and underserved locations. The government provided only limited services for adult victims of trafficking and no shelters or services for adult men. SVET operated a repurposed and renovated shelter in Cobán for adult women trafficking victims, including transgender women, but the government did not report the number of victims it assisted. The government did not provide sufficient long-term care and reintegration support to victims, and case follow up was inadequate, leaving victims vulnerable to further exploitation.
The government had policies and procedures to support victims during the criminal justice process; however, resources were insufficient to extend access to these measures to all victims. The government permitted some victims to give testimony either via video, in a Gesell Chamber, or from behind a partition in the courtroom to protect the victim’s identity and privacy; some victims could also participate in a witness protection program. The government opened a new Gesell Chamber for use in the specialized first instance court in Guatemala City, and both specialized courts offered psychological services for some victims and procedures to ensure confidentiality for victim-witnesses, who might be traumatized and/or intimidated, to testify. 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 PDH’s office focused on ensuring the rights of trafficking victims were not violated. In 2021, ongoing political disputes and congressional attempts to replace the PDH ombudsman put its capacity and anti-trafficking activities at risk. The law required judges to order restitution when sentencing traffickers, but the government did not have a mechanism to ensure victims received court-ordered payments. The government did not report that any victims received restitution in 2021 and has not done so since 2016. Guatemala’s anti-trafficking law provided legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims who may face hardship or retribution upon return to their home countries. However, the government did not report whether any foreign victims received immigration relief. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs held 18 workshops—training 446 officials—on the government’s international coordination protocol for repatriating trafficking victims. The government did not provide information on the number of victims it repatriated to their home countries or assisted with obtaining temporary or permanent immigration status in Guatemala. Lengthy criminal justice processes, coupled with a lack of assistance to find legal employment, posed a disincentive to foreign adult victims to remain in the country for the duration of trials. Civil society expressed concern some adult foreign victims chose to leave shelters and return to their home countries due to the lengthy investigation processes. There were no reports the government punished identified victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. However, the government lacked formal procedures to proactively identify victims among some vulnerable groups, such as children apprehended for gang-related criminal activity.