Guatemala (Tier 2)

The Government of Guatemala 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 Guatemala remained on Tier 2. These efforts included prosecuting and convicting more sex and labor traffickers, expanding justice sector presence and educational outreach for underserved communities, referring more victims to public and NGO shelters, and increasing training for frontline officials to identify and assist trafficking victims. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not provide sufficient specialized victim services given the scope of the problem, and monitoring and oversight in government shelters remained weak. Some criminal justice officials outside urban areas lacked sufficient knowledge of human trafficking elements and indicators or victim-centered methods. The government arrested officials suspected of complicity in trafficking crimes but did not prosecute or convict any complicit officials.

  • Vigorously investigate cases, prosecute trafficking crimes, and convict traffickers with increased focus on suspected cases of forced labor.
  • Increase efforts to proactively identify victims of forced labor, particularly in the agricultural sector and domestic service.
  • Increase efforts to screen for indicators of trafficking among migrants, including unaccompanied migrant children and all returning migrants, and provide victims with comprehensive services.
  • Increase funding for and access to victim protection, particularly shelters and specialized services, to include LGBTQI+ victims, male victims, and victims who have young children.
  • Investigate and hold government officials criminally accountable for complicity in trafficking.
  • Increase training efforts to identify trafficking victims, particularly among vulnerable populations, such as working children, migrants and returnees, individuals in commercial sex, and children apprehended for illicit gang-related activities.
  • Improve the monitoring, oversight, and capacity of shelter operations for child trafficking victims nationwide to address overcrowding, abuse, and neglect.
  • Given significant concerns about forced labor indicators in Cuban medical missions, screen Cuban medical professionals and refer them to appropriate services.
  • Amend the 2009 anti-trafficking law to include a definition of human trafficking consistent with international law.
  • Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict child sex tourists and others engaged in sex trafficking of children.
  • Develop a mechanism to ensure victims receive court-ordered restitution payments.
  • Expand training for judges and prosecutors to include training on the use of forensic and other evidence to ensure trafficking cases are investigated and prosecuted as such, rather than as lesser offenses.
  • Provide reintegration and witness protection support, including immigration relief for irregular migrant victims, to victims once they leave shelters to prevent re-trafficking.
  • Expand prevention measures, including through raising awareness of fraudulent recruitment for employment in Guatemala and abroad, implementing new recruiter registration requirements, punishing employers or recruiters who commit fraudulent practices that facilitate trafficking, and eliminating worker-paid recruitment fees.

The government increased law enforcement efforts. The anti-trafficking law of 2009 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties from eight to 18 years’ imprisonment and a fine. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law did not consider the use of force, fraud, or coercion as an essential element of an adult trafficking offense. The law defined trafficking broadly to include all labor exploitation and illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation.

Authorities opened investigations into 386 criminal complaints involving suspected trafficking crimes (71 involving sex trafficking, 182 involving forced labor, and 133 not specified) opening investigations into 164 suspected trafficking cases (38 involving sex trafficking, 85 involving forced labor, and 41 not specified). In comparison, the government investigated 165 trafficking complaints in 2020 and 211 in 2019. The Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) reported receiving nine complaints of potential trafficking, which it referred to the Public Ministry (MP), compared with 16 complaints in 2020 and 24 complaints in 2019. Police received 70 trafficking-related calls to the crime hotline, and authorities initiated five investigations from information received in these calls. Authorities reported initiating prosecutions of 71 defendants (46 accused of sex trafficking, 13 accused of forced labor, and 12 not specified) and continuing prosecutions of 59 defendants (41 for sex trafficking, 12 for forced labor, and six unspecified) in cases ongoing from previous years. The government prosecuted ten suspects in absentia. In comparison, authorities prosecuted 37 defendants for trafficking crimes in 2020 and 71 in 2019. Some prosecutions may have been for crimes that did not meet the definition of trafficking according to international law. The government reported courts convicted 30 traffickers, 25 for sex trafficking crimes and five for forced labor, and acquitted one suspect. This was an increase from two convictions in 2020 and 25 convictions in 2019. One convicted labor trafficker received a fine of 300,000 quetzals ($38,960) and no jail time, while the other 29 traffickers received prison sentences ranging from eight to 13 years and fines up to 300,000 quetzals ($38,960).

The National Civil Police maintained the Special Directorate for Criminal Investigation (DEIC), which had a unit assigned specifically to combat trafficking. With international donor support, the government opened an office of the anti-trafficking police unit in Quetzaltenango, with jurisdiction to investigate trafficking crimes across eight departments. The government developed and began implementing a new protocol containing detailed guidance on the various stages of conducting police investigations of trafficking and related crimes. The government assigned 10 additional officers to DEIC and extended the length of officers’ assignments in the anti-trafficking unit, in an effort to increase police knowledge and capacity for investigating trafficking crimes. Observers indicated that National Civil Police officers across the country had a lack of understanding of human trafficking. The government had specialized prosecutors to handle cases of human trafficking, including forced labor, although local experts reported some prosecutors lacked adequate training. Observers indicated prosecutors did not utilize the criminal charge of trafficking in some parts of the country, resulting in some cases being prosecuted as other crimes. The government opened new prosecutorial offices in Chiquimula and Alta Verapaz, each covering multiple departments in areas underserved by the justice sector, expanding access to justice for trafficking victims in these areas. Two specialized first instance criminal courts for prosecuting trafficking-related crimes, in Guatemala City and Quetzaltenango, had jurisdiction in central, eastern, and southern departments, as well as seven western departments. A judge’s approval was required for prosecutorial investigations, but the judicial system lacked adequate capacity to process cases in a timely manner. Insufficient Public Ministry resources and a lengthy appeals process caused further delays, with many cases taking longer than a year and appeals lasting two to three years. Judicial officials had difficulty applying a victim-centered approach, and some lacked adequate training to apply forensic evidence in prosecutions. Some officials, especially outside the major urban areas, had an inadequate understanding of the elements and indicators of trafficking crimes and tried many cases as labor exploitation or sexual assault rather than trafficking.

Corruption in trafficking crimes remained a significant concern, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year; this problem was especially acute in border zones where government presence and rule of law were weak. The government investigated several cases of allegedly complicit public officials and made one arrest. In one case, authorities investigated and arrested a municipal mayor for alleged involvement in sex trafficking of a kidnapped 13-year-old girl. Prosecutors investigated mid-level police officials for participation in a criminal operation involving money laundering and sex trafficking of women from Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, and Central America at a spa in the capital; authorities arrested and charged one police officer in this case. In addition, prosecutors investigated soldiers in the Guatemalan army who were allegedly complicit in sharing pornographic material depicting children who may have been sex trafficking victims. The government did not provide an update to the 2018 case of two government officials charged with trafficking crimes. The government reported prosecutors coordinated with their foreign counterparts on six trafficking investigations opened by officials in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, and Panama and five investigations within Guatemala. In 2021, the Secretariat against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons (SVET) organized several trainings for police on investigating trafficking crimes, and the Public Ministry trained 57 officials on human trafficking and related crimes. With donor support, the anti-trafficking prosecutor’s office held a four-day training workshop for officials in Guatemala City’s municipal government and courts.

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.

The government maintained prevention efforts. SVET served as the secretariat for the Interinstitutional Commission Against Trafficking-in-Persons (CIT), coordinated government efforts against trafficking, and implemented the national anti-trafficking action plan for 2018-2024. SVET published its work plans and statistics on trafficking cases and government responses on its public website; SVET and PDH published their annual trafficking reports. In four departments, the government operated local commissions, composed of government, NGO, and other local stakeholders, designed to raise awareness and prevent sexual violence, exploitation, and sex trafficking. The government continued implementation of its multi-year national anti-trafficking awareness campaign, establishing new partnerships with Indigenous leaders and municipal authorities for the prevention of trafficking in priority regions. The PDH, with international donor support, implemented a campaign in Spanish and local languages to educate the public on reporting suspected trafficking cases. SVET developed new trafficking prevention materials in Braille and distributed written materials in six local languages to reach vulnerable Indigenous communities. The government reported SVET and other institutions trained 996 government officials on trafficking prevention and detection. UNIVET’s mobile units, funded by international donors, trained an additional 1,470 local government officials on trafficking awareness. Several agencies cooperated on a campaign to promote the government’s hotline for reporting child labor complaints. The government did not report whether it received any complaints involving forced child labor or if it referred any cases to law enforcement for criminal investigation. Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (MINTRAB) inspectors identified 13 trafficking victims in 2021. However, the pandemic exacerbated existing shortcomings in human and financial resources, hindering MINTRAB’s ability to conduct effective labor inspections and identify forced labor cases. MOL officials reported being overwhelmed with other responsibilities, such as the number of unemployment and worker compensation requests. The government did not prohibit employers or recruiters from charging workers recruitment fees. The Ministry of Labor published new regulations that required private recruiters to register and receive permission to operate and strengthened the government’s monitoring and oversight of recruitment practices. The government participated in a program with authorities in the United States to limit the entry into Guatemala of sex offenders convicted in the United States; in 2021, authorities denied 13 sex offenders entry into Guatemala through this program.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Guatemala, and traffickers exploit victims from Guatemala abroad. Traffickers exploit Guatemalan adults and children in sex trafficking within the country and in Mexico, the United States, Belize, and other foreign countries. LGBTQI+ persons are at particular risk of sex trafficking. Foreign child sex tourists, predominantly from Canada, the United States, and Western Europe, as well as Guatemalan men, purchase commercial sex acts from child trafficking victims. Traffickers exploit women and children from other Latin American countries and the United States in sex trafficking in Guatemala. Traffickers exploit Guatemalan adults and children in forced labor within the country, often in agriculture or domestic service. Traffickers subject Guatemalan adults to forced labor in other countries, including Mexico and the United States, in the garment industry and domestic service. Experts identified the coffee, broccoli, sugar, stone quarry, and fireworks manufacturing sectors as at risk for the potential use of forced child labor. Some women in forced marriages are subjected to domestic servitude. Traffickers particularly target Indigenous Guatemalans, including children, for forced labor, including in tortilla-making shops in Guatemala and foreign countries. Traffickers exploit Guatemalan children in forced labor in begging, street vending, and as street performers, particularly within Guatemala City and along the border with Mexico. Child victims’ families are often complicit in their exploitation. Criminal organizations, including gangs, exploit girls in sex trafficking and coerce and threaten boys and young men in urban areas to sell or transport drugs or commit extortion. Traffickers exploit some Latin American migrants transiting Guatemala en route to Mexico or the United States in sex trafficking or forced labor within the country or upon arrival at their destination. Traffickers increasingly used online recruitment methods to reach victims, particularly children, in their own homes during the pandemic. Traffickers have exploited victims in migrant shelters. Authorities have investigated police, military, and elected officials for paying children for sex acts, facilitating child sex trafficking, accepting bribes from traffickers, or protecting venues where trafficking occurs. Government officials in the national banking system allegedly assisted traffickers in committing money laundering crimes. The government reported 416 Cuban medical workers in the country; these individuals may have been forced to work by the Cuban government.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future