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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 with 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 amending the penal code to increase penalties for trafficking crimes, identifying more victims, and nearly doubling funding to an NGO that provides shelter for victims. The government increased efforts to identify victims of forced labor and prosecute suspected perpetrators of forced labor crimes. The government approved a new victim assistance manual and standard operating procedures (SOPs) to strengthen victim identification and referral to services, and the Inter-institutional Commission to Combat Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking in Persons (CICESCT) sustained its efforts to provide immediate protection and coordinate among other providers for additional care. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not allocate adequate financial or human resources to effectively respond to trafficking crimes and provide comprehensive victim support throughout the country. The government did not report holding any employers or employment agencies criminally accountable for fraudulent recruitment practices or charging recruitment fees to workers.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Increase investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of traffickers, including complicit officials and perpetrators of forced labor crimes.
  • Increase training for front-line officials on implementing new SOPs for victim identification and referral, including screening for indicators of trafficking among migrants and returnees, forcibly displaced persons, and children apprehended for illicit gang-related activities.
  • Increase government funding for CICESCT and other agencies responsible for implementing anti-trafficking activities in support of the national action plan (NAP).
  • Raise awareness of fraudulent recruitment for employment in Honduras and abroad and punish employers or employment agencies for illegal practices that facilitate trafficking, such as fraudulent offers of employment or illegal fees for migration or job placement.
  • Amend the 2014 anti-trafficking law to include a definition of human trafficking consistent with international law.
  • Increase and institutionalize anti- trafficking training for police, prosecutors, judges, and CICESCT’s immediate response team (IRT).
  • Draft a new NAP to take effect in 2023 and secure resources for its implementation.

PROSECUTION

The government increased prosecution efforts, although it made amendments to its anti-trafficking law that reversed progress to align the definition of trafficking with international law. The government amended the anti-trafficking provisions of the Honduran penal code. Amendments to Article 219, which went into effect in November 2021, criminalized sex and labor trafficking and increased penalties from five to eight years’ imprisonment to 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment. The new penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, the new provisions amended the definition of trafficking; inconsistent with international law, the law established the use of force, fraud, or coercion as aggravating factors rather than essential elements of the crime.

The government reported investigating 148 trafficking cases—64 cases for sex trafficking and related crimes, five cases for forced labor, and 79 cases of unspecified exploitation. This compares with 82 cases investigated for sex trafficking and related crimes in 2020 and 91 in 2019. Authorities initiated prosecutions of 43 suspects (27 for sex trafficking and 16 for forced labor), compared with nine initiated in 2020 (seven for sex trafficking and two for forced labor) and 55 in 2019 (53 for sex trafficking, including procuring commercial sex acts, and two for forced labor). The government convicted 18 sex traffickers, compared with 14 traffickers convicted in 2020 (10 for sex trafficking, two for forced labor, and two for both sex trafficking and forced labor) and 34 traffickers convicted in 2019 (33 for sex trafficking/procuring commercial sex acts and one for forced labor). Courts issued prison sentences ranging from three years and nine months to 21 years and four months for convicted traffickers and ordered some of them to also pay monetary fines to the government. The government investigated a Ministry of Labor employee for involvement in a case that included money laundering and forced labor of 32 victims in a restaurant; authorities charged the official with disclosure of privileged information, which facilitated trafficking crimes. The government did not provide updates on investigations of official complicity in trafficking crimes opened in previous years. 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, which included investigative police officers, with offices in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. However, experts observed the unit remained understaffed and lacked sufficient resources to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, particularly throughout other regions of the country. COVID-19 infections among police, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, witnesses, and defendants caused staffing shortages in enforcement agencies and disrupted the pace of justice proceedings. 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. Experts observed that judges’ lack of specialized knowledge and limited experience in handling trafficking cases impeded successful prosecution and conviction of traffickers. The Government of Honduras cooperated with the Government of the United States to investigate one suspected trafficking case.

PROTECTION

The government maintained strong protection efforts, with CICESCT’s IRT providing robust assistance to victims throughout the year. The government identified 101 trafficking victims in 2021, including 48 exploited in sex trafficking and 53 exploited in forced labor. In comparison, the government identified 42 victims (31 in sex trafficking and 11 in forced labor) in 2020; the government identified 75 victims (66 in sex trafficking and nine in forced labor), and NGOs identified 78 victims in 2019. Government-identified sex trafficking victims included 35 girls, 11 women, and two boys, while forced labor victims included 22 women, 14 men, nine boys, six girls, and two LGBTQI+ persons whose gender and age were not specified. These data may have included some victims of related crimes such as child pornography. NGOs identified three additional women exploited in sex trafficking.

First responders referred trafficking victims to CICESCT’s IRT, composed of two psychologists and two social workers, for immediate support; in January 2022, CICESCT hired an attorney to join the IRT. The IRT provided all 101 victims with assistance, including legal advice, immediate protection, and psychological services. 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. Officials reported CICESCT met with other agencies more than 120 times to coordinate services for victims. CICESCT coordinated with the Ministry of Health to provide COVID-19 testing and vaccination to victims. CICESCT referred 12 sex trafficking victims (eight girls and four women) and 29 labor trafficking victims (15 women, eight men, two girls, two boys, and two LGBTQI+ individuals whose gender and age were not specified) to government and NGO shelters for additional care. Child victims could receive care from government or NGO shelters, and women had the option to receive assistance from NGO shelters. At times, the government or NGOs arranged lodging in hotels for adult male victims. There were no specialized shelters for trafficking victims in Honduras, men were not accepted in any shelters, and services for victims in rural areas were limited in quality and availability.

With support from a donor-funded NGO and input from survivors, the government developed and began implementing a victim assistance manual with SOPs for the proactive identification of victims among members of at-risk groups and interagency coordination procedures for referring victims to services. To supplement the manual, authorities created an assistance plan that detailed victims’ basic and urgent needs, including specialized assistance and support for healing from trauma. These resources supplemented the government’s intersectoral protocol on victim protection and existing written procedures for identifying victims and referring them to care. The new victim assistance manual included strengthened procedures to screen for indicators of trafficking among underserved populations, including individuals with disabilities, Indigenous and Afro-descendant persons, LGBTQI+ individuals, and persons forcibly displaced due to violence or environmental disasters. CICESCT and the anti-trafficking prosecution unit each operated trafficking-specific hotlines. The CICESCT hotline received 32 reports of suspected trafficking cases and 286 calls requesting information, and NGOs reported two cases directly to CICESCT.

With funding from international organizations, the Government of Honduras’ National Directorate for Child and Family Services (DINAF) employed 13 child protection officers, working across six land border ports of entry and the child and family migrant reception center in San Pedro Sula, to interview all returning migrant children and their families. Child protection officers followed procedures to assist children determined to be at-risk of exploitation and to refer potential trafficking cases to law enforcement officials for investigation. The government did not report whether officials identified any trafficking victims among returning migrants 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. In 2021, the government repatriated and assisted 20 Honduran victims identified in other countries.

The government initially allocated 6.74 million lempiras ($277,890) to CICESCT but later redirected some funds to pandemic relief efforts, decreasing its actual disbursement to 6.13 million lempiras ($252,540). This amount was comparable to 6.18 million lempiras ($254,800) provided in 2020 and an increase from the pre-pandemic budget allocation of

5.53 million ($228,000) in 2019. CICESCT provided 150,000 lempiras ($6,180) to an NGO operating a shelter that accommodated women, girls, and boys up to the age of 12; this amount was nearly double the funding it provided in 2020 (77,000 lempiras or $3,170). Nonetheless, officials reported that donor assistance was integral to their efforts, as government funding was insufficient to provide comprehensive victim care, purchase personal protective equipment for victims, and implement the NAP.

The government provided witness protection services to some victims participating in investigations or prosecutions. Authorities permitted victims to provide testimony through written statements or pre-recorded interviews in one of its four secure Gesell chambers. IRT members accompanied victims throughout their participation in the criminal justice process and referred some victims to legal aid services for additional assistance. 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 2021.

PREVENTION

The government-maintained prevention efforts and robust interagency coordination. CICESCT convened a network of 32 government agencies and NGOs and took an active role in coordinating the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, including through supporting local committees in each of Honduras’ 18 departments. The government continued implementation of its 2016-2022 NAP through activities to improve victim identification and raise public awareness of the risks of trafficking. 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 social media accounts to share information on human trafficking with the public and encourage reporting of suspected trafficking crimes.

Government agencies, including CICESCT and the Public Ministry, conducted both online and in-person training and information events on trafficking prevention for police, lawyers, judges, labor inspectors, teachers, health officials, victim service professionals, immigration officials, and representatives of NGOs. CICESCT tailored some events to at-risk groups—including children and students, individuals with disabilities, migrants, Indigenous persons, and members of the LGBTQI+ community—and conducted activities to raise awareness of cybercrime and human trafficking. The government made campaign materials available in Honduran Sign Language.

Labor inspectors did not identify any suspected trafficking cases in 2021. The Secretariat of Labor and Social Security monitored and regulated compliance with labor laws and policies that could decrease workers’ vulnerability to trafficking, including those regulating private employment agencies, recruitment and contracting of Honduran workers abroad, and employment of at-risk groups, such as domestic workers and seafarers. Honduran regulations prohibited charging recruitment fees to workers, but the government did not report enforcement of these regulations in 2021. CICESCT and the Honduran Tourism Institute coordinated with their regional counterparts to conduct awareness raising activities aimed at the prevention of child sex tourism. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

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 the pandemic worsened numerous issues that exacerbate these risks, such as family problems, unemployment, and lack of access to healthcare. 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 who are homeless 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; these acts 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. 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. Corruption and official complicity helped facilitate trafficking crimes.

U.S. Department of State

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