The Government of Belize 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, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Belize remained on Tier 2. These achievements included identifying more victims; improving screening for trafficking indicators, including by finalizing and implementing screening guidelines for frontline officers and training officials on their use; banning worker-paid recruitment fees; conducting an extensive public awareness campaign; and improving data collection. The government, in partnership with an NGO, made an additional shelter available to trafficking victims and supported victims in domestic and foreign trials. The government also created an amnesty program to regularize the immigration status of undocumented migrants, which may reduce their vulnerability to trafficking; at least four confirmed trafficking victims applied for amnesty under the program. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. It did not adequately address official complicity in trafficking crimes, nor convict any traffickers, nor initiate any new prosecutions. It also did not adequately oversee labor recruitment nor report investigating allegations of labor trafficking of Indians and People’s Republic of China (PRC) nationals.
Implement the anti-trafficking law by vigorously investigating and prosecuting traffickers, including officials allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms.
Ensure labor and liquor license inspectors comply with domestic laws and policies, which require inspections of workplaces and screening for trafficking indicators.
Improve coordination between the anti-trafficking Police Unit and the Department of Labor and ensure investigations and victim referrals take place in cases the Department of Labor identifies.
Require labor recruiters to participate in the national labor recruiter registry and conduct prevention programs with migrant workers.
Strengthen monitoring of alleged traffickers out on bail, reduce court delays for trafficking cases, and enable the courts to function virtually, including video testimony for the victim.
Increase the anti-trafficking council’s engagement with survivors, including the activities in the NAP.
Ensure restitution is paid, even in cases where the trafficker is indigent.
Provide adequate funding, including to NGOs, for specialized services for victims.
Provide legal support for all victims, including men and children.
Consistently apply formal procedures to identify victims in vulnerable groups; including children at risk of familial trafficking; school children aged 14 to 16; PRC national and Cuban overseas workers, including medical professionals; migrants; refugees; and asylum-seekers, and refer identified victims to services.
Increase training for and efforts to pursue financial crime investigations in tandem with human trafficking cases.
The government slightly decreased prosecution efforts. The 2013 Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Act (TIP Act) criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to eight years’ imprisonment for offenses involving adult victims and up to 12 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving child victims. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with other serious crimes, such as rape. In addition, the 2013 Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (Prohibition) Act (CSEC Act) criminalized various offenses relating to the prostitution of anyone younger than 18. Under the TIP Act, traffickers who were government officials and diplomats may be imprisoned for up to 15 years and must leave public office.
The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Police Unit (A-TIP Police Unit) was the police’s dedicated unit for conducting trafficking investigations and anti-trafficking operations. The A-TIP Police Unit initiated 11 new investigations involving 11 individuals, six women and five men including a police officer, and continued 10 investigations involving 29 individuals initiated in prior reporting periods; this compared with initiating 15 trafficking investigations involving 20 individuals in 2021 and five new investigations in 2020.
Authorities continued prosecutions of seven traffickers – five men (one Guatemalan, one South African, and three Belizeans) and two women (one Guatemalan and one Belizean) – compared with prosecuting six defendants in 2021. Three men and a woman were prosecuted for sex trafficking, one man and one woman were prosecuted for labor trafficking, and one man was prosecuted for both sex and labor trafficking. Authorities prosecuted four defendants under the TIP Act and three defendants under the CSEC Act. Courts released seven suspected traffickers on bail. The government reported delays in initiating prosecutions and arriving at convictions due to the complexity of ongoing investigations.
The High (formerly Supreme) Court did not convict any traffickers in 2022, compared with convicting two Belizean sex traffickers in 2021, none in 2020, and one for sex and labor trafficking in 2019. The government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes – particularly among lower-level officials – remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action. The A-TIP Police Unit initiated one investigation of an allegedly complicit police officer, and authorities continued to investigate two high-ranking retired government officials – a police officer and an immigration officer – for alleged labor trafficking of a Salvadoran while in government service. Civil society organizations reported some police officers took bribes to impede trafficking investigations, including by not reporting potential perpetrators or identifying victims and alerting establishments of pending law enforcement action. The press also reported allegations of corrupt immigration officials selling illegal passports. The government continued to prohibit the practice of off-duty police officers providing security for bars and nightclubs, where commercial sex frequently occurred, to limit police complicity in trafficking crimes in these establishments. The government and NGOs reported no violations of the prohibition during the reporting period.
The TIP Act required all officials to report suspected trafficking cases to the A-TIP Police Unit for investigation. The A-TIP Police Unit had eight designated officers, including two women who conducted screenings of female victims, and coordinated its trafficking investigations with officials from the Immigration Department, the Ministry of Human Development (MHD) and its associated departments, the Social Security Board, and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The government reported all investigators and social workers were trained in Spanish; in addition, A-TIP Police and social workers used the services of trusted Mandarin and Hindi translators. A-TIP Police Unit SOPs required agents to accompany immigration officers when conducting operations to counter suspected trafficking. The Department of Human Services (DHS), the Immigration Department, the Belize Police Department (BPD), and an international organization referred cases to the A-TIP Police Unit for investigation. The A-TIP Police Unit had an ongoing partnership with an international NGO to provide office space, a dedicated vehicle, and ongoing technical investigative assistance with trafficking cases; the office space provided a secure, private, and non-threatening location for interviewing victims and witnesses of trafficking, collecting evidence, and planning operations. Law enforcement authorities lacked equipment and personnel to conduct large-scale trafficking investigations effectively. In addition, the police force did not have sufficient staff and could not pursue trafficking investigations adequately.
The A-TIP Police Unit referred cases to an office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for prosecution. The Inferior Court initiated procedures in all trafficking cases, which were then sent directly to be tried by the High Court. One High Court Justice specialized in trafficking cases. Observers noted the justice system was inefficient and lacked personnel, including judges. The government adopted amendments to the Indictable Procedures Act that added trafficking to the list of crimes that could be tried by a judge without a jury in March 2022 to expedite prosecutions, eliminate backlogs, and improve the comfort of victim-witnesses. The government facilitated the travel of a witness, who was not a survivor, to testify in a human trafficking case. Their passport was paid for by the Government of Belize, as well as the transportation and hotel costs of the witness to travel to and from the capital. The court system resumed normal operations after the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in April 2022. The judicial sector lacked the capacity and resources to hear cases virtually. The A-TIP Police Unit trained prison officials, immigration officers, customs agents, court officials, and other officials who may come into contact with potential trafficking victims on law enforcement techniques, screening for trafficking indicators, and identification of victims. The government extensively trained police, immigration officers, and the Coast Guard on human trafficking awareness and investigative techniques and handling trafficking cases in the justice system. It also collaborated with an international NGO to train court officials on handling trafficking cases in the justice system. Authorities cooperated with counterparts in neighboring countries on judicial and law enforcement efforts. Authorities took part in an operation with police from Latin America and the Caribbean that initiated three trafficking investigations and identified 12 potential trafficking victims who were subsequently referred to appropriate services.
The government increased efforts to protect victims. The A-TIP Police Unit screened 295 individuals – 133 female and 162 male, originating from Belize, Brazil, Cuba, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, PRC, and Vietnam – for trafficking indicators. The government did not report the number of individuals it screened in the previous reporting period. Observers noted frontline workers disproportionately focused on screening foreign potential victims, but authorities began to include establishments, such as bakeries, breweries, and restaurants, with Belizean workers as part of their inspections and raids. Authorities identified seven confirmed victims, including two who self-identified, compared with three confirmed victims in 2021 and 20 potential victims in 2020. The victims included one Belizean girl exploited in labor trafficking, one Guatemalan girl exploited in labor and sex trafficking, one Guatemalan girl exploited in sex trafficking, one Guatemalan woman exploited in labor trafficking, one Honduran girl exploited in sex trafficking, one Honduran woman exploited in sex trafficking, and one Indian man exploited in labor trafficking. In addition, NGOs identified two female victims, one Belizean and one Honduran, compared with six trafficking victims in the previous reporting period. The government referred all nine victims to initial government services, the same as in the previous reporting period. Authorities repatriated three foreign victims to their countries of origin upon their request; a fourth returned to his home country without government assistance. Five victims from previous reporting periods were still receiving care at the end of this reporting period. Authorities coordinated with their foreign counterparts to support a foreign victim in Belize testifying against traffickers in another country.
The A-TIP Police Unit coordinated with the Immigration Department, Public Health Department, and MHD when planning operations to ensure services were available to potential victims. MHD and an NGO signed an MOU to formally establish their partnership and strengthen coordination between law enforcement and victim care. SOPs for police, immigration officers, and social workers addressed screening for trafficking indicators, victim interviews, victim health screening, quarantine procedures, and removal of victims from trafficking situations. The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Council (A-TIP Council) and DHS regularly reviewed and updated the SOPs with assistance from an NGO and input from victims. The A-TIP Council, in coordination with an international NGO and funded by a foreign donor, finalized and began implementation of identification and referral guidelines drafted in the previous reporting period for frontline police, immigration, and customs officers, along with medical personnel, social workers, and private companies offering essential services.
The government screened for trafficking indicators at the airport, and the Immigration Department and the BPD monitored border areas for potential victims. Officials used the 2021 Protocols for Accompanied and Unaccompanied Migrant Children to refer migrant children, some of whom may have been trafficking victims, to the appropriate authorities for care. NGOs reported authorities in the previous reporting period may have failed to screen all migrants. Victims’ fear of detention or deportation may have contributed to their reluctance to report trafficking to law enforcement officers. Authorities contacted the relevant embassies for potential consular services for foreign victims. Victims identified during the screening process could also apply for refugee status; the government did not report any victims doing so. The government did not report screening Cuban medical professionals in the country for trafficking indicators. The government provided foreign trafficking victims with the same victim services as domestic victims. The government referred adult victims and their families to DHS’s Alternative Care Unit; authorities referred unaccompanied children to the Child Protection System. DHS and MHD, which had a trafficking unit, were responsible for providing victims with trauma-informed care. DHS received referrals from hospitals, the Immigration Department, the BPD, human services offices, and anonymous calls. DHS and MHD provided the following services to victims: social worker support, shelter, medical care, counseling, education, basic needs, legal assistance, and repatriation assistance. The government covered the costs for all these services, which it provided through the duration of criminal proceedings and as part of the re-integration process. The government reported that because of the scarcity of mental health services in the public system, private providers delivered medical and counseling services. DHS could procure subsidized services for disabled persons; the government did not report using this service. Authorities provided victims with protective custody if needed. Authorities placed child victims in the government-funded foster care system or a group home. The government made arrangements with an NGO that opened a shelter for migrant children to temporarily house child trafficking victims. The government did not fund or operate any shelters for adults. It partnered with two domestic violence NGOs, one of which received government funding, to provide shelter and services to adult female trafficking victims; authorities separated trafficking victims from victims of other crimes in these shelters. MHD also had arrangements with an NGO to shelter male victims; the government did not report any male victims using the shelter during the reporting period. Observers noted other shelters were unwilling to receive male victims because, in the past, gang-affiliated trafficking victims became violent; observers had no reports of male trafficking victims going without shelter or services during the reporting period.
The government did not limit the time protection services were available nor make them conditional upon victim cooperation with law enforcement; services extended beyond the disposition of legal cases. The government reported that it supported and encouraged victim participation in investigations and in the prosecution of their traffickers but did not require it for service provision. The government took steps to protect victim-witnesses during trials. In past years, court delays and fear of retaliation by traffickers may have led foreign victims to not cooperate with law enforcement and return to their home countries; foreign victims could provide written statements for evidence. Foreign victims could receive temporary residency status and work permits regardless of their cooperation with investigations or prosecutions; the government reported no victims applied for a work permit during the reporting period. An international organization identified two child victims while raising awareness of an amnesty program and referred the victims to care; DHS assisted four other trafficking victims under the program. Observers noted the law did not provide refugees in the asylum application process or undocumented migrants with work permits and that traffickers took advantage of this to threaten victims with deportation. The government could offer repatriation assistance to victims if they chose to return to their countries of origin, pending trial proceedings; an international organization coordinated repatriation. NGOs working closely with the government noted, while gaps remained, government services improved. The government allocated 136,000 Belizean dollars ($68,000) for victim assistance, compared with not allocating a specific amount for the previous two years.
The government trained immigration, labor, and DHS frontline personnel, as well as immigration, public health, and MHD officers and Justices of the Peace, prosecutors, magistrates, and High Court justices on SOPs to better identify victims and refer to care, in cooperation with an NGO. The government and an international organization trained frontline workers on an online case management information system. The government trained defense, police, Coast Guard, and Central Prison employees on human trafficking awareness, migration risks, and the protocol when handling migrant children in cooperation with an NGO. The government, with funding from an international organization, trained frontline workers to identify trafficking indicators of migrant children. The government and an international organization trained residential care staff on identifying crimes against children, including trafficking. The government, in coordination with and funded by an international organization, trained park rangers, hotel employees, tour guides, border management agents, and tourism police on trafficking indicators in the tourism industry. Authorities also participated in an operation with counterparts from Latin America and the Caribbean to screen foreign undocumented adult migrants for trafficking indicators among those who entered the country via the Guatemala land border; the operation identified three foreign child victims who were later referred for care.
The government increased its prevention efforts. The government continued to implement and fund the 2021-2023 NAP. The A-TIP Council coordinated the government’s anti-trafficking efforts. The Chief Executive Officer of MHD chaired the Council and also served simultaneously in several other official positions because of personnel and resource limitations. The A-TIP Council was composed of key ministries and two NGOs. The Council held one meeting, and its committees met multiple times. Observers noted the A-TIP Council had developed into a policymaking and administrative agency. The A-TIP Council reviewed the current NAP with stakeholders in preparation for a new NAP. The A-TIP Council organized and hosted an anti-trafficking forum in collaboration with a foreign embassy. After communication gaps were identified during the forum, the A-TIP Council built an anti-trafficking civil society organization network and held a symposium with civil society groups. The government allocated 205,000 Belizean dollars ($102,500) for anti-trafficking activities during the reporting period, consistent with the past four years, of which 25,000 Belizean dollars ($12,500) went towards prevention activities. In March 2023, the government increased the budget for the A-TIP Council for the next fiscal year to 558,000 Belizean dollars ($279,000). Funding for each department’s anti-trafficking activities, and the amount for victim assistance, came out of the national budget.
The A-TIP Council’s Focal Point, which served as an interagency coordinator and manager, systematically documented the government’s efforts on human trafficking in the areas of prevention, prosecution, protection, and partnerships and maintained an associated database. The A-TIP Council published its annual infographic on trafficking dynamics in the country in March 2023; the report was available to the public. The government contributed data to studies conducted by a foreign university and an NGO to monitor the effectiveness of anti-trafficking efforts. The government, with the financial support of an international organization, conducted a gap analysis to review the government’s overall effectiveness in combating trafficking; the report was made available to the public. The A-TIP Council, in partnership with an NGO and with funding from a foreign donor, launched an 18-month awareness raising and training campaign targeting the national public transportation industry. The government held awareness-raising sessions for telecommunications employees and liquor license inspectors. The A-TIP Council created and disseminated an anti-trafficking video that aired at prime time across the country’s three principal television channels. A-TIP Council members conducted awareness-raising activities on television, on social media, and at in-person events. All awareness-raising materials were available in English and Spanish at no cost. The A-TIP Council provided technical guidance, reviewed campaign materials, and served as subject matter experts to ensure messaging did not legitimize or perpetuate harmful or racialized narratives about what victims, survivors, and perpetrators looked like; images and language were adapted from an international organization website to maintain international standards. The government did not operate or fund a trafficking hotline. An NGO operated a 24-hour hotline for all crimes. The police reported three trafficking investigations resulted from hotline calls, compared with none in the previous reporting period.
The government created an amnesty program that reduced the trafficking vulnerability for up to 40,000 migrants. As of February 1, 2023, the government and an international organization reported 12,000 migrants, including at least four trafficking victims, had applied. Observers stated a significant segment of the undocumented migrant population did not take advantage of the amnesty program because of the prohibitive financial burden, as the cost to process one application was estimated to be 1,500 Belizean dollars ($750) for a criminal record, a full medical exam, and a legal form of identification from their country of origin. After the end of the program, observers noted undocumented migrants would no longer enjoy the ease of adjusting their status under the current program criteria; trafficking victims, however, would continue to have the option to apply for residency as stipulated in the TIP Act. In March 2023, the government passed a law reinstituting visa requirements for Haitians and adding new documentation for Jamaicans because of increased concerns about human trafficking and migrant smuggling. The government reported legislation to change the mandatory school attendance age from 14 to 16, which could help protect children from becoming trafficking victims, remained under review at the end of the reporting period.
Liquor licensing boards routinely failed to conduct inspections of restaurants where commercial sex, including potential sex and labor trafficking crimes, allegedly took place. Observers noted this was largely to avoid having to open investigations into alleged exploitation, including trafficking. The labor code required labor recruiters to register with the national labor recruiter registry, but the government reported none did so. The A-TIP Council provided pamphlets to NGOs and international organizations on labor rights and trafficking indicators for distribution in the communities they served. Belize Trade and Investment Development Services, the government’s trade promotion agency, provided training to entrepreneurs and small businesses on labor rights and labor trafficking. The Ministry of Labor launched a Labor Complaints Management System to facilitate online complaints. The A-TIP Council, the MHD, and several NGOs and civil society partners conducted outreach in English and Spanish to migrant workers vulnerable to trafficking to advise them of their rights. Foreign workers had to obtain a work permit from the Employment Permit Committee before they engaged in any form of paid work; this body included a social worker responsible for identifying vulnerable groups or individuals. In February 2023, the government banned worker-paid recruitment fees. The government did not have other guidelines for foreign worker recruitment; authorities continued to review a pending migrant worker recruitment policy, developed in the previous reporting period in collaboration with an international organization. A temporary employment policy excluded foreign workers from certain job positions that were especially at risk for trafficking, including bar and nightclub waitresses, cooks, common laborers, small business clerks and managerial staff, waitresses in other establishments, security guards, domestic workers, caregivers, and construction helpers. Observers noted many members of vulnerable communities were employed in agriculture and other informal sectors in rural areas that often fell outside the geographical area monitored by the A-TIP Police Unit; in these areas, labor inspectors were relied upon to identify trafficking. The Labor Department had 24 inspectors and conducted 822 inspections in cooperation with other government agencies during which employers were advised of their responsibilities under the TIP Act and employees were advised of their rights; while the government reported the number of inspectors was adequate, outside observers disagreed and reported improved labor inspections would likely uncover more foreign and domestic trafficking victims. NGOs noted labor inspections identified possible cases of labor trafficking among Indians and PRC nationals working in the country, but the government did not report investigating these cases. Labor inspectors reported a shortage of qualified personnel, vehicles, fuel, and operating funds to conduct adequate inspections for labor violations. The government raised awareness, in collaboration with an international organization, on labor trafficking in agriculture. The government was a party to several treaties that upheld workers’ rights and launched new policies on child labor in cooperation with international organizations.
The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, including criminalizing elements such as loitering, soliciting, and procuring. The law allowed for Belizean citizens to be tried for trafficking and child sex tourism crimes committed abroad; the government did not report investigating any cases of child sex tourism during the reporting period. The government sponsored billboards to combat child sex tourism at the international airport and border-crossing points. The government participated in a multilateral program to identify and deny tourist entry to registered sex offenders. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Belize, and traffickers exploit victims from Belize abroad. The country’s reliance on the tourism and agriculture sectors, proximity to the United States, and weak security and police forces relative to neighboring countries all increase human trafficking vulnerability. Groups considered most at risk for trafficking in Belize include women, children and, in particular, girls, migrants, those experiencing economic difficulties, including pandemic-related unemployment, agricultural workers, and LGBTQI+ persons. Sex traffickers exploit Belizean and foreign adults, girls, and LGBTQI+ persons, primarily from Central America, in bars, nightclubs, hotels, and brothels. During the pandemic, sex trafficking mostly moved to more tightly controlled, illegal brothels rather than bars and clubs – which were closed from March 2020 to March 2022 – and involved a network of taxi operators who provided a connection between those involved in commercial sex and patrons; the change made reporting more difficult as the commercial sex trade moved further underground, into private residences. Tourism-related industries lure laborers through the offer of legitimate service jobs and exploit them in sex trafficking. These illicit operations are typically small in scale and unconnected to organized transnational trafficking rings. Family members facilitate the sex trafficking of Belizean women and girls, including through an arrangement where a wealthy male will offer payment or gifts to a family in exchange for sex from a young, usually female, family member. This practice expanded to Guatemalan victims unable to pay school fees in Belize. Although many victims in the country are Belizeans, foreign adults and children – particularly from Central America, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, Brazil, and Asia – migrate to or transit Belize en route to the United States in search of work, and traffickers often exploit victims using false promises of relatively high-paying jobs or take advantage of migrants’ illegal status and exploit them in forced labor in restaurants, bars, shops, domestic work, and agriculture. The law does not allow asylum-seekers to obtain work permits, placing them at constant threat of deportation that may increase their vulnerability to trafficking. Observers note labor trafficking disproportionately affects women. PRC nationals and Indians may be exploited in Belize in domestic service and indentured servitude. PRC nationals may be vulnerable to forced labor on fishing vessels registered in Belize. PRC nationals working in construction in Belize, during previous reporting periods, may have been forced to work, even by PRC-affiliated enterprises. Cuban workers in Belize may be forced to work by the Cuban government. In tourist regions, foreign child sex tourists, primarily from the United States, exploit child sex trafficking victims. NGOs report some police and immigration officers take bribes in return for ignoring trafficking, facilitating illegal entries, failing to report suspected victims and perpetrators, and failing to act on reported cases under their jurisdiction.