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 significantly more traffickers, strengthening government capacity to provide comprehensive care to child trafficking victims, and training officials to prevent and respond to labor trafficking among Guatemalan workers abroad.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  The government assisted and referred fewer victims to public and NGO shelters.  The government decreased its funding for shelters.  Adult victims had few shelter options.  Government awareness-raising activities for underserved and at-risk communities did not offer victims direct access to file a complaint or obtain services, limiting the impact of such efforts on marginalized populations.

  • Increase funding for victim protection, including government and NGO shelters and other service providers, and expand access to services for LGBTQI+, male, and/or adult victims.
  • Strengthen measures to ensure authorities consistently refer identified victims to services, including labor trafficking victims, and build the capacity of Child and Adolescent Court judges to provide trauma-informed procedures to child victims.
  • Vigorously investigate and prosecute traffickers, including labor traffickers, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms.
  • Increase efforts to proactively identify trafficking victims, particularly among vulnerable populations, such as working children, migrants and returnees, individuals in commercial sex, children apprehended for illicit gang-related activities, and Cuban medical professionals.
  • Ensure outreach efforts to vulnerable and underserved communities offer direct access for victims and at-risk persons to file a complaint or access services.
  • Amend the 2009 anti-trafficking law to include a definition of human trafficking consistent with international law.
  • Develop a mechanism to ensure victims receive court-ordered restitution payments.
  • Provide reintegration and victim witness support, including immigration relief for irregular migrant victims, to victims once they leave shelters to prevent re-trafficking.
  • Expand training for judges and prosecutors to include training on the use of forensic and other evidence to ensure authorities investigate and prosecute trafficking cases as such rather than as lesser offenses.
  • Expand prevention measures, including through raising awareness of fraudulent recruitment for employment in Guatemala and abroad; 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 182 cases involving 356 individuals suspected of trafficking crimes (150 cases involving sex trafficking, 21 cases involving labor trafficking, and 11 cases of unspecified forms of trafficking).  This compared with investigations involving 386 suspects in an unknown number of cases in 2021.  Authorities reported initiating prosecutions of 162 defendants (135 accused of sex trafficking, 23 accused of labor trafficking, and four not specified) and continuing prosecutions of 143 defendants (85 for sex trafficking, 30 for labor trafficking, and 28 not specified) in cases ongoing from previous years.  This was a notable increase from 2021, when authorities initiated prosecutions of 71 defendants and continued prosecutions of 59 defendants ongoing from previous years.  The Human Rights Ombudsman reported receiving 14 complaints of potential trafficking, which it referred to the Public Ministry (MP), compared with nine complaints in 2021 and 16 complaints in 2020.  Some prosecutions may have been for crimes that did not meet the definition of trafficking according to international law.  The government reported courts convicted 75 traffickers and acquitted 22 suspects; officials did not specify the types of trafficking crimes committed.  This was a significant increase from 30 traffickers convicted in 2021.  The government reported 20 convicted traffickers received prison sentences ranging from six to 20 years and fines up to 600,000 quetzals ($76,530), but did not report sentencing details for the majority of convicted traffickers.

The National Civil Police maintained the Special Directorate for Criminal Investigation, which had a unit assigned specifically to combat trafficking:  DEIC-TIP.  DEIC-TIP had a central office in Guatemala City and an office in Quetzaltenango with jurisdiction to investigate trafficking crimes across six departments in western Guatemala.  Local experts reported this was insufficient coverage relative to the scale of trafficking in Guatemala, and a lack of adequate training, technology, and equipment hindered effective investigations.  Observers indicated National Civil Police officers across the country lacked an understanding of human trafficking.  The government had a specialized anti-trafficking prosecution unit with offices in Guatemala City, the western region, and the northeast region; specialized prosecutors in the capital handled trafficking cases from areas not covered by the regional offices.  The government announced plans to open an additional office in Petén in 2023.  The government operated three specialized first instance criminal courts in Guatemala City, Quetzaltenango, and Zacapa.  Together, these courts had jurisdiction over the prosecution of trafficking and related crimes in 17 of Guatemala’s 22 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 MP resources and a lengthy appeals process caused further delays, with many legal processes lasting two to three years.  Judicial officials did not apply a victim-centered approach, and some lacked adequate training to apply forensic evidence in prosecutions.  Some officials, especially those outside the major urban areas, did not adequately understand 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 insufficient.  Corrupt members of security forces facilitated trafficking crimes and perpetuated impunity by accepting bribes or working with criminal organizations, including by inhibiting law enforcement.  Corruption within some law enforcement institutions further hindered criminal justice efforts and undermined the rule of law.  Authorities arrested one active police officer on illicit association, conspiracy, and corruption charges for allegedly colluding with a trafficker to allow child sex trafficking crimes to occur.  In the same case, authorities issued arrest warrants for four retired police officers who evaded arrest and were not apprehended.  In February 2023, authorities arrested three prison guards on charges related to their alleged involvement in a sex trafficking operation exploiting inmates in a women’s prison.  Authorities also issued an arrest warrant for, but did not apprehend, a soldier in the Guatemalan army for allegedly possessing and distributing pornographic material depicting children who may have been sex trafficking victims.  In November 2022, authorities commenced the trial of a municipal mayor arrested for alleged involvement in the sex trafficking of a kidnapped 13-year-old girl.  The government did not provide updates on the case of a police officer arrested during the previous reporting period for alleged participation in a sex trafficking operation at a spa in the capital.  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 foreign counterparts in Canada, El Salvador, Honduras, and the United States on law enforcement operations and court cases.  In 2022, police trained officers on the anti-trafficking law.  The MP trained members of its staff on investigating trafficking crimes and supporting victims, including dignified recourse for victims and handling digital evidence in trafficking cases.  The Solicitor General Office (PGN), with support from the Secretariat Against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons (SVET), trained its staff on trafficking issues, and the government trained more than 1,500 officials on trafficking through the School of Judicial Studies.  With donor support, SVET held a conference for representatives from several government institutions on the connection between human trafficking and money laundering and the need to strengthen efforts to detect, freeze, and confiscate illegal proceeds of these crimes.

The government maintained efforts to protect victims; it identified more victims but provided fewer victims services.  Authorities identified 318 victims (72 exploited in sex trafficking and 190 in forced labor, and 56 exploited in unspecified forms of trafficking) and NGOs identified an additional 348 victims (34 exploited in sex trafficking, five in forced labor, and 309 not specified).  This was an increase from 92 victims identified by government authorities and 333 by NGOs in 2021.  Some victims counted in these statistics may have been victims of crimes that did not constitute trafficking under international law.  Among the government-identified victims of sex trafficking, 55 were female and 12 male; 90 forced labor victims were female and 101 were male; and 48 additional victims were female and 11 were male.  The government identified two victims as LGBTQI+.  The government did not clarify minor discrepancies in its disaggregated data.  Authorities did not provide data on the age of identified victims.  NGO-identified victims included 27 girls, 126 women, and 13 men; at least five were foreign nationals, one was LGBTQI+, and one was a person with a disability.  The government did not provide complete data on foreign victims.  However, the government did identify Venezuelan individuals exploited in sex trafficking and a Salvadoran child exploited in forced criminal activity.  Guatemalan authorities coordinated with Polish officials and an international organization to repatriate 32 Guatemalan victims (25 male and seven female) identified in Poland.

In 2022, the government referred 161 victims to NGO and government shelters, a decrease from 218 victims referred to shelters in 2021, where they received services including psycho-social support, medical care, legal assistance, and education and/or vocational training.  The Secretariat of Social Welfare (SBS) operated two specialized shelters for child trafficking victims, and SVET operated one shelter for migrant women trafficking victims.  The government served 60 victims in government-run shelters.  In comparison, government shelters served 92 residents in 2021.  NGOs operated other shelters, mostly without financial support from the government.  Authorities frequently referred victims to four NGO shelters that had specialized services for trafficking victims.  The government provided funding to one NGO service provider since 2006, including 4.5 million quetzals in 2022 ($573,980).  However, the government announced it would cease this funding in 2023, forcing the organization to close its shelter for women survivors of violence, including trafficking, and furlough staff who provided psychological and legal services to victims.  Government agencies and NGOs cooperated to provide services to victims such as food, housing, psychological care, healthcare, education, and job training.  In 2022, the government allocated 2.39 million quetzals ($304,540) to the SVET shelter and 2.3 million quetzals ($293,510) to the SBS shelters, totaling 4.69 million quetzals ($598,050) on shelter and services for trafficking victims.  The government did not report its expenditures in 2021, but this is a significant decline from earlier years’ funding when the government provided 9 million quetzals ($1.15 million) to government-run shelters and specialized services in 2020, 7.04 million quetzals ($897,960) in 2019, and 19.4 million quetzals ($2.47 million) in 2018.

The government, with support from an NGO, finalized updates to its interinstitutional protocol for the care and protection of victims, which guided officials in identifying, referring, and providing services to victims.  SVET approved the protocol in May 2022 and held events in four departments to familiarize stakeholders with the new guidelines.  The government trained immigration officials on identifying trafficking victims in migration contexts and immigration officials conducted interviews with migrants prior to deportation.  Unlike last year, however, they did not refer any potential trafficking victims to prosecutors in 2022.  The government screened returning unaccompanied migrant children for trafficking indicators using SBS protocols for the attention and reception of such children in two government shelters.  However, authorities returned the majority of unaccompanied children to their families without taking steps to decrease their vulnerability to exploitation.  Authorities did not screen Cuban nationals working in Guatemala for trafficking indicators, despite concerns the Cuban government may have forced some of them to work.

 

The MP’s Comprehensive Care Unit employed social workers who conducted individual needs assessments and referral to services for victims.  SVET trained multi-stakeholder units within the PGN on providing protection and interinstitutional coordination.  Guatemalan law required judges in Child and Adolescent Courts to make all referrals for children to public or private shelters.  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.

The government relocated one of its child trafficking shelters to Retalhuleu.  Authorities reported the new shelter offered victims better accommodation and improved the government’s ability to provide comprehensive care.  Together with the shelter in Guatemala City, the government’s child trafficking shelters could assist up to 55 residents at a time.  SVET’s shelter for women migrant victims had the capacity to assist 30 victims at a time.  The government provided only limited services for adult victims of trafficking and no shelters or services for adult men.  Experts noted a shortage of shelters for LGBTQI+ trafficking victims.  With technical assistance from an NGO, the government implemented a care model to provide victim-centered, trauma-informed care through multidisciplinary teams in its two child trafficking shelters.  The SBS trained officials on trafficking issues, including the implementation of a guide for providing care to LGBTQI+ adults; protection of child trafficking victims; and combating cyber-related trafficking crimes.  With NGO assistance, the SBS launched a virtual diploma program to build its staff’s capacity to identify, refer, and protect trafficking victims.  With donor support, SVET trained government and NGO professionals who provide care to trafficking victims on victim-centered methods.  The government provided few services to Indigenous victims and others in rural locations where government presence and multilingual capacity were limited.  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 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 was the subject of a UN investigation into the shelter’s management.  A court dismissed all charges against a former senior SBS official.  Five other former government officials remained in pretrial detention on multiple criminal charges related to the lethal fire.

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 via video, in a Gesell Chamber, or from behind a partition in the courtroom to protect the victim’s identity and privacy.  The three specialized courts offered psychological services for some victims and enhanced procedures to ensure confidentiality for victims and witnesses.  The MP employed social workers and psychologists to serve as liaisons between the office and victims, accompany victims through the proceedings against traffickers, and assist victims in accessing medical services.  The office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights focused on ensuring the rights of trafficking victims were not violated.  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 2022 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.  The government granted foreign victims temporary residence status.  However, local stakeholders reported this was insufficient to allow foreign victims to participate in legal proceedings.  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.  These factors hindered effective prosecutions and limited foreign victims’ access to comprehensive services in Guatemala.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs coordinated the repatriation, funded by an international organization, of 35 foreign victims to their home countries.  Due to a lack of formal identification procedures to proactively identify victims among some vulnerable groups, such as children apprehended for gang-related criminal activity, authorities may have detained and arrested some unidentified trafficking victims.

The government maintained strong prevention efforts.  As the secretariat for the Interinstitutional Commission Against Trafficking-in-Persons (CIT), comprised of government institutions, NGOs, and international organizations, SVET coordinated efforts against trafficking at the national level.  The government allocated a budget of 2.83 million quetzals ($360,730) to SVET in 2022; NGOs and international organizations also provided funding to many of SVET’s initiatives.  The government’s 2014-2024 public policy against trafficking guided the government’s anti-trafficking approach, and SVET led CIT members in implementation of the national anti-trafficking action plan for 2018-2024.  CIT members developed annual work plans to support these efforts.  SVET supported stakeholders in four departments that had local coordinating bodies comprised of government, NGO, and other stakeholders.  SVET identified municipalities where reports of trafficking and history of training and outreach activities were both low, prioritizing these locales for awareness raising activities.  SVET also targeted outreach efforts in municipalities with the highest youth populations according to the most recent census.  SVET conducted extensive outreach programs and offered education on preventing trafficking, with a total of 142 events reaching 2,727 individuals from 68 public and private institutions, as well as public-awareness activities reaching more than 500,000 members of the public.  However, SVET officials lacked the authority to receive complaints or refer potential victims to services, undermining the impact of outreach efforts, particularly in remote and underserved communities.  With donor support, SVET held a workshop for government communications professionals and members of the media to improve and increase media coverage of trafficking crimes to educate the public.  SVET launched an awareness campaign to prevent trafficking among returning migrants and persons transiting Guatemala.  With technical assistance from an NGO, SVET trained community volunteers on the role of front-line actors in preventing and responding to trafficking; SVET certified 44 community volunteers who passed the training course.  SVET produced prevention and awareness materials in Spanish, Mayan languages, Garifuna, Braille, and sign language to reach vulnerable populations; hired additional multilingual staff to support outreach activities in Mayan languages; and enhanced collaboration with and training for organizations that advocate for persons with disabilities.

The government did not have a trafficking-specific hotline but operated several platforms for reporting crimes over the phone or online.  Police reported receiving 40 percent more trafficking-related calls over the last year but did not report whether it identified any victims or initiated prosecutions as a result of these calls.  Several agencies continued 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.  The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (MINTRAB) lacked sufficient human and financial resources to conduct effective labor inspections and identify forced labor cases.  Nonetheless, MINTRAB inspectors identified 74 trafficking victims in 2022.  The government did not prohibit employers or recruiters from charging workers recruitment fees.  In June 2022, the MINTRAB began implementing a new system requiring private recruiters to register and receive permission to operate, strengthening the government’s monitoring and oversight of recruitment practices.  The MINTRAB conducted trainings on labor rights in the United States and mechanisms for assisting exploited workers abroad for members of its technical team that facilitated Guatemalan workers’ participation in temporary work programs in the United States.  The government passed a law to strengthen labor rights and working conditions for Guatemalan seafarers working abroad.  The government, in collaboration with NGOs, conducted outreach and training events for government officials and private sector employees on preventing child sex tourism and updated a media campaign to raise public awareness on this topic.  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 2022, authorities denied seven 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 as well as 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 often target individuals migrating within the country from rural areas to cities.  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 subject Guatemalan adults to forced labor in Mexico, the United States, and other countries, including in agriculture, the garment industry, and domestic service.  Guatemalan children are vulnerable to forced labor in factories in the United States.  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 use online recruitment methods to reach victims, particularly children, continuing a trend that accelerated 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.  Cuban nationals working in Guatemala, including medical professionals contracted by the Guatemalan government, may have been forced to work by the Cuban government.

 

U.S. Department of State

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