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 convicting twice as many traffickers, including convicting labor traffickers and a complicit official. The government also increased funding to the Inter-institutional Commission to Combat Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking in Persons (CICESCT), allocated funds to an NGO that provides shelter to victims, and conducted outreach and awareness events to prevent trafficking. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government investigated and prosecuted fewer suspects, and it identified and assisted fewer victims. The government did not allocate adequate financial or human resources to effectively respond to trafficking crimes and provide comprehensive victim support throughout the country.
Increase funding for victim protection, including government and NGO shelters and other service providers, and expand access to services for male victims, given their exclusion from most shelters, and victims outside major cities.
Vigorously investigate and prosecute traffickers, including complicit officials and perpetrators of forced labor crimes, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms.
Ensure convicted traffickers are ordered to pay compensation to victims, as called for in Honduran law.
Increase training for front-line officials on implementing SOPs for victim identification and referral, including screening for indicators of trafficking among migrants and returnees, forcibly displaced persons, children apprehended for illicit gang-related activities, and Cuban nationals working in Honduras.
Increase and institutionalize anti-trafficking training for police, prosecutors, judges, and CICESCT’s immediate response team (IRT), with a focus on applying trauma-informed, victim-centered procedures and investigating and prosecuting forced labor.
Provide reintegration and livelihood support services for victims’ long-term wellbeing and to prevent re-trafficking.
Amend the 2014 anti-trafficking law to include a definition of human trafficking consistent with international law.
Draft a new national action plan (NAP) and secure resources for its implementation.
Expand prevention measures, including raising awareness of fraudulent recruitment for employment in Honduras and abroad and punishing employers or employment agencies for illegal practices that facilitate trafficking, such as fraudulent offers of employment or illegal fees for migration or job placement.
Increase collaboration with, including funding for, civil society organizations to support protection and prevention efforts at the community level.
The government increased prosecution efforts, convicting twice as many traffickers, including labor traffickers and a complicit official. It investigated and prosecuted fewer suspected traffickers. Amendments to Article 219 of the Honduran penal code, which went into effect in November 2021, criminalized sex and labor trafficking and increased penalties from five to eight years’ imprisonment to ten to 15 years’ imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, the 2021 amendments included a definition of trafficking that was inconsistent with international law, as the law established the use of force, fraud, or coercion as aggravating factors rather than essential elements of the crime.
The government reported investigating 89 trafficking cases (involving 101 suspects). It reported 81 cases involved sex trafficking and related crimes, three cases involved labor trafficking, and five cases involved unspecified forms of trafficking. This compares with 148 cases investigated in 2021 (64 for sex trafficking and related crimes, five for labor trafficking, and 79 for unspecified forms of trafficking) and 82 cases investigated for sex trafficking and related crimes in 2020. Authorities initiated prosecutions of 30 suspects (27 for sex trafficking and related crimes, two for labor trafficking, and one for unspecified forms of trafficking), compared with initiating prosecution of 43 suspects in 2021 (27 for sex trafficking and related crimes and 16 for labor trafficking) and nine in 2020 (seven for sex trafficking and two for labor trafficking). Authorities convicted 36 traffickers, including 32 sex traffickers and four labor traffickers; in comparison, authorities convicted 18 sex traffickers in 2021 and 14 traffickers in 2020 (10 for sex trafficking, two for labor trafficking, and two for both sex and labor trafficking). Courts acquitted two defendants in 2022. Three of the labor trafficking convictions in 2022 stemmed from a case identified in the previous reporting period, involving two restaurant owners who exploited 32 victims in forced labor and a Secretariat of Labor employee who facilitated these crimes. In September 2022, courts convicted both owners for labor trafficking crimes, sentencing each to four years and six months’ imprisonment and ordering them to pay fines to the government. A court convicted the former official of disclosure of privileged information for his role in facilitating the crimes and sentenced him to one year and six months’ imprisonment. Courts issued prison sentences ranging from one year to 12 years and nine months for convicted traffickers and ordered some of them to also pay monetary fines to the government. In comparison, courts in 2021 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 reported investigating two police officers for alleged involvement in trafficking crimes but did not provide additional detail or specify whether these were new or ongoing investigations. Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year.
The government maintained a specialized prosecution unit responsible for investigating trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, and migrant smuggling crimes. This unit included prosecutors and investigative police officers and had 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 law enforcement officials continued to create staffing shortages 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. CICESCT trained police officers on identifying and assisting trafficking victims and investigating and prosecuting suspected cases. Law enforcement authorities cooperated with their Colombian counterparts on a case involving two Honduran victims exploited in Colombia and with United States counterparts on an unspecified number of cases involving both countries.
The government decreased protection efforts. The government identified 53 trafficking victims, including 46 exploited in sex trafficking and seven exploited in labor trafficking. This was a decrease from 101 victims identified in 2021, 48 exploited in sex trafficking and 53 exploited in labor trafficking. Government-identified sex trafficking victims included 27 girls, 13 women, and six boys, while labor trafficking victims included four boys, one woman, and two men. Two victims were persons with disabilities and two victims were foreign nationals, one from Colombia and one from the United States. These data may have included some victims of related crimes such as child pornography. An NGO identified a boy victim, and an NGO identified two victims included in the government’s statistics through calls to an NGO hotline in Atlántida department.
First responders referred trafficking victims to CICESCT’s immediate response team (IRT), comprised of two psychologists, two social workers, and a coordinator, for immediate support. The government reported CICESCT coordinated with relevant government institutions and NGOs to provide services to victims, but it did not provide details on the number of victims it assisted. In comparison, in 2021 the IRT provided 101 victims with assistance, including legal advice, immediate protection, and psychological services, and 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. CICESCT reported challenges in maintaining coordination with agencies throughout the country to monitor services to victims and collect data. CICESCT referred 13 sex trafficking victims (five girls, three boys, and five women) and two labor trafficking victims (one boy and one woman) to government and NGO shelters for additional care, a decrease from 12 sex trafficking victims and 29 labor trafficking victims referred to shelters in 2021. The government typically placed child victims in shelters operated by the National Directorate for Child and Family Services (DINAF) that served children in need of protection. Women victims had the option to receive assistance from NGO shelters for survivors of crimes including trafficking. There were no specialized shelters for trafficking victims in Honduras and none of the shelters that assisted trafficking victims accepted men. At times, the government or NGOs arranged lodging in hotels for adult male victims. Services for victims in rural areas were limited in quality and availability.
The government implemented a victim assistance manual completed in the previous reporting period, with SOPs for the proactive identification of victims among members of at-risk groups and interagency coordination procedures for referring victims to services. CICESCT reported expanding victim identification and protection measures in local committees in four municipalities during the year. The victim assistance manual included 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. With funding from international organizations, DINAF expanded to employ 17 child protection officers and 11 family re-integrators, working across five land border ports of entry, the child and family migrant reception center in San Pedro Sula, and all six DINAF regional offices to interview and reunify all returning migrant children and their families. Child protection officers and family re-integrators, together with DINAF psychologists and case workers, followed procedures to assist children with basic humanitarian needs, determine their risk of exploitation, and collaborate with law enforcement officials to investigate potential trafficking cases. The government did not report whether officials identified any trafficking victims among returning migrants during the year. Local experts reported DINAF lacked capacity to provide trauma-informed care to child victims and protect them from further exploitation. The government did not screen Cuban nationals working in Honduras for trafficking indicators, despite concerns the Cuban government may have forced some of them to work. 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. The government referred to shelters two foreign national victims (one exploited in sex trafficking and one in labor trafficking) identified in Honduras and one Honduran sex trafficking victim identified abroad; it repatriated both foreign victims to their home countries and an NGO repatriated the Honduran sex trafficking victim.
The government allocated 7.13 million lempiras ($290,400) to CICESCT, an increase from 6.13 million lempiras ($249,670) in 2021. CICESCT provided 150,000 lempiras ($6,110) in funding to an NGO shelter. 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 staff, and implement the NAP.
The government provided victim witness assistance 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. However, despite provisions in Honduran law directing courts to order convicted traffickers to pay victims compensation, authorities did not order any form of restitution or compensation to victims. Honduran law prohibited the prosecution of victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. The government reported officials screened for trafficking victims when detaining irregular migrants or other vulnerable persons. However, the government lacked formal procedures for identifying victims among children apprehended for gang-related criminal activity; as a result, authorities may have detained and arrested some unidentified trafficking victims. NGOs reported authorities did not properly identify some children forced to engage in illegal activities by criminal groups, reporting 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, although the government did not provide any foreign victims with this status in 2022.
The government maintained prevention efforts and interagency coordination. The CICESCT secretariat convened a network of government agencies and NGOs responsible for coordinating anti-trafficking efforts, advancing policy, and monitoring and evaluating efforts, and it provided support to local interinstitutional committees in each of Honduras’ 18 departments. The government implemented its 2016-2022 NAP, but it did not enact a new or updated plan to guide efforts after that plan expired at the end of 2022. The government increased funds for CICESCT, but those funds remained insufficient for full implementation of the plan; relevant agencies used funding from their regular budgets and relied on additional support from foreign donors to implement its activities. Government agencies, including CICESCT and the Public Ministry, conducted 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, returned 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.
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. CICESCT operated a trafficking-specific hotline, and the anti-trafficking prosecution unit managed an email account for trafficking complaints. Prosecutors did not provide additional detail if emails to this account led to investigations. CICESCT reported at least one call to the hotline resulted in victim identification and assistance and an investigation. CICESCT did not report the total number of calls made to the hotline. In comparison, the CICESCT hotline received 32 reports of suspected trafficking cases and 286 calls requesting information in 2021.
The Honduran government contracted Cuban medical professionals and signed a new agreement with the Cuban government to contract 123 teachers; authorities did not report efforts to prevent forced labor among these workers, despite ongoing concerns by international experts that the Government of Cuba may have compelled some of them work. Labor inspectors did not report identifying any suspected trafficking cases in 2022. 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, and the government publicized this policy on its social media accounts, but authorities did not report enforcement of these regulations in 2022. CICESCT and the Honduran Tourism Institute coordinated with their regional counterparts to conduct an awareness raising event aimed at the prevention of child sex tourism. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.
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 and asylum-seekers, 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 by 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 experiencing homelessness 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 occur primarily in urban areas, but one NGO reported an increase in gang activity in rural areas. Criminals increasingly use social network platforms to recruit victims, often with false promises of employment, and continue to target vulnerable populations. Cuban nationals working in Honduras, including 86 medical professionals and 123 teachers contracted by the Honduran government, may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. 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.