Last Updated: Thursday, 18 December 2014, 10:46 GMT

2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Guatemala

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 19 June 2012
Cite as United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Guatemala, 19 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe30cc62d.html [accessed 18 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

GUATEMALA (Tier 2)

Guatemala is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Guatemalan women and children are exploited in sex trafficking within the country, as well as in Mexico and the United States. Guatemalan men, women, and children are subjected to forced labor within the country, often in agriculture or domestic service. Guatemalan men, women, and children also are found in conditions of forced labor in Mexico and the United States in agriculture, the garment industry, and in domestic service. During the year, 19 Guatemalan women and one man were subjected to domestic servitude in Jordan and Israel. Indigenous Guatemalans are particularly vulnerable to forced labor. In the border area with Mexico, Guatemalan children are exploited for forced begging and vending on streets, and forced labor in the majority of municipal dumps throughout the country. Women and children from other countries in the region, including El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia, and Nicaragua, are exploited in sex trafficking in Guatemala. Child sex tourism is prevalent in certain tourist areas such as Antigua, Puerto Barrios, Rio Dulce, around Lake Atitlan, and in Tecun Uman on the Mexican border. Child sex tourists predominately come from Canada, Germany, Spain, and the United States. According to NGOs and government officials, organized crime networks continue to be involved in some cases of human trafficking, and gangs recruit children to commit illicit acts, sometimes using force or coercion.

The Government of Guatemala does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period, Guatemalan authorities maintained anti-trafficking progress, particularly through continued law enforcement efforts and the sustained funding of a dedicated shelter for adult trafficking victims. The government also launched a program to provide specialized services to victims of trafficking and sexual violence. Investigative units, however, remained under-funded, many judges and law enforcement officials were poorly informed about human trafficking, and official complicity continued to impede anti-trafficking efforts.

Recommendations for Guatemala: Vigorously implement the anti-trafficking law and statutes prohibiting child sex tourism; continue efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, especially suspected cases of forced labor and domestic servitude, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; proactively investigate and prosecute public officials complicit in trafficking; improve victim referral mechanisms to ensure that all victims, including victims of forced labor and domestic servitude, are referred to appropriate services, including shelters; enhance the availability of specialized victims services throughout the country, including through partnerships with civil society; continue to conduct training for judges, police, immigration officers, and other government officials on how to identify and assist victims; and increase funding for anti-trafficking efforts, particularly for the country's dedicated prosecutorial and police units.

Prosecution

The government maintained its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the year. Article 202 of the Guatemalan penal code prohibits the transport, transfer, retention, harboring, or reception of persons for the purposes of exploitation, including forced prostitution, sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, begging, slavery, illegal adoptions, or forced marriage, in addition to other prohibited purposes. Penalties prescribed under Article 202 are from eight to 18 years' imprisonment. Such penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Anti-trafficking police and prosecutors suffered from a lack of funding, human resources, and training, and NGOs reported that most cases were reactive responses to NGO complaints, as opposed to proactive investigations. The dedicated anti-trafficking police unit within the national civil police department for the investigation of sexual crimes, trafficking in persons, and disappeared children had only four trafficking investigators to cover the entire country. The government also maintained a small prosecutorial unit to investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases; this unit had only five prosecutors and 10 assistant prosecutors and had insufficient funding and staff. Much of this unit's work focused on crimes such as illegal adoptions and child kidnapping and disappearance, which do not fall within the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; therefore, officials could not indicate how many of the 107 criminal proceedings initiated during the year were for forced labor or sex trafficking.

During the reporting period, authorities convicted five sex trafficking offenders using the anti-trafficking law; sentences ranged from eight to 16 years' imprisonment, plus fines the equivalent of between $39,000 and $52,000. In comparison, during the previous year, the Guatemalan government reported 10 convictions for human trafficking offenses, two using the anti-trafficking law and others using different statutes, with sentences ranging from three to five years' imprisonment.

Some judges reportedly dismissed trafficking cases or acquitted trafficking offenders due to a lack of understanding of the crime, and NGOs noted that some officials do not understand that forced labor is a crime. Credible reports from international organizations, NGOs, and several government officials continued to indicate that corrupt public officials impeded anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and facilitated trafficking activity by accepting or extorting bribes, falsifying identity documents, leaking information about impending police raids to suspected traffickers, and ignoring trafficking activity in commercial sex sites. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, convicting, or punishing any officials complicit in human trafficking. Guatemalan authorities held numerous anti-trafficking workshops and conferences aimed at educating and building capacity among judges, police, prosecutors, immigration officers, and other government officials; most trainings were conducted in partnership with civil society and with funds from foreign governments or international organizations. Authorities were attempting to coordinate with Jordanian officials on a joint investigation at the end of the reporting period.

Protection

Although the government largely relied on NGOs and international organizations to provide the bulk of victim services, it maintained a specialized trafficking shelter for adult victims and, during the year, launched a program to provide services to victims of trafficking and sexual violence. While the government reported employing standard operating procedures on how to assist sex trafficking victims, it does not employ procedures for identifying forced labor victims among vulnerable populations, and labor inspectors did not have sufficient training or resources to identify victims. Most NGOs remain critical of the government's ability to identify and refer trafficking victims effectively. While authorities reported identifying hundreds of victims, it was unclear how many of these victims were children involved in illegal adoption and how many were counted multiple times by separate government entities. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs facilitated the repatriation of 50 trafficking victims returning to Guatemala from abroad, as well as the voluntary repatriation of five Colombians from Guatemala. During the year, 10 victims stayed in the government-operated shelter, which had a capacity to care for 20 victims. Child victims could be referred to three NGO-operated shelters dedicated to girl trafficking victims, or could be referred to a government orphanage where they could receive specialized care. The absence of an effective referral mechanism appeared to impede the government's ability to provide victims, particularly adults, with care services. With international organization funding, authorities launched a program to provide client services to victims of trafficking and sexual abuse, although they did not report how many trafficking victims received services through this program during the year. NGOs did not receive government funding to provide services to trafficking victims.

Although Guatemalan authorities encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, most victims did not file complaints due to fear of violence or reprisals, lack of faith in the judicial system, and the limitations of the government's witness protection program. Guatemalan law allowed for victim testimony via video. While Guatemalan law established that convicted traffickers should provide restitution to victims, there were no reports that this occurred during the reporting period. The government did not detain, fine, or otherwise penalize identified victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Guatemalan authorities reported that all identified foreign trafficking victims were sent directly from the immigration detention center to the government-run shelter for adult victims. However, victims may not have had their victim status recognized by Guatemalan authorities before being deported as undocumented migrants. Guatemalan law provides legal alternatives to removal of foreign victims who may face hardship or retribution upon repatriation. The authorities offered these alternatives to foreign trafficking victims but reported that no victims had accepted.

Prevention

The Government of Guatemala maintained prevention efforts. The Secretariat Against Sexual Violence, Exploitation and Trafficking in Persons (SVET) was responsible for coordinating government efforts, as was the interagency anti-trafficking commission, which met six times during the year. Some officials and NGOs indicated that SVET was a weak coordinating body. Authorities continued public awareness campaigns, including distributing information pamphlets through its consulates abroad. Officials reported re-launching a trafficking hotline in January 2012. The independent human rights ombudsman published a report on the trafficking situation in Guatemala. Despite continued reports of child sex tourism, which is prohibited by Article 195 of the penal code, there were no reported prosecutions or convictions of child sex tourists. Authorities provided training on human trafficking to Guatemalan troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.

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