2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Belize
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||27 June 2011|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Belize, 27 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e12ee94c.html [accessed 30 July 2015]|
Belize (Tier 2)
Belize is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. A common form of trafficking in Belize is the coerced prostitution of children, particularly situations in which poor parents push their school-aged children to provide sexual favors to wealthy older men in exchange for school fees, money, and gifts. Child sex tourism, involving primarily U.S. citizens, has been identified as an emerging trend in Belize. Additionally, sex trafficking and forced labor of Belizean and foreign women and girls occurs in bars, nightclubs, and brothels throughout the country. Foreign men, women, and children, particularly from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, and Asian countries migrate voluntarily to Belize in search of work; some may fall victim to sex trafficking or forced labor. Children and adults working in the agricultural and fishing sectors in Belize are vulnerable to forced labor. Forced labor has been identified in the service sector amongst the South Asian and Chinese communities of Belize, primarily in restaurants and shops with owners from the same country. There reportedly has been at least one case of a Belizean citizen in forced domestic service in the United States during the reporting period.
The Government of Belize does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. While the government has not successfully prosecuted a trafficking offender for over five years, the government increased prosecutions of trafficking offenders, identified more human trafficking victims, and conducted an awareness campaign in several languages. The Belizean government demonstrated impressive efforts to forge and expand partnerships with NGOs during the reporting period to address child sex trafficking, a form of human trafficking that is a taboo subject in much of the Caribbean region. The government arrested a police officer in relation to a human trafficking case, though it did not convict or sentence any officials complicit in sex trafficking or forced labor; lack of accountability for trafficking offenders, especially complicit officials, remained a significant obstacle to effective anti-trafficking reforms.
Recommendations for Belize: Enact legislation that would make penalties for human trafficking commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape; demonstrate vigorous efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict government officials complicit in sex trafficking and forced labor, and seek criminal punishment of any guilty official; demonstrate transparency and appropriate follow-through regarding the prosecution of the police officer linked with human trafficking; increase efforts to prosecute sex and labor trafficking offenses and convict and punish trafficking offenders; employ formal procedures to guide officials (including law enforcement, health workers, and labor inspectors) in how to identify victims of sex trafficking and forced labor among vulnerable populations, including migrant laborers and people in prostitution, and refer them to the government's anti-trafficking committee; continue to identify and assist domestic and foreign labor and sex trafficking victims and ensure identified foreign victims are not penalized for crimes, such as immigration violations, committed as a direct result of being in a human trafficking situation; develop a strategic plan to enhance effectiveness of the government's anti-trafficking initiatives over the coming years; continue funding and collaborating with NGOs to sensitize domestic and foreign communities about forced domestic service and other types of forced labor, in addition to commercial sexual exploitation of children, and other forms of human trafficking.
The government made some progress in law enforcement efforts during the reporting period, though the government has not obtained a conviction of a trafficking offender, including officials complicit in human trafficking, since 2005. Belize's government prohibits all forms of trafficking through its Trafficking in Persons Prohibition Act of 2003, which prescribes punishment between one and five years' imprisonment and a $5,000 fine. These penalties are sufficiently stringent but are not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes such as rape, which carries a penalty of eight years' to life imprisonment. Under the existing legislation, trafficking cases are tried in the lower courts, where they are often dismissed, indicating a lack of severity assigned to the crime of trafficking. Draft proposed legislation, which the government has announced it was committed to passing, would lead to significant improvements, including ensuring legally qualified judges and prosecutors handle trafficking cases, and the continuous trial of cases.
The government initiated 12 new prosecutions of suspected trafficking offenders during the reporting period, at least five of which involved the alleged commercial sexual exploitation of children, and at least three of which involved alleged labor trafficking; two labor trafficking prosecutions from the previous reporting period remained pending. Trafficking-related complicity reportedly remained a serious problem. In an initial positive step during the reporting period, authorities arrested and charged one government official with rape and aggravated assault resulting from human trafficking investigations; the case is pending in the court system. For the fifth consecutive year, the government reported no convictions of trafficking offenders, including officials complicit in human trafficking. Court delays have caused victims to become frustrated, and often led them to cease cooperation as witnesses in trafficking prosecutions, despite their interest in seeking justice. The government conducted human trafficking awareness training for at least 86 customs and immigration officers and 12 labor inspectors during the reporting period; the government reported that at least 12 percent of all Belize police officers have been trained on identifying commercial sexual exploitation of children and other human trafficking issues.
The government made progress in victim protection during the reporting period. The government showed improvements in victim identification efforts, identifying and assisting 13 new trafficking victims in 2010, including three victims of forced labor, in addition to providing services for eight victims identified in previous years. Law enforcement and other officials do not systematically employ formal mechanisms to guide them in identifying victims of sex trafficking and forced labor among vulnerable populations, such as migrant laborers or foreign citizens in prostitution, though Belize's anti-trafficking committee employed a formal mechanism to refer victims to available services. In an unprecedented effort to improve transparency and effectiveness of victim protection services, the government reported the amount it spent in providing assistance to victims of human trafficking in 2010 – $87,000. The government reportedly provided housing (including 24-hour security protection in some cases), health care, counseling, stipends, case management, and reintegration services to adult and child victims of trafficking in Belize during the reporting period. There were two government-operated shelters for adult victims; the government has placed child victims in foster care or with relatives. There were no reports that victims were held involuntarily in these shelters. Authorities in Belize encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers. Authorities provided temporary residency for foreign trafficking victims participating in court cases. After the conclusion of court cases, victims could remain in the country by applying for residency; however, the government did not cover the costs of the application, presenting a barrier to those victims without funds. Authorities reportedly often jailed and prosecuted foreign women found in prostitution; without formal trafficking victim identification procedures, this practice greatly increased the chances that victims were systematically jailed or penalized for crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Also, there were reports that the government deported some foreign victims before they were able to receive assistance.
The government made progress in prevention efforts during the reporting period. The government continued to coordinate Belize's anti-trafficking initiatives through operating an anti-trafficking committee chaired by a high level official from the Ministry of Human Development. During the reporting period, the anti-trafficking committee produced and disseminated public service announcements via radio, television and print media in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Hindi with the goals of raising general awareness about human trafficking and providing basic information to victims. In March 2011, the government placed six large anti-trafficking billboards outside the entrance to the international airport, at border entry points, and in tourist areas. Officials conducted a poster contest and three teacher workshops to raise awareness of human trafficking among school children and teachers. The government continued implementation of the 2006-2010 National Strategy for Human Trafficking with the support of local NGOs. The government did not have a formal mechanism to monitor its anti-trafficking efforts. In support of reducing the demand for commercial sex acts and child sex tourism, the government provided some funding toward an NGO that raises awareness about the consequences of commercial sexual exploitation of children and operates a hotline for reporting child trafficking. The prime minister's spouse and the Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation led a two-day symposium on commercial sexual exploitation of children in August 2010.