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Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 - Belize

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 16 June 2009
Cite as United States Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 - Belize, 16 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a4214cec.html [accessed 2 August 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.

BELIZE (Tier 2 Watch List)

Belize is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. The most common form of trafficking in Belize is the internal sex trafficking of minors, particularly situations where poor families push their school-aged daughters to provide sexual favors to wealthy older men in exchange for school fees, money, and gifts. This "sugar daddy" phenomenon occurs in Belize and other Caribbean countries, but often is not recognized as a form of human trafficking by local communities or law enforcement personnel. In two recent cases, more than 70 workers from Nepal and India were trafficked to Belize for forced labor. After being deceived as to the true nature of employment, these victims encountered forced working conditions upon arrival in Belize, in addition to the confiscation of their passports. Some Central American men, women, and children, particularly from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, migrate voluntarily to Belize in search of work but are subsequently subjected to conditions of forced labor or forced prostitution.

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. Despite these overall significant efforts, the government did not show evidence of progress in convicting and sentencing trafficking offenders last year, and therefore Belize is placed on Tier 2 Watch List.

Recommendations for Belize: Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and punish trafficking offenders, including any allegedly complicit public officials; increase law enforcement efforts against forced labor; continue to improve victim services and assistance; and increase penalties for sex trafficking crimes so they are commensurate with penalties for other grave crimes.

Prosecution

The Government of Belize made inadequate progress in applying law enforcement measures against trafficking offenders during the past year. The Government of Belize 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. There were no trafficking convictions during the reporting period: one prosecution was dismissed, two prosecutions remain pending, and one is pending appeal. In one case, the government charged a Chinese company with five counts of withholding travel documents – an offense less severe than trafficking – after reviewing allegations that the company had trafficked 70 Nepalese and Indian workers to Belize to work on a hydrodam project. In September 2008, a court dismissed the case on procedural grounds; the government is in the process of filing an appeal. A separate complaint of an Indian shop owner mistreating and coercing Indian migrants into labor exploitation after confiscating their passports remains pending in Belize City magistrate's court. In 2007, police raided a brothel and rescued a 16-year-old sex trafficking victim; charges against the brothel owner remain pending. Some international organizations describe Belize's judicial system as dysfunctional. Human trafficking cases are typically handled in lower courts and often dismissed. An anti-trafficking committee leads the government's efforts, including coordination of investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offenders; however, the committee discontinued brothel raids to identify trafficking victims last year. The government increased anti-trafficking training for police, immigration officials, and social workers during the reporting period, though anti-trafficking training for labor inspectors remained lacking. The Belizean government cooperated with foreign governments on trafficking investigations. Complicity with trafficking by police officials appeared to be an impediment to some prosecutions.

Protection

The Government of Belize maintained solid protection services for trafficking victims last year. Child victims of trafficking are placed in government institutions for minors. The government operated two shelters for adult trafficking victims and provided access to medical care, counseling, and integration assistance. Eleven foreign labor trafficking victims received shelter assistance, victim services, and work permits last year. An additional 60 victims from the hydrodam labor trafficking case were assisted by the government and repatriated to Nepal and India; transportation costs were paid by the company that had contracted the workers. Authorities in Belize encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers. Prosecutors noted difficulty with the willingness of some victim witnesses, particularly child sex trafficking victims, to assist with prosecutions; some victims feared further mistreatment, others did not view themselves as victims, and others were discouraged from testifying by family members. There were no reports of victims being jailed or penalized for crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Belize also provided temporary residency for foreign trafficking victims, and other temporary legal alternatives to the removal of victims to countries in which they would face hardship or retribution.

Prevention

The government maintained efforts to raise public awareness of human trafficking during the reporting period. The government developed public service announcements in multiple languages and redistributed posters and anti-trafficking materials. The government supported local NGOs and provided annual funding for their anti-trafficking efforts. In particular, the government assisted an NGO in Belize City to educate children and parents about the dangers of sexual exploitation and the "sugar daddy" phenomenon. The government also continued to work with Belize's tourism industry to promote a code of conduct to prevent child sex tourism. No specific efforts to reduce demand for forced labor were reported.

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