2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Belize
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||19 June 2012|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Belize, 19 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe30ce137.html [accessed 24 July 2014]|
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 human trafficking in Belize is the coerced prostitution of children, often occurring through poor parents pushing their children to provide sexual favors to 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 – primarily from Central America – occurs in bars, nightclubs, and brothels throughout the country. Foreign men, women, and children, particularly from Central America and Asian countries, migrate voluntarily to Belize in search of work; some may fall victim to 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 among the South Asian and Chinese communities in Belize, primarily in restaurants and shops with owners from the same country. There has been at least one case of a Belizean trafficking victim identified in the United States.
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. During the reporting period, government officials demonstrated a sustained commitment to addressing trafficking in persons by achieving two convictions of trafficking offenders, devoting resources toward victim protection, and raising public awareness. Flaws in current legislation, a very low victim identification rate, and official complicity remain challenges.
Recommendations for Belize: Enact legislation that would prescribe penalties for human trafficking that are commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape; demonstrate more 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 allegedly linked with human trafficking; employ formal procedures to guide officials in identifying 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 to develop targeted campaigns educating 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.
Despite resource constraints, the government made progress in law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Belize's government prohibits all forms of trafficking through its Trafficking in Persons Prohibition Act of 2003, which prescribes punishments of from one and five years' imprisonment and a fine the equivalent of $5,000. These penalties are sufficiently stringent, but are not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes such as rape, for which penalties from eight years' to life imprisonment are prescribed. Under existing law, trafficking is a "summary offence," tried in the lower courts, where cases are often dismissed, which is problematic as it treats trafficking as a less than significant crime. Draft legislation, which the government announced in 2011 it was committed to passing, would lead to significant improvements, including elevating trafficking offenses above "summary" status. However, this legislation was not enacted during the reporting period. In an effort to address some of the shortcomings of current law, the director of public prosecutions began handling the prosecution of trafficking cases, and the chief magistrate assumed the responsibility of hearing all human trafficking cases. These initiatives led to the country's first sex trafficking convictions in several years: one offender received an 18 month prison sentence, and another received a one year prison sentence. The government reported at least eight new sex trafficking investigations during the reporting period, but no new prosecutions. Seven human trafficking prosecutions from previous years remained pending, and eight were dismissed. Trafficking-related complicity reportedly remained a serious problem. The case reported in the 2011 TIP Report involving a government official charged with rape resulting from human trafficking investigations remained pending. The government provided anti-trafficking training for officials from many different ministries during the reporting period.
The Belizean government made some progress in the protection of trafficking victims during the reporting period. Its officials reported the provision of services to 12 trafficking victims, though the government identified only two new sex trafficking victims and no forced labor victims during the year, compared with its identification of 10 sex trafficking victims and three forced labor victims in 2010. 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. However, Belize's anti-trafficking committee, comprised of 13 agencies and NGOs, reportedly developed formal procedures to guide officials and NGOs in referring trafficking victims to available services. The government spent approximately $125,000 in 2011 in services for trafficking victims. Through direct services and funding of NGOs, the government 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. The government funded two NGO-operated shelters that assisted adult victims; the government has placed child victims in foster care or with relatives. There were no reports that victims were detained involuntarily in these shelters. Authorities in Belize reportedly encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, although court delays caused victims to become discouraged and often led them to cease cooperation with law enforcement authorities, despite their interest in seeking justice. Authorities provided temporary residency for foreign trafficking victims participating in court cases. After the conclusion of court cases, foreign 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. Also, there were reports the government deported or punished some foreign victims before they were able to receive assistance due to lack of identification procedures to guide immigration authorities and prison officials.
The government made progress in prevention efforts during the reporting period. The government continued to coordinate Belize's anti-trafficking programs through an anti-trafficking committee of 13 agencies and NGOs chaired by a senior Ministry of Human Development official. During the year, the committee sustained a multimedia trafficking awareness campaign in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Hindi. In addition, the Belize Tourism Board led a campaign during the reporting period in schools to raise awareness about the commercial sexual exploitation of children that reached nearly 500 people throughout the country. The government's Office of the Special Envoy for Women and Children launched a public service message to encourage the public to report commercial sexual exploitation of children and child sex tourism. In August 2011 the government held a symposium on the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and in October the government hosted a workshop for persons working in the tourism industry to examine sex tourism. The government did not have any awareness campaigns targeted at either the root causes of commercial sexual exploitation or the clients of the sex trade to reduce the demand for commercial sex. The government did not have a formal mechanism to monitor its anti-trafficking efforts or a current national action plan.