The 2010 US Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is out, and again it places the country of Belize on the Tier 2 Watch List — the last before hitting the rock-bottom Tier 3 status — for a second consecutive year, alleging that the Government of Belize has not only failed to meet the minimum standards, but has, among other things, not landed a single conviction in 2009, despite existing cases of forced prostitution and forced labor, as well as the existence of child sex tourism as “an emerging trend in Belize.”
Judith Alpuche, the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Human Development and chair of Belize’s anti-trafficking committee, told Amandala Tuesday that Belize is doing all it can and has made significant progress, though she concedes that indeed, there were no convictions in 2009.
“We are doing the best we can,” Alpuche told us, noting that Belize has already made its position, that it rejects the ratings in the US TIP report, known to the US through their embassy here.
The 2010 TIP Report says that Belizean authorities conducted five anti-trafficking raids over the course of the year, but turned up empty-handed.
“The most common form of trafficking in Belize is the forced prostitution of children, 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,” said the 373-page TIP Report.
“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.”
Migrants from Central America, who come looking for work, are also among those who fall victims to forced prostitution in bars, as well as forced labor, the report claims.
“Child sex tourism has been identified as an emerging trend in Belize,” it adds.
The report calls out the Government of Belize for “…not fully comply[ing] with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so.” Notwithstanding the reported efforts, 2009 came and went without a single conviction.
“In spite of existing anti-trafficking legislation and victim facilities, the government did not demonstrate appreciable progress in combating trafficking; therefore Belize is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year,” the TIP report explains.
Belize has been ranked since 2003, when it began with the bottom-most Tier 3 rating. In 2004 and 2005, it was placed on the Tier 2 Watch List, but the following year (2006), Belize again found itself in the bottom tier. It rose to the Tier 2 category in 2007 and 2008. However, Belize was put back on the Tier 2 Watch List in 2009, where it remains at the issuance of the 2010 TIP report this week.
In Central America, Belize, Guatemala, Panama and Nicaragua are on the watch list, whereas the remaining countries are on Tier 2 (higher than the Tier 2 Watch List status). In the Caribbean, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Guyana are on the Watch List. Like Belize, Guyana has gone on record to challenge the rating.
Of interest is that the global enforcement data quoted in the report say that nearly 50,000 trafficking victims have been identified in 2009, with 4,166 convictions and 5,606 prosecutions worldwide for 2009.
“There were no trafficking convictions [in Belize] during the reporting period, and there have been no trafficking convictions since 2005…,” the report documents. “There were no confirmed cases of trafficking-related complicity by Belizean officials, although an NGO reports that some officials may have accepted bribes to ignore potential trafficking activity.”
Under the Trafficking in Persons Prohibition Act of 2003, a convicted offender only faces one to five years behind bars, or a $5,000 fine.
“Authorities registered 13 new cases of children at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation and provided them with education assistance, counseling, and other services,” the report said.
The report labels Belize as “…a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subject to forced prostitution and forced labor.”
CEO Alpuche said that it is unacceptable to have modern-day slavery in Belize, and Belize acts not as a consequence of the US rankings and reports, but because it is its duty to all inside its borders, no matter what the color of one’s passport is.