BELIZE CITY, Thurs. June 20, 2019– The United States Department of State issued its Trafficking in Persons Report today, Thursday, June 20, and the opening sentence of the report noted that Belize “did not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so.” The report placed the country on the US’s Tier 2 Watch List, after noting the government has made significant efforts during the period the report covers.
A press release today from the US Embassy in Belize said, “The theme of this year’s TIP Report introduction is ‘The National Nature of Human Trafficking: Strengthening Government Responses and Dispelling Misperceptions.’ It invites governments to address all forms of human trafficking with a special emphasis on when it takes place exclusively within the borders of one country, absent any transnational elements.”
The US Embassy press release also noted, “The Ministry of Human Development and its private-sector partners did a commendable job in increasing efforts to protect victims and boost prevention through awareness.” U.S. Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. Keith Gilges, said, “We continue to call on the Government of Belize to fully implement the anti-trafficking law by vigorously investigating and prosecuting suspected traffickers, including complicit officials, and imposing strong prison sentences on convicted traffickers.”
Among the notable achievements that caught the attention of those who prepared the report was that Belize has prosecuted two cases in the four-year period covered by the report, and had appointed new leadership and five police officers to the anti-trafficking police unit.
Despite these achievements, the report noted, the Government of Belize “did not investigate or prosecute any public officials for complicity in trafficking related offences, despite allegations of official complicity.”
“The government did not convict any traffickers for the third consecutive reporting period, due in part to a slow and cumbersome justice system,” the report said.
The report recommended, among other things, that authorities in Belize ensure that victims of trafficking are not penalized for unlawful acts, including immigration violations, and that they sustain and increase funding for specialized victims’ services for both male and female victims. The reports said the government should, “End the practice of allowing off-duty police officers to provide security for bars and restaurants where commercial sex acts frequently occur; investigate and prosecute child sex tourists; implement the national anti-trafficking plan in accordance with its agreed timeline and disburse resources to its implementation; increase efforts to identify forced labor through the national labor recruiter registry and prevention program with migrant workers; amend laws to criminalize the knowing solicitation and patronizing of child sex trafficking victims, including 16- and 17-year-olds.”
The report said that the government’s slightly increased efforts, were the passage of the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Act which criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to eight years in prison. There are stiff penalties under the act with respect to trafficking in adults and children, and for those whose victims were children the term of imprisonment can go up to 12 years.
“Additionally, the 2013 Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (Prohibition) Act criminalized various offenses relating to the prostitution of anyone younger than 18. This law, however, did not prohibit adults from engaging in sexual activity with 16- and 17-year-old children in exchange for remuneration, gifts, goods, food, or other benefits if there was no third party involved—leaving children of this age group vulnerable to sex trafficking,” the report said.
Under the section entitled “Prosecution”, the report said, “The government investigated nine trafficking cases—eight for forced labor and one for sex trafficking; three new cases and six from previous years—compared to nine in 2017 and 10 in 2016. For the first time in four years, authorities initiated two new prosecutions.”
The report said that two cases which began in 2015 are still before the courts and that the government did not convict any traffickers under the 2013 law, until 2016.
Seventeen trafficking victims were identified by authorities last year, the report noted. In 2017, there were twelve potential victims and also twelve in 2016. In 2018, authorities confirmed eight forced labor victims and 12 foreign nationals. The government reported that it was updating formal victims’ identification procedures.
“Observers reported limited shelter options for male victims, including migrants. As in the previous year, the government allocated 200,000 Belizean dollars ($100,000) to the national anti-trafficking council, some of which it dedicated to victim services. In total, the government dedicated 107,000 Belizean dollars ($53,500) to victim services in 2018, which included food, clothing, medical expenses, counseling, stipends, and repatriation expenses,” the report pointed out.
Three trafficking victims got work permits free of cost in 2018, the report said. “A court may order restitution upon a trafficker’s conviction but did not do so in 2018,” the report further said.
The government slightly increased its prevention efforts and continued to implement its 2018-2020 national anti-trafficking action plan that was first published in the first quarter of 2018. In the action plan, various government entities were responsible for the plan’s activities.
“The government reported the labor code required labor recruiters to register, but none did so. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel,” the report said.
The report ended, saying, “As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Belize, and traffickers exploit victims from Belize abroad. Groups considered most vulnerable to traffickers in Belize include women, men, children, LGBTI persons, and migrants. Sex traffickers exploit Belizean and foreign women, men, and girls and LGBTI persons, primarily from Central America, in bars, nightclubs, hotels, and brothels. The UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons reported family members facilitate the sex trafficking of Belizean women and girls. Foreign men, women, and children—particularly from Central America, Mexico, and Asia—migrate voluntarily to Belize in search of work and traffickers often exploit victims using false promises of relatively high-paying jobs or take advantage of migrants’ illegal status and subject them to forced labor in restaurants, shops, domestic work, and agriculture. In tourist regions, foreign child sex tourists, primarily from the United States, exploit child sex trafficking victims. Alleged trafficking-related complicity by government officials remains a problem. NGOs reported police and immigration officers took bribes in return for ignoring trafficking, facilitating illegal entries, failing to report suspected victims and perpetrators, and failing to act on reported cases under their jurisdiction.”