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 parents pushing their children to provide sexual favors to older men in exchange for school fees, money, and gifts. Third-party prostitution of children under 18 is a form of human trafficking. Child sex tourism, involving primarily U.S. citizens, is 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, Mexico, and Asia, migrate voluntarily to Belize in search of work; some may fall victim 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. Children and adults working in the agricultural and fishing sectors in Belize are also vulnerable to forced labor.
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 efforts, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Belize is placed on Tier 2 Watch List. Early in 2014, the government made its first arrest under its 2013 trafficking law; however, it did not initiate any prosecutions. Victim identification efforts significantly declined, and the lack of proactive victim identification resulted in the detention and deportation of potential victims based on immigration violations. The government did not investigate or prosecute any public officials for alleged complicity in human trafficking-related offenses. The failure to convict and punish trafficking offenders, especially allegedly complicit government officials, remained a significant problem.
Recommendations for Belize:
Improve victim identification efforts by involving Spanish-speaking social workers, NGOs, or victim advocates in the process to ensure trafficking victims are not penalized and re-victimized for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking; proactively implement the anti-trafficking law by vigorously investigating and prosecuting suspected forced labor and sex trafficking offenders, including officials allegedly complicit in trafficking; take steps to ensure trafficking offenders receive sentences that are proportionate to the gravity of the crime; finalize the anti-trafficking committee’s draft formal procedures to guide officials in the identification and referral of victims of sex trafficking and forced labor; implement procedures to take trafficking victims to a safe location while conducting victim identification interviews, as victims often first appear as immigration violators and are reluctant to disclose details of their exploitation in a detention setting or post-raid environment; encourage all front-line responders, including prison officials, labor inspectors, and other law enforcement officials to implement victim identification procedures among groups vulnerable to trafficking, including migrant laborers, children, and people in prostitution; take steps to ensure the effective prohibition of the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including those of ages 16 and 17; increase partnerships with NGOs to reintegrate victims and to deliver specialized care for trafficking victims in Belize; and implement a targeted campaign educating domestic and foreign communities about domestic servitude and other types of forced labor, commercial sexual exploitation of children, and other forms of human trafficking.
The Government of Belize decreased its efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict trafficking offenders in 2013; overall law enforcement efforts were weak and declined compared to the previous reporting period. The government has not incarcerated any trafficking offenders since 2011. The 2013 Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Act prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes punishments of one to eight years’ imprisonment for the trafficking of adults, up to 12 years’ imprisonment for the trafficking of children, and up to 25 years’ imprisonment in cases involving sexual assault or other aggravating circumstances. The prescribed maximum penalty of eight years’ imprisonment, and up to 25 years’ imprisonment in some cases, is sufficiently stringent and commensurate with other serious crimes. The 2013 Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (Prohibition) Act criminalizes the facilitation of prostitution of children under 18 years of age. This law, however, allows for 16- and 17-year-old children to engage in sexual activity in exchange for remuneration, gifts, goods, food, or other benefits if there is no third-party involved. This provision is consistent with the international law definition of trafficking, but appears to sanction a practice that is likely to render children vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation by third parties, especially in Belize where the coerced prostitution of children by parents is common. Third-party prostitution of children under 18 is a form of human trafficking.
In early 2014, the first suspect was arrested under the 2013 anti-trafficking law and charged with one count of trafficking involving a child. The government did not, however, initiate any new prosecutions in 2013, nor did it convict any trafficking offenders during the reporting period; this is a decline from the previous year when it convicted two offenders. At least five human trafficking prosecutions from previous years remained pending. The government did not provide data on the number of trafficking investigations it conducted during the year. It returned two trafficking suspects to Honduras and Nicaragua based on requests from those governments. Trafficking-related complicity by government officials, including allegations of involvement of high-level officials, continued. The government has yet to report any additional steps taken to prosecute a government official, noted in the 2011 Report, who allegedly raped a victim in the course of a trafficking investigation. Many off-duty police officers provide security for sex trade establishments, which risks inhibiting victims from coming forward and law enforcement’s willingness to investigate allegations of human trafficking in the sex trade.
The Belizean government’s efforts to protect trafficking victims decreased compared to the previous reporting period. It did not proactively identify potential trafficking victims among vulnerable groups in 2013. Officials identified three trafficking victims, a significant decline from 13 identified the previous year. Although NGOs reported having identified additional potential trafficking victims, the government did not follow up on these referrals despite the mandate to protect victims under Belize’s anti-trafficking law. Police did not systematically inspect brothels or bars for indications of trafficking during the year, and it was reported that front-line responders carrying out brothel raids generally looked for immigration violations over potential trafficking indicators. Underage girls were reportedly present in bars that function as brothels. The indiscriminate practice of fining, prosecuting, and convicting immigration offenders without screening for elements of trafficking or providing them with an opportunity to disclose possible exploitation resulted in limited victim identification.
The government, in partnership with NGOs, provided assistance to a total of six sex trafficking victims in 2013, three of whom were children. Three of the six victims were identified in a previous reporting period. This represents a decline from seven victims assisted in 2012 and 12 victims assisted in 2011. The government has yet to update draft procedures to guide officials and NGOs in referring trafficking victims to available services, as outlined in its 2012-2014 strategic plan. The government provided the equivalent of approximately $103,125 for victim care in 2013 through placements in safe houses, including NGO-run domestic violence shelters. There were no reports that victims were detained involuntarily in these shelters. The government placed child victims in foster care.
Authorities in Belize reportedly encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders until trial, 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. The Government of Belize reported it provided initial temporary residency for formally identified foreign trafficking victims during the year. The government did not ensure for the safe and responsible repatriation of four additional potential trafficking victims. Belize’s anti-trafficking law exempts trafficking victims from prosecution or punishment for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to human trafficking. Law enforcement and other government officials did not systematically employ formal mechanisms to guide them in identifying victims of sex trafficking and forced labor during the year. Reports persisted that potential trafficking victims were often jailed and or deported based on immigration violations.
The government demonstrated minimal prevention efforts in 2013. Its anti-trafficking committee met less frequently than in previous years and did not proactively implement the 2012-2014 anti-trafficking national strategic plan. The government provided some anti-trafficking training to tour guides, students, and law enforcement officials during the year, but has yet to conduct significant outreach to educate law enforcement on Belize’s 2013 anti-trafficking legislation; some senior law enforcement officials reported they did not know the anti-trafficking law existed. The government did not release public reports on its anti-trafficking efforts during the year; however, it demonstrated a commitment to transparency by inviting the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons to visit Belize to assess progress and challenges in combatting human trafficking. The government completed a survey during the reporting period to assess trafficking vulnerabilities in bars and nightclubs, particularly among women in prostitution, and reported it provided the information to law enforcement for further action. The government continued its awareness campaign in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Hindi, primarily by disseminating previously created materials, including posters and public service announcements. The government’s Office of the Special Envoy for Women and Children conducted a sexual abuse and exploitation awareness campaign during the year targeting adolescent girls. The Belize tourism board aired several public service announcements to address tourism and the demand for commercial sex acts in 2013. The government did not conduct any nationwide awareness campaigns to educate the public and government officials about the manifestations of trafficking in Belize. In 2013, the government amended its sexual assault legislation to make it gender neutral and increase penalties for sexual assault; this legislation has been used previously to prosecute child sex tourism offenders in Belize.