Honduras is principally a source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor; to a much lesser extent, Honduras is a destination for women and girls from neighboring countries subjected to sex trafficking. Honduran women and children are exploited in sex trafficking within the country and in other countries in the region, particularly Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and the United States. NGOs report that LGBT Hondurans continue to be vulnerable to sex trafficking. Honduran men, women, and children working in agriculture, street vending, and domestic service within the country are vulnerable to forced labor. Honduran men, women, and children are also subjected to forced labor in other countries, particularly in Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States. Indigenous Miskito boys from Honduras have been identified as potential trafficking victims on a fishing vessel in Jamaican waters. NGOs report that gangs and criminal organizations exploit girls in sex trafficking, and coerce and threaten young males in urban areas to transport drugs, engage in extortion, or to be hit men. Honduras is a destination for child sex tourists from Canada and the United States. Latin American migrants transit Honduras en route to northern Central America and North America; some of these migrants are subsequently exploited in sex trafficking and forced labor.
The Government of Honduras 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, the government significantly increased the number of law enforcement officers focused on human trafficking and dedicated the equivalent of approximately $200,000 to the interagency anti-trafficking commission, reflecting increased political will. Authorities achieved the first convictions for trafficking involving adult victims. Law enforcement efforts, however, continued to be inadequate and primarily focused on child sex trafficking. The government relied on civil society organizations to provide the vast majority of services to victims and lacked guidelines to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including children engaged in the worst forms of child labor. Data collection on law enforcement and victim identification efforts continued to be weak.
Recommendations for Honduras:
Increase efforts to prosecute all forms of trafficking, including forced labor crimes and forced prostitution of adults, and increase, as appropriate, the number of trafficking offenders convicted and sentenced to time in prison; increase efforts to improve referral mechanisms and provide specialized services and shelter to all victims of trafficking through dedicated funding to either government entities or civil society organizations; develop and implement formal procedures to identify victims among vulnerable populations, including child workers identified by labor inspections, and refer them to service providers; increase the number of adult victims identified and assisted, including repatriated Honduran victims; continue to increase resources for the dedicated anti-trafficking police and prosecutorial units; increase the use of the anti-trafficking law in trafficking prosecutions; improve data collection on anti-trafficking efforts; ensure that trafficking victims forced to engage in criminal activities are treated as victims by referring them to care services; and enhance government planning and coordination mechanisms, in part by continuing to fund the interagency commission.
The Government of Honduras increased law enforcement efforts, but efforts against labor trafficking remained weak and authorities convicted few traffickers. The Honduran anti-trafficking law, enacted in April 2012, prohibits all forms of trafficking, prescribing penalties ranging from 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. This law, however, also conflates human trafficking with other crimes, such as illegal adoption, and establishes the use of force, deceit, or intimidation as aggravating factors only as opposed to essential elements of the crime per international norms. Many trafficking offenders were prosecuted under non-trafficking statutes that prescribe lower penalties, such as those prohibiting pimping. There were no reports that law enforcement officials investigated cases of children who may have been forced by gangs to engage in illicit activities as human trafficking.
Data collection on trafficking efforts was uneven. Authorities reported opening approximately 38 trafficking investigations in 2013; most of these investigations involved child sex trafficking. The government reported prosecuting 17 sex trafficking cases, 10 of which were prosecuted using pimping statutes. It did not convict any trafficking offenders in 2013; however, in March 2014, authorities convicted two sex traffickers, sentencing both to five years’ imprisonment and a fine. This case notably involved both adult and child sex trafficking victims. In comparison, authorities reported opening 47 investigations and prosecuting and convicting three child sex trafficking offenders in 2012. There were no reported labor trafficking prosecutions or convictions during the reporting period.
The offices of the special prosecutor for children in the capital and in San Pedro Sula prosecuted all trafficking cases in those cities, as well as all crimes against children. Under-resourced local prosecutors were responsible for all other cases outside those metropolitan areas. NGOs and prosecutors reported that the lack of specialized law enforcement units hampered investigations and prosecutions. In early 2014, the government assigned 13 police officers from various units in Tegucigalpa to focus on human trafficking either full or part time, including four assigned to work with the office of the special prosecutor for children in Tegucigalpa. Law enforcement had a limited ability to investigate trafficking cases outside of the capital. Civil society reported that corruption hampered labor inspections, impeding detection of possible forced labor cases. Prosecutors reported that some local police provided protection to brothel owners or tipped them off about impending raids. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking. NGOs receiving international donor funding continued to deliver most of the anti-trafficking training available to government officials.
Overall government efforts to identify, refer, and assist trafficking victims remained inadequate and authorities remained almost entirely dependent on NGOs to provide services. While immigration officials had a manual on victim identification, Honduran authorities continued to lack systematic procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as people in prostitution or working children. For example, labor inspectors did not screen for trafficking victimization the approximately 800 children removed from hazardous labor situations in 2013. The government did not report how many total trafficking victims it identified in 2013. Honduran consular officials identified 15 Honduran victims in Mexico, as well as three victims in Belize. NGOs identified and assisted approximately 50 Honduran victims of sex and labor trafficking within the country.
The government did not provide specialized services for trafficking victims, and services for adult victims were particularly lacking. The 2012 anti-trafficking law required the government to establish an “immediate response team” to address trafficking cases and assist victims, but authorities did not do so in 2013. In some parts of the country, authorities could offer child victims limited medical and psychological assistance, but did not record the number of victims who received such services in 2013. Services remained limited outside of main cities. Specialized services, however, were provided by NGOs and authorities referred some victims to these organizations. Some government officials used their own money to assist victims. The government gave the equivalent of approximately $38,000 to an NGO that provides services to vulnerable children and that operated the country’s only specialized shelter for girl victims of sexual abuse and sex trafficking. Consular officers assisted with, but did not fund repatriations of, Honduran victims identified abroad.
The government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, although it did not report how many did so in 2013. Some trafficking victims declined to cooperate or chose not to report their exploitation due to distrust of the police and the judicial system, fear of traffickers, inadequate government protection from possible reprisals from traffickers, and frustration with the slow pace of prosecutions. There were no reports of identified victims being penalized for unlawful acts committed as a result of their being subjected to human trafficking. NGOs and some officials, however, reported that child trafficking victims used by gangs to commit crimes were sometimes treated as criminals. NGOs noted that the criminal justice system often re-victimized child victims due to the lack of sensitivity on the part of some officials and the lack of protective services. The government could provide foreign victims with a temporary residency status, but did not report doing so in 2013.
While the government maintained limited prevention efforts in 2013, it assigned significant funding in early 2014 to increase its ability to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts. The overburdened special prosecutor’s office for children led the interagency commission on child trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation in 2013; this commission was comprised of government agencies, NGOs, and international organizations. The commission began drafting implementing guidelines for the 2012 law, but met sporadically and was plagued by frequent turnover of government staff. In March 2014, the government assigned the equivalent of approximately $200,000 to the interagency commission, fulfilling its legal responsibility to fund the commission. Government officials participated in anti-trafficking awareness campaigns funded by NGOs through organizing and participating in events. In March 2014, authorities arrested a U.S. citizen for sexually exploiting Honduran girls, but the government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of child sex tourists. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts.