BELIZE: Tier 3
Belize is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. The UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons reported Belizean women and girls were subjected to sex trafficking by family members, but the government has not arrested family members engaged in this form of trafficking. Child sex tourism, involving primarily U. S. citizens, is an emerging trend, concentrated in areas where tourism is important to the local economy. Sex trafficking and forced labor of Belizean and foreign women, girls, and LGBT persons, primarily from Central America, occurs in bars, nightclubs, brothels, and domestic service. Underage girls are reportedly present in bars that function as brothels. 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 in restaurants, shops, agriculture, and fishing. Traffickers often recruit through false promises of relatively high-paying jobs and subsequently subject victims to forced labor or sex trafficking. Trafficking-related complicity by government officials, including allegations of involvement of high-level officials, remains a problem.
The Government of Belize does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. Authorities did not initiate any new investigations or prosecutions in 2014. Victim identification efforts significantly declined, and the lack of proactive victim identification resulted in the arrest, 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.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BELIZE:
Proactively implement the anti-trafficking law by vigorously investigating and prosecuting suspected traffickers; publicly acknowledge and condemn instances of official complicity and take steps to hold officials complicit in trafficking accountable; significantly 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; finalize draft formal procedures to guide officials in the identification and referral of victims of sex and labor trafficking, particularly among groups vulnerable to trafficking such as children, people in prostitution, and migrant laborers; 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; take steps to ensure the effective prohibition of the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including those aged 16 and 17; increase partnerships with NGOs to reintegrate victims and to deliver specialized victim care; and update and implement the national anti-trafficking plan.
The government decreased efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict traffickers. The Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Act 2013 prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties of one to eight years’ imprisonment for the trafficking of adults and up to 12 years’ imprisonment for the trafficking of children. The prescribed maximum penalties are 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. Such children remain vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking. The government did not initiate any new prosecutions or convict any traffickers, including complicit government officials, in 2014, a decline from convicting one trafficker in 2013 and two in 2012. A prosecution from the previous reporting period, in which a suspect was arrested and charged with one count of trafficking involving a child, remained pending. Investigations of five human trafficking cases from previous years remained pending. Many off-duty police officers provide security for sex trade locales, which risks inhibiting victims from coming forward and law enforcement’s willingness to investigate allegations of trafficking in the sex trade.
The government made minimal efforts to protect trafficking victims. It proactively identified 10 new potential trafficking victims among vulnerable groups in 2014, compared with three identified in 2013 and 13 in 2012. Law enforcement and other government officials employed informal mechanisms to guide them in identifying and referring victims; however, the procedures were not well implemented. Police did not systematically inspect brothels or bars for indications of trafficking during the year, and there were reports that front-line responders carrying out brothel raids generally looked for immigration violations instead of trafficking indicators. In June 2014, law enforcement arrested and imprisoned 12 women after a raid on a bar without screening the women for trafficking indicators, a practice that denied potential victims an opportunity to disclose exploitation.
Authorities provided assistance to 10 identified victims, compared with six victims assisted in 2013 and seven victims assisted in 2012. The government had yet to finalize 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 275,000 Belizean dollars ($138,000) for anti-trafficking efforts in 2014, including victim care through placements in safe houses and NGO domestic violence shelters. Officials could place child victims in foster care, but experts questioned the appropriateness of such placements due to the lack of education about human trafficking for foster parents, uneven coordination and communication between the foster parents and government agencies, and limited psycho-social care for the victims. Court delays discouraged victims and often led them to cease cooperation with law enforcement and return to their home countries. The government did not provide temporary residency to formally identified foreign trafficking victims, despite the ability to do so. Victims could apply for work permits, but the cost of 500 Belizean dollars ($425) to obtain such permits imposed a significant barrier. An existing agreement between the Belizean and Cuban governments requiring the return of all Cubans who enter Belize may have also placed potential trafficking victims at risk for further exploitation. Belize’s anti-trafficking law exempts trafficking victims from punishment for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to human trafficking; however, NGOs reported the government more commonly arrests, jails, and deports trafficking victims as opposed to providing assistance and immigration relief.
The government demonstrated minimal prevention efforts. Its anti-trafficking committee did not make meaningful progress in implementing the 2012-2014 anti-trafficking national strategic plan. The UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons visited Belize to assess progress and challenges in combating human trafficking and issued a report in June 2014 citing concerns ranging from the absence of comprehensive victim identification protocols to the criminalization of immigrants leading to the detention and deportation of potential victims. Authorities completed a survey in 2014 to assess trafficking vulnerabilities in bars and nightclubs, particularly for women in prostitution, and reported providing the information to police for further action. The government, in partnership with an NGO, continued its awareness campaign in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Hindi. Authorities disseminated public service announcements on child sexual exploitation, tourism, and the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel.