HONDURAS: Tier 2
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, it 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. LGBT Hondurans are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking. Honduran men, women, and children are subjected to forced labor in agriculture, street vending, and domestic service in Honduras and forced labor in other countries, particularly in Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States. Indigenous Miskito boys from Honduras are vulnerable to forced labor; there has been at least one case in recent years of forced labor on a fishing vessel. NGOs report criminal organizations, including gangs, exploit girls in sex trafficking, force children into street begging, and coerce and threaten young males in urban areas to transport drugs, commit extortion, or act as hit men. During the year, there were increasing reports of children being subjected to sex trafficking on the streets of large cities, particularly the economic center of San Pedro Sula, under the guise of street begging. Honduras is a destination for child sex tourists from Canada and the United States. Some migrants to the United States are subjected to forced labor, forced criminal activity, or sex trafficking en route or upon arrival. Latin American migrants transit Honduras en route to northern Central America and North America; some are subsequently exploited in sex trafficking and forced labor. Prosecutors reported some local police provided protection to brothel owners or tipped them off about impending raids, and security officials have been investigated for purchasing commercial sex acts from child trafficking victims. There was one media report of a child sex trafficking ring in Tegucigalpa that allegedly operated with police and high-level government protection.
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 launched a dedicated helpline for identifying trafficking victims and established an “immediate response” team to refer identified victims to NGOs for services. Authorities continued to prosecute traffickers, though they did not obtain any convictions. Law enforcement efforts were inadequate, with a focus limited primarily to 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.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HONDURAS:
Increase efforts to prosecute trafficking offenses, and to convict and sentence traffickers, especially for forced labor crimes and sex trafficking of adults; conduct thorough and transparent criminal investigations and prosecutions of alleged government complicity in trafficking offenses, and convict and sentence complicit officials; improve victim referral mechanisms and provide specialized services and shelter to all victims through increased funding to government entities or civil society organizations; develop and implement formal procedures to identify victims among vulnerable populations, including child workers identified by labor inspections, children apprehended for illicit gang-related activities, and repatriated child migrants and refer them to service providers; develop policies and train officials to protect child victims from re-victimization in the criminal justice system; take measures to increase the number of adult victims identified and assisted, including repatriated Hondurans; enforce laws punishing brokers for illegal practices which facilitate trafficking, such as fraudulent offers of employment or excessive fees for migration or job placement; increase training and resources for the dedicated anti-trafficking police and prosecutorial units, as well as staff on the “immediate response” team; increase the use of the anti-trafficking law in trafficking prosecutions; and finalize the national action plan for 2015-2020.
The government continued modest law enforcement efforts to combat child sex trafficking, but efforts to investigate and prosecute other forms of trafficking remained weak. The Honduran anti-trafficking law, enacted in April 2012, prohibits all forms of trafficking, prescribing penalties ranging from 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. This law, however, is inconsistent with international law; it conflates human trafficking with other crimes, such as illegal adoption, and establishes the use of force, deceit, or intimidation as an aggravating factor, rather than an essential element of most trafficking crimes. Many traffickers were prosecuted under non-trafficking statutes that prescribe lower penalties, such as those prohibiting pimping. Authorities reported investigating 36 cases of suspected trafficking, most of which involved child sex trafficking. The government prosecuted four suspects for sex trafficking with no convictions, compared with 17 individuals prosecuted and two convicted for trafficking crimes in the previous reporting period. All four prosecutions remained ongoing at the close of the reporting period.
The government increased the number of officials dedicated to investigating trafficking cases and organized a taskforce among prosecutors to jointly investigate trafficking and smuggling cases with links to organized crime. A lack of adequate human and material resources, however, limited the effectiveness of investigators and prosecutors, and insufficient funding forced officials to limit the number of raids on sites where child trafficking occurred. Authorities cooperated on trafficking investigations with officials from INTERPOL, El Salvador, Guatemala, and the United States. In October 2014, authorities arrested two high-ranking members of the police and the military for purchasing commercial sex acts from child trafficking victims. The government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses. NGOs funded by international donors 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 largely dependent on NGOs to fund and provide services. While immigration officials had a manual on victim identification, Honduran authorities lacked systematic procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as people in prostitution or working children. The government established an “immediate response” team with three dedicated staff members to identify victims among individuals apprehended by authorities, and in the last quarter of the reporting period this team assisted four victims. It was also responsible for running a dedicated helpline launched in June 2014 and for referring identified victims to NGOs to receive services. Between September 2013 and September 2014, NGOs provided assistance to 116 victims, an unknown number of whom were referred by the government.
There were limited services available for victims, and services for adult victims were particularly lacking. The government provided 371,460 lempiras ($17,700) to an NGO that operated the country’s only specialized shelter for girl victims of sexual abuse and sex trafficking. Honduran consular officers in Mexico assisted four Honduran victims in obtaining humanitarian visas to remain in Mexico. Authorities made efforts to screen for indicators of trafficking among the large numbers of Hondurans returned from abroad, including unaccompanied migrant children, but procedures for referral to follow-up services were insufficient to ensure all identified victims received such care. The government encouraged victims to assist in investigations and prosecutions, but the lack of adequate victim and witness protection programs, exacerbated by a slow trial process and fear of retaliation by traffickers, caused many victims—particularly adults—to decline to cooperate. There were no reports of identified victims being penalized for unlawful acts committed as a result of being subjected to human trafficking. However, due to the lack of a formal mechanism to screen vulnerable populations, some unidentified victims may have been punished for such crimes, and children forced to engage in criminal activity by criminal groups were sometimes treated as criminals instead of victims. NGOs noted the criminal justice system often re-victimized child victims due to the lack of sensitivity of some officials and lack of protective services. The government allowed some child victims to provide testimony via videoconference or pre-recorded interviews. Honduran law provides eligibility for foreign victims to receive temporary residency status, including the ability to work, but none received this benefit in 2014.
The government increased prevention efforts. The interagency, multi-stakeholder commission on child trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation coordinated efforts; although NGOs funded much of its work, the government, for the first time, distributed funding (allocated at the close of the previous reporting period) and provided office space for the commission. The commission established and trained 10 interagency committees to coordinate efforts at the local level. In May 2014, the president launched a coordinated communication campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of trafficking, and government officials continued to organize and participate in awareness raising events funded by NGOs. The commission finalized implementing guidelines for the 2012 law and began drafting, but did not complete, a new national action plan for the years 2015-2020. The government did not make efforts to punish labor recruiters or brokers for illegal practices that increase migrants’ vulnerability to exploitation abroad. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of child sex tourists. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. It did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor.