Trafficking in Persons Report 2016 - Country Narratives - Guatemala


Guatemala is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Guatemalan women, girls, and boys are exploited in sex trafficking within the country and in Mexico, the United States, Belize, and other foreign countries. Foreign child sex tourists—predominantly from Canada, the United States, and Western Europe—and Guatemalan men exploit child sex trafficking victims. Women and children from other Latin American countries and the United States are exploited in sex trafficking in Guatemala. Guatemalan men, women, and children are subjected to forced labor within the country, often in agriculture or domestic service, and in the garment industry, small businesses, and similar sectors in Mexico, the United States, and other countries. Domestic servitude in Guatemala sometimes occurs through forced marriages. Indigenous Guatemalans are particularly vulnerable to labor trafficking. Guatemalan children are exploited in forced labor in begging and street vending, particularly within Guatemala City and along the border with Mexico. Child victims’ family members often facilitate their exploitation. Criminal organizations, including gangs, exploit girls in sex trafficking and coerce young males in urban areas to sell or transport drugs or commit extortion. Some Latin American migrants transiting Guatemala en route to Mexico and the United States are subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor in Mexico, the United States, or Guatemala.

The Government of Guatemala does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government increased trafficking-related investigations, prosecutions, and convictions, and obtained one conviction for labor trafficking, compared with four in 2014. The Secretariat against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons (SVET) sustained government coordination on anti-trafficking initiatives, including supporting department-level networks and concrete action plans to address prevention and emergency funding for shelters, in spite of government-wide funding cuts, but the government did not allocate a dedicated budget to protect or provide specialized services for trafficking victims. Although the government slightly increased overall funding for services to child sex trafficking victims and assisted a greater overall number of victims of trafficking compared to 2014, officials reduced funding for three shelters and most identified victims did not have access to specialized services. Adult shelters restricted victims’ freedom of movement, and specialized services for male victims and labor trafficking victims remained limited. Officials advanced a high-profile trafficking in persons case involving the son of a former magistrate, which has remained in the pre-trial stage for several years; an appeals court overturned the acquittal of a former city councilman complicit in trafficking by purchasing sex acts from a child; and the government expedited the case of two judges who were accused of wrongfully absolving an influential official accused of sex trafficking. The government, however, did not criminally convict any officials for complicity in trafficking.


Improve access to and quality of specialized services for all victims, including for male victims; increase efforts to hold government officials criminally accountable for complicity in trafficking; strengthen implementation of the 2014-2015 protocol against trafficking; amend legislation to permit adults access to open shelters and enhance comprehensive services and witness protection; continue efforts to vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, with increased focus on suspected cases of forced labor and domestic servitude; increase training for judges, who under Guatemalan law have the sole responsibility to refer victims to care, and ensure all victims are referred to appropriate care facilities; as part of developing a cadre of specialized prosecutors and judges outside of the capital, increase training to law enforcement and criminal justice officials so that forced labor and sex trafficking cases are investigated and prosecuted as trafficking and not as irregular adoption; provide reintegration and witness protection support to victims; allocate and disburse funding for specialized victim services, including those administered by NGOs; sustain efforts to identify trafficking victims, particularly among vulnerable populations, such as working children, returning migrants, individuals in the sex trade, and children apprehended for illicit gang-related activities; increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict child sex tourists; and target prevention activities toward the most vulnerable populations, including indigenous communities.


The government strengthened efforts to prosecute and convict sex and labor traffickers and, for the first time, investigated and prosecuted several public officials complicit in trafficking. The anti-trafficking law of 2009 prohibits all forms of trafficking, although it includes irregular adoption as a form of trafficking; it prescribes penalties from eight to 18 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government initiated investigations of 280 complaints of trafficking-related offenses in 2015, compared with 266 investigations in 2014, and prosecuted 105 defendants in 28 separate trafficking-related cases, compared with 62 in 2014; the majority of cases involved sex trafficking, while officials identified a limited number of cases of forced labor. These totals may also include crimes that do not meet the international definition of trafficking, such as illegal adoption. Authorities convicted 39 traffickers in 28 separate cases in 2015, compared with 20 traffickers convicted in 2014, involving 12 sex trafficking cases and one labor trafficking case, with sentences ranging from eight to 48 years’ imprisonment. The government obtained its first conviction for international labor trafficking, involving Guatemalans exploited in forced labor in Jordan.

Anti-trafficking police and prosecutors’ capacity to conduct investigations outside of the capital, while improved, continued to be limited by inadequate funding and training. Specialized courts continued to hear trafficking and gender-based violence cases, including a specialized 24-hour court in Guatemala City. Some members of the judiciary, especially in the interior, lacked adequate training to apply forensic evidence in prosecutions and, at times, applied trafficking sentences unevenly. Officials investigated and prosecuted few cases of forced labor or cases that did not involve organized crime elements; however, authorities investigated one case in which a routine labor inspection uncovered children subjected to forced labor in convenience stores. Officials did not identify any cases of forced criminal activity. Guatemalan officials trained 127 prosecutors and paralegals, 121 airport security officials, and 85 tourist police on trafficking indicators and identifying trafficking victims, among other topics. Guatemalan authorities also held training sessions for labor inspectors, diplomatic corps, and 17 businesses to enhance identification and prosecution efforts. Officials coordinated a law enforcement operation with El Salvador and Mexico that resulted in the arrest of 36 alleged members of a trafficking ring and rescue of 39 victims.

The government increased actions to address official complicity in trafficking crimes, but it did not convict any complicit officials. The government stripped of official immunity two judges accused of wrongfully absolving a government official of sex trafficking. Two officials were arrested for sharing law enforcement-sensitive information with organized criminal groups, including those allegedly linked to human trafficking.


The government increased efforts to identify and protect victims. The government identified 673 trafficking victims in 2015, a significant increase from 287 victims in 2014; however, reported data did not specify the types of trafficking experienced. Of the 673 victims identified, at least 456 were women and girls, compared with a total of 106 in 2014; and 217 victims of trafficking were men and boys, including at least 174 men in forced labor, an increase from 26 in 2014. Labor officials implemented a protocol to identify potential sex and labor trafficking victims during labor inspections, and the government increased training for staff and law enforcement at sexual violence clinics in public hospitals to facilitate identification of trafficking victims. Officials, however, had difficulty recognizing domestic servitude or other types of forced labor not involving criminal networks as human trafficking; victims of these forms of trafficking were unlikely to be identified or referred to protective services. Authorities collaborated to identify and rescue at least 135 children in forced child labor in the capital.

The quality and availability of specialized victim services remained inadequate, and the government did not refer the majority of victims to assistance. Officials finalized a victim protection protocol in 2015 to guide government agencies in assisting victims, but it was not implemented during the reporting period. Guatemalan law requires that judges make all referrals to public or private shelters; in 2015, judges referred 249 victims to shelters, an increase from 132 referrals in 2014 but a little less than half of all victims identified. Most referrals to shelters involved children; only seven adult men received residential services. Judges at times referred child victims to their families, leaving some vulnerable to re-trafficking, as family members often were involved in their exploitation. Repatriated victims could be referred to services, but authorities typically did not screen for indicators of trafficking among the large numbers of Guatemalans returned from abroad, including unaccompanied migrant children.

The government continued funding three government shelters, as well as NGOs that provided specialized services, mostly for child trafficking victims. The three government-run shelters assisted 153 trafficking victims. A government-supported NGO provided specialized services to an additional 55 children; however, this NGO reduced its available services, in part because of government funding cuts. The sole government-run shelter for women closed in December 2015, after providing services to 20 women in 2015; while in operation, staff restricted residents’ movements outside the shelter, effectively denying their ability to earn an income or participate in other outside activities while in the shelter. The quality of services in remaining government-run shelters remained poor; NGO shelters provided higher quality care and had the capacity to shelter victims as long as necessary to address psycho-social, re-integration, and security needs. Nonetheless, NGO shelter operators expressed concern for victims’ safety upon being discharged from shelters. They cited insufficient ongoing case management and reintegration services in government shelters, leaving some victims vulnerable to re-trafficking or retaliation from traffickers—particularly those whose cases involved organized crime groups or public officials. NGOs provided the only services to fill this gap, at times sheltering victims on a long-term basis. The government ran 15 centers in the country’s interior, which provided non-residential reintegration assistance to child trafficking victims and families but not specialized services. There were few services available in the country for male victims; most boys and some girls were placed in a government shelter that housed child victims of abuse or neglect, as well as child offenders. Although the government had no specialized shelters for male victims, it provided temporary residential shelter to seven adult male victims of trafficking.

Authorities encouraged victims to assist the investigation and prosecution of traffickers and made options available for private testimony; an unspecified number did so with legal and psychological support from NGOs and the Public Ministry. Victims residing in government facilities did not receive adequate legal support or witness protection. Prosecutors cited the lack of appropriate protection options for adult victims as a significant impediment to pursuing prosecutions in cases involving adults. Judges may order restitution when sentencing traffickers, and victims had the right to file civil claims for compensatory damages and harm suffered as a result of being subjected to trafficking; in practice, no civil suits regarding damages for trafficking crimes were filed in 2015, compared with 10 victims obtaining restitution from criminal convictions in 2014. There were no reports that the government detained, fined, or otherwise penalized identified victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. The government, however, did not recognize children forced to engage in criminal activity as trafficking victims; officials acknowledged some of these victims may have been prosecuted or otherwise treated as criminals. Guatemalan law provided legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims who may face hardship or retribution upon return to their home countries, but all known foreign victims opted for repatriation. Foreign victims had the same access to care as domestic trafficking victims.


The government continued strong prevention efforts. SVET continued to oversee the interagency anti-trafficking commission and coordinate government efforts against trafficking and gender-based violence. Officials oversaw 23 departmental networks in the interior of the country, which responded to trafficking cases and conducted prevention activities; however, such network activities slowed due to 2015 budget constraints. The new general labor inspection protocol was implemented and included modules on the identification of victims of trafficking and child labor exploitation. The government conducted a wide range of initiatives to educate potential victims, the public, government officials, and tourists about the dangers, causes, and consequences of trafficking. Authorities ran prevention campaigns on trafficking awareness and sex tourism targeting students, visitors to hospitals, activists, airport security officials, tourist police, and businesses. As part of the Code of Conduct for the Prevention of Child Sex Tourism, SVET provided training to 17 businesses across the country, reaching a total of 2,405 individuals. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex, investigating suspects who purchased commercial sex with children. The government made no discernible efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor. The government provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomats and to Guatemalan troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.

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