Trafficking in Persons Report 2015 - 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 children in prostitution. 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 agriculture, the garment industry, small businesses, and domestic service 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 area with Mexico. Child victims’ family members are often complicit in their exploitation. Criminal organizations, including gangs, exploit girls in sex trafficking and coerce and threaten young males in urban areas to sell or transport drugs, commit extortion, or be hit men. 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. Media sources have reported allegations of widespread sexual violence committed by staff in a government psychiatric facility; some of this abuse may comprise sex trafficking. Police, military, and elected officials have been investigated for paying children for sex acts, facilitating child sex trafficking, or protecting venues where trafficking occurs.

The Government of Guatemala does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts—convicting more traffickers in 2014 than in 2013 and obtaining the country’s first convictions for labor trafficking. The Secretariat against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons (SVET) enhanced government coordination on anti-trafficking initiatives, including through the establishment of department-level networks to raise awareness of trafficking. The government opened and fully funded two specialized shelters and increased funding for services for child sex trafficking victims, but the overall number of victims receiving assistance declined compared with 2013. There remained no shelter options for adults that permitted freedom of movement, and specialized services for male victims and labor trafficking victims were limited. Authorities did not prosecute or convict any government officials for complicity in trafficking crimes, and complicity investigations from previous years languished in the pre-trial phase.


Improve access to specialized services for all victims, including for male victims; increase efforts to hold government officials criminally accountable for complicity in trafficking; pursue legislative changes that would permit adults access to open shelters, witness protection, and non-residential service options; continue efforts to vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, especially suspected cases of forced labor and domestic servitude, with the goal of convicting and punishing traffickers; increase training for judges, who under Guatemalan law have the sole responsibility to refer victims to care, to ensure all victims are referred to appropriate care facilities; provide reintegration and witness protection support to victims to increase their security after they leave shelters; sustain funding for specialized victim services, including those administered by NGOs; increase 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; sustain existing child sex tourism prevention activities and increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict child sex tourists; target prevention activities toward the most vulnerable populations, including indigenous communities; and continue anti-trafficking training for relevant officials.


The government strengthened efforts to prosecute and convict sex and labor traffickers, but did not prosecute or convict any 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, and 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 402 trafficking cases and prosecuted 62 individuals for “trafficking-related” offenses in 2014; the majority of cases involved sex trafficking, while an unknown number involved forced labor. Authorities convicted 20 traffickers, with sentences ranging from eight to 48 years’ imprisonment. In comparison, the government prosecuted 67 suspects and convicted 10 traffickers in 2013. Among the traffickers convicted in 2014 were four individuals who forced girls to work in bars, restaurants, and hotels; these represent the first labor trafficking convictions in Guatemala. Anti-trafficking police and prosecutors’ ability to conduct investigations outside of the capital, while improved, continued to be limited by a lack of funding. Some members of the judiciary lacked adequate proficiency to correctly apply the country’s anti-trafficking law. Local experts reported some prosecutors lacked adequate training, and at times charged suspected traffickers using laws that carry lesser sentences. Officials identified few cases of forced labor or cases that did not involve organized crime elements. Officials did not identify any cases of forced criminal activity. Guatemalan authorities held training sessions for prosecutors, social workers, and other officials. With international support, the government trained 219 labor inspectors, police, and migration officials on trafficking. The government cooperated with officials in Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua on trafficking investigations.

Trafficking-related corruption impeded anti-trafficking efforts. Police, military, and elected officials have been investigated for paying children for sex acts, facilitating child sex trafficking, or protecting venues where trafficking occurs. The government investigated one local official for purchasing commercial sex acts from a child in 2014. It did not prosecute or convict any officials for complicity in human trafficking during the reporting period, nor did it report any developments in four criminal investigations of complicit government officials from the previous year. High-profile cases involving officials complicit in trafficking crimes stalled; charges against the son of a late Supreme Court justice implicated in a child sex trafficking ring remained under appeal for more than a year, and there were no developments in cases against 16 other individuals implicated in this ring.


The government made limited progress in protecting victims, but the majority of identified victims did not receive services, and the number of victims receiving services declined. Authorities maintained standard operating procedures for identifying sex trafficking victims, and labor officials implemented a protocol to identify potential sex and labor trafficking victims during labor inspections. The government identified 287 victims and NGOs identified an additional 50 victims, a decrease from 570 potential victims identified in 2013. Authorities did not provide complete statistics on the age and gender of victims or the type of trafficking they experienced; at least 90 were girls, 26 were boys, and 16 were women.

In 2014, the government adopted a protocol to guide government agencies in procedures to assist victims. Guatemalan law requires judges to make all referrals to public or private shelters; in 2014, judges referred 132 victims to shelters, a decrease from 196 in 2013. The majority of identified victims, 205, was not referred and therefore did not receive services. In September 2014, the government opened two shelters dedicated to providing short-term accommodation, and medical, psychological, and educational services, to child trafficking victims; these shelters assisted 36 children. The government gave 3.45 million quetzales ($452,000) to one NGO that provided shelter and specialized services to 34 victims; it also provided funding to an NGO that served female victims of violence, including five trafficking victims. Another NGO provided services for 11 girls. There were few services in the country available 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. In 2014, 30 children were placed in this facility; there are reports that trafficking victims were not always separated from other residents, and local experts reported concerns with safety and quality of care in this shelter. There were no shelters for men. The sole facility available to women was a government shelter that restricted residents’ movements outside the shelter, effectively denying their ability to earn an income or participate in other outside activities while in the shelter. Sixteen women chose to reside in this shelter in 2014; those who did not were not eligible to receive the government’s psychological, social, or vocational services for trafficking victims.

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. Judges at times referred child victims to their families, leaving some vulnerable to re-trafficking, as family members were often complicit in their exploitation. Officials 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 referred to protective services.

Authorities encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of traffickers, and an unspecified number did so, with legal and psychological support from NGOs. 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. Victims had the right to file civil claims; legal teams in NGO shelters assisted at least 10 victims in obtaining restitution from criminal convictions. There were no reports identified victims were detained, fined, or otherwise penalized 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 and NGOs acknowledged some of these victims may have been prosecuted or otherwise treated as criminals. Repatriated victims could be referred to services, though authorities typically did not screen for indicators of trafficking among the large numbers of Guatemalans returned from abroad, including unaccompanied migrant children. 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.


The government continued strong prevention efforts. SVET, which reports directly to the vice president, continued to oversee the interagency anti-trafficking commission and coordinate government efforts against trafficking as well as gender-based violence. In October 2014, the government approved a new 10-year anti-trafficking public policy. The government established 13 additional regional interagency commissions against trafficking and sexual violence, bringing the total to 23. The government conducted numerous awareness campaigns that included information about trafficking and reached more than 127,000 members of the public; some officials expressed concern these were not effective in reaching the most vulnerable segments of the population, including indigenous communities. The government, in partnership with civil society, continued to recruit partners in the tourism industry to sign a code of conduct that encouraged signatories to report potential cases of child sex tourism to authorities, and it implemented an awareness campaign against child sex tourism. However, there were no reported prosecutions or convictions of child sex tourists or other individuals who purchased commercial sex from children. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel and for Guatemalan troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions. The government took no discernible efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor.