The government increased protection efforts, but provided shelter and services to fewer victims. SVET identified 678 trafficking victims (518 female victims, 158 male victims, and two non-binary victims, including children) in 2019, compared with 371 in 2018, 316 in 2017, 484 in 2016, and 673 in 2015. Reported data did not specify the types of trafficking involved in those cases. SVET developed the National Database of Trafficking in Persons Victims, the first inter-institutional database for detailed trafficking victim information, with close coordination from members of the Inter-institutional Commission Against Trafficking-in-Persons (CIT). SVET also developed an online application for mobile phones for emergency attention to trafficking victims. Of the 678 victims identified, SVET referred 217 to shelter and services; this compared with the government and NGOs providing shelter and services to 238 trafficking victims in 2018 and 127 trafficking victims in 2017. There were three government-run shelters and four main NGO-run shelters that could house trafficking victims. In 2019, shelters began providing differentiated and specialized services and treatment plans for trafficking victims and compared with those of sexual exploitation. In cooperation with other government agencies and NGOs, the government provided services to victims such as food, housing, psychological care, healthcare, education, and apprenticeships. Observers reported NGOs provided the highest quality and most comprehensive care for child victims. Foreign victims had the same access to care as domestic trafficking victims. Shelters could also provide services and housing to victims with disabilities. There were no shelters, government- or NGO-run, for male trafficking victims. The government was unable to report the number of victims housed in government-run shelters; this compared with 77 trafficking victims (74 females and three males) in 2018, 89 trafficking victims (82 females and seven males) in 2017, and 77 in 2016. Adult and child victims stayed in shelters for 46 days on average.
The government provided 7.04 million quetzals ($915,470) in funding in 2019 for government-run shelters and specialized services, compared with 19.4 million quetzals ($2.52 million) in 2018 and 17.6 million quetzals ($2.29 million) in 2017. In November 2019, the congress revived the Institute for Assistance and Assistance to Victims of Crime and put it under the direct supervision of the President’s Office. Congress approved a 50 million quetzal ($6.5 million) budget for the Institute’s operations in 2019, which provided legal, psychological and counseling services to victims of violent crime nationwide, including trafficking victims. The ombudsman for Human Right’s Office (PDH) had a specialized focus for the rights of trafficking; the PDH’s budget was lowered by congress, putting its capacity and anti-trafficking activities at risk. Government funding for victim protection, particularly for shelters, remained limited.
Officials used an inter-institutional protocol for the screening, protection, and referral of trafficking victims. SVET also had a protocol for its Immediate Response Team, which had a formal process for identifying, referring, and protecting victims in the short-term. In 2019, SVET created new protocols for victims of sexual violence, including trafficking: Integral First Response Model of Attention for Adult Victims of Violence, Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking; Protocol of Action in Temporary Specialized Shelter for the Care of Adult Women Migrants Victims of the Crime of Trafficking in Persons; and Updated Social Assistance Directory containing information about shelters and other social welfare organizations in Guatemala. SVET shared its protocol for screening for trafficking victims with the National Civil Police, the Secretary of Social Welfare (SBS), Public Ministry, Ministry of Health, and the Attorney General’s Office. However, the SVET’s Protocol of Action did not include thorough screening for vulnerable groups, and the protocol was not widely known by other institutions in the government. SVET also created a guide to strengthen comprehensive care by the government and NGOs for LGBTI persons who were victims of human trafficking. The National Civil Police agency’s criminal investigative unit did not maintain a victim care team. While SBS has improved its specialized attention to trafficking victims in its shelters, officials noted that due to insufficient victim identification mechanisms, there may be some unidentified trafficking victims in non-trafficking shelters. SVET reported improved regional coordination on anti-trafficking efforts, with better coverage in Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, Solola, Quiche, Retalhuleu, Totonicapan, Suchitepequez, and San Marcos.
The courts referred underage trafficking victims to shelters. National Police officers accompanied minor victims to the shelters. The Ministry of Development had a care program to support victims, including trafficking victims, of sexual violence under 14 years old. In January 2019, the SBS assumed ownership and leadership over two formerly SVET-managed shelters in Coatepeque and Guatemala City for minor trafficking victims. An NGO and international organization provided operational assistance and training to SBS employees to ensure the two shelters remained operational and provided quality specialized care for victims and technical support for transfer of the shelters. No NGOs identified any problems with the transition. However, other observers noted instances of inter-agency competition and lack of coordination between SVET and SBS that affected shelter functioning and complicated victim care. In addition to its help with processing trafficking crimes of minors, the Public Ministry’s new MAINA facility provided specialized services (medical, psychological, socioeconomic, and legal) for minor victims of crime, including trafficking, sexual violence, and abuse. SVET repurposed and renovated its shelter in Coban for adult migrant trafficking victims, which included transgender women. An NGO maintained a specialized shelter for unaccompanied minors that assisted repatriation, discouraged irregular migration, and screened for trafficking.
Although Guatemalan law required judges to make all referrals to public or private shelters, in practice, judges often did not make timely referrals, delaying access to needed assistance. Judges at times referred child victims to their families, leaving some vulnerable to re-trafficking, as family members often were involved in their exploitation. Experts noted there was a shortage of shelters for child trafficking victims. The government screened returning unaccompanied children for trafficking indicators using SBS protocols for the attention and reception of such children in two government shelters. Some observers noted that some government and private shelters lack basic security features such as sufficient security cameras and/or security guard presence on the shelter compound. The government made efforts to improve its operations of government shelters, but overall monitoring and oversight, especially for children, remained weak. The government has still not implemented structural changes to overhaul the system in the aftermath of the March 2017 fire in an overcrowded government-managed shelter, which resulted in the deaths of 41 girls and injuries to others. The shelter had previously faced allegations of corruption, sexual exploitation, and a UN investigation into the shelter’s management.
Observers noted there was still no comprehensive government-led mechanism to provide follow-up and reintegration support to victims after leaving shelters, nor did the government have sufficient expertise or organizational structures to do so, which could jeopardize victims’ safety and increase vulnerability to re-trafficking. For example, in the SBS-run government shelter for female children and adolescent victims of trafficking crimes in Guatemala City, there was no formal program or mechanism to guide victims into a life after the shelter. Many victims lacked family connections to return to upon leaving the shelter on their 18th birthday. Shelter release remained an abrupt and jarring experience for victims. The Ministry of Labor, National Police, and Public Ministry signed an agreement for expanded inter-institutional coordination focused on identification and referrals for victims of labor exploitation and forced labor. While some government officials received training on implementing another protocol for identifying potential forced labor victims during labor inspections, NGOs expressed concern the labor ministry did not proactively look for indicators of forced labor, including in the agricultural sector where workers were particularly vulnerable to forced labor.
Authorities encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers and made options available for victim testimony either via video, in a Gesell Chamber, or from behind a partition in the courtroom to protect the victim’s identity and privacy; victims could also participate in a witness protection program. The two new specialized first instance courts had specialized psychological services for victims and extra layers of confidentiality for witnesses who might be traumatized and/or intimidated to testify. The Public Ministry employed social workers and psychologists to serve as liaisons between the office and victims, accompany victims through the proceedings against their traffickers, and assist victims in accessing medical services. Although the Public Ministry reported it had assisted 270 individuals with these services in 2018, it did not report how many it assisted in 2019. Judges must order restitution when sentencing traffickers. The government, however, did not report any victims as having received restitution from 2017-2019, compared to seven victims who received restitution in 2016. The judiciary reported judges consistently ordered restitution, but observers reported a gap in enforcement of orders for payments and the inability of those convicted to pay restitution. Guatemalan law provided legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims who may face hardship or retribution upon return to their home countries; the government did not provide data for the number of victims repatriated during the reporting period. Finding legal employment remained a problem for victims, with no specific system or program in place to help victims find employment. Civil society expressed concern some adult foreign victims chose to leave shelters and return to their home countries due to the lengthy investigation processes. The Public Ministry signed a cooperation agreement with Canada to improve victim service provisions.