The government slightly increased efforts to protect victims. Authorities identified 17 potential victims in 2018—at least 12 foreign nationals and three Belizeans; 12 adult females and five minors—compared to 17 potential victims in 2017 and 12 potential victims in 2016. In 2018, authorities confirmed eight forced labor victims and one sex trafficking victim. The government reported it was updating formal victim identification procedures, but currently employed a procedure to screen for potential victims among vulnerable groups, such as individuals in prostitution and migrants. Observers reported more consistency in victim identification, but also stated gaps still existed, such as authorities who rarely took action in response to credible reports of potential victims by NGOs, possibly leading to fewer victim identifications and weak victim protection. In addition, while Belize’s anti-trafficking law exempted victims from punishment for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, NGOs reported authorities arrested, jailed, or deported victims following raids of commercial sex establishments due to immigration violations. The national anti-trafficking council ensured social workers accompany the TIP-dedicated law enforcement unit on operations and raids conducted by the council’s operations subcommittee to screen, identify, and assist victims. However, social workers were not routinely present when other law enforcement units conducted operations and raids on commercial sex establishments. Victims’ fear of detention or deportation may have contributed to their reluctance to report trafficking to law enforcement officers.
The government reported the Department of Human Services provided 11 of the 17 victims with services; the other six refused services. The government coordinated and funded shelter, medical, and psychological services to adult victims through the Alternative Care Unit and to children through the Child Protection System and foster care. The government trained and partnered with domestic violence NGOs to provide shelter and services to adult female trafficking victims. Service providers developed victim care plans with victim participation with the goal of encouraging independence, and these plans included presenting adult victims with the option of staying in shelters, safe houses, or independent living and placing minors in the child protection system or in kinship care and independent living upon reaching adulthood; five victims transitioned from shelters or safe houses to kinship care or independent living in 2018.
Government social workers monitored foster care placements for child victims and developed individual case plans for each child, which included a home study to determine if placement is in the best interest of the child. The government noted the support offered by foster families empowered victims and led to the successful conviction in 2016. Experts expressed concerns about the lack of education about trafficking for some foster parents, uneven coordination and communication between government agencies and foster parents, and limited availability of psycho-social care in general, including for trafficking victims. Observers reported limited shelter options for male victims, including migrants. As in the previous year, the government allocated 200,000 Belizean dollars ($100,000) to the national anti-trafficking council, some of which it dedicated to victim services. In total, the government dedicated 107,000 Belizean dollars ($53,500) to victim services in 2018, which included food, clothing, medical expenses, counseling, stipends, and repatriation expenses.
The government conducted risk assessments of 13 victims related to ongoing prosecutions, which included providing security in the courtroom, confidential accommodations, and relocation of victims when necessary for security. Court delays, affecting the justice system as a whole, and fear of retaliation by traffickers may have led foreign national victims to decline or withdraw cooperation with law enforcement and return to their home countries. Per government policy, foreign victims identified in potential trafficking cases may be granted temporary residency status regardless of their cooperation with investigations or prosecutions, and the government assigned a social worker to assist all 12 foreign national victims in obtaining immigration relief, housing, and medical services. However, the government repatriated all 12 foreign national victims identified in the reporting period. The government granted temporary residency permits to two victims identified in previous reporting periods. Victims could apply for work permits free of cost, and the government granted three such permits in 2018. A court may order restitution upon a trafficker’s conviction but did not do so in 2018.