Belize receives low score for combating human trafficking

Belize did not do well in the latest Trafficking in Persons report 2015, also known as TIP report published by the US state Department.   In the TIP Report, the Department of State places each country onto one of three tiers based on the extent of their governments’ efforts to comply with the “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking”. Tier 1 is the highest ranking  and indicates that a government has acknowledged the existence of human trafficking, made efforts to address the problem, and complies with the TVPA’s minimum standards.  Tier 2 is when a country is placed on a watchlist and for the past seven years that is where Belize ranked.  Tier 3 is the lowest and that is where Belize now finds itself in  this latest report. According to the report, “Belize is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Belizean women and girls were subjected to sex trafficking by family members, Underage girls are reportedly present in bars that function as brothels. Trafficking-related complicity by government officials, including allegations of involvement of high-level officials, remains a problem.”   The report also says that the Government of Belize does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. It says,   “Authorities did not initiate any new investigations or prosecutions in 2014. Victim identification efforts significantly declined, and the lack of proactive victim identification resulted in the arrest, detention, and deportation of potential victims based on immigration violations. The government did not investigate or prosecute any public officials for alleged complicity in human trafficking-related offenses. Proactively implement the anti-trafficking law by vigorously investigating and prosecuting suspected traffickers; publicly acknowledge and condemn instances of official complicity and take steps to hold officials complicit in trafficking accountable;”    One startling statement in the report indicates that prostitution is legal for 16 and 17 year olds in Belize as long as there is no third party or pimp involved.  The report says,  The 2013 Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (Prohibition) Act criminalizes the facilitation of prostitution of children under 18 years of age. This law, however, allows for 16- and 17-year-old children to engage in sexual activity in exchange for remuneration, gifts, goods, food, or other benefits if there is no third party involved.”  The Reports also implicates Belizean law enforcement, saying, “Many off-duty police officers provide security for sex trade locales, which risks inhibiting victims from coming forward. Police did not systematically inspect brothels or bars for indications of trafficking during the year, and there were reports that front-line responders carrying out brothel raids generally looked for immigration violations instead of trafficking indicators. Court delays discouraged victims and often led them to cease cooperation with law enforcement and return to their home countries.”  According to the ranking system, governments of countries on Tier 3 may be subject to certain restrictions on bilateral assistance, whereby the U.S. government may withhold or withdraw non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance. In addition, certain countries on Tier 3 may not receive funding for government employees’ participation in educational and cultural exchange programs. Governments subject to restrictions would also face U.S. opposition to the provision of assistance (except for humanitarian, trade-related, and certain development-related assistance) by international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

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