Combating Human Trafficking in Honduras

Much like its neighbors in the “Northern Triangle”, Honduras is beset by a host of challenges: high rates of crime and violence, weak or under-supported government institutions, and a lack of economic opportunity for a vast number of its citizens. Unfortunately, these factors contribute to another issue affecting countless victims across the country: human trafficking.

Migration is nothing new in Central America, but the rise of trafficking in people over the past decade represents a new threat. In marginalized communities, the individual promising a secure job in the city, or even passage north to the United States, often seems preferential to a life with minimal opportunities. The reality, of course, is that these individuals are taken advantage of; forced to work in order to pay off debts they have no hope of ever repaying, a form of debt slavery. These victims are often bought and sold like merchandise, and for many criminal elements, are more profitable than illicit drugs. Victims are also often subjected to sexual abuse or forced into sex work. The human cost of such inhumane treatment is tremendous.

Prior to 2010, while human trafficking was no doubt a problem, public awareness was minimal at best. Most people just assumed friends or relatives who left successfully reached their final destination, whether it was a Honduran city or the United States. For law enforcement, there was no special statute against human trafficking; instead any cases would be tried as kidnapping, sexual exploitation, etc., hurting the ability of the government to actually assess the frequency of human trafficking.

comic
Image from a comic book designed to raise awareness about human trafficking.

Global Communities, with support from the U.S. State Department, partnered with the Honduran Office of Migration and Foreigners of the Ministry of Governance on a program to help tackle this problem. In the first phase, the program had two key components: promoting awareness among Honduran citizens, and helping increase capacity of local government and NGOs in assisting victims. The awareness campaigns utilized a variety of media to both warn about the risks of human trafficking as well as promote places where victims could receive vital support services.

Global Communities Honduras extensive experience in capacity building was used to strengthen the capacity of local civil society organizations to address the human trafficking victim’s needs. CSOs learned how to assist victims, they provided them with temporary shelter, connection to social services, and even job training and microcredit loans to help people begin new lives. They also assisted the victims through the intimidating legal process, and assisted in the prosecution of traffickers.

CICESCT banner
A local human rights office in Honduras features a banner advertising CICESCT.

The second phase of the program, from 2012 to 2015, saw Global Communities shift to a more behind the scenes role, acting as facilitators for the creation and ongoing mission of CICESCT (Comisión Interinstitucional Contra La Explotación Sexual Comercial Y Trata de Personas de Honduras). This commission had existed in the past, but primarily functioned to combat sexual exploitation. After a change in the law in 2012, its mission was expanded to include human trafficking. Its work is often daunting, especially with scarce resources. Today the CICESCT is successfully lobbying the government of Honduras for support and action, coordinate long-term campaigns, and help overcome institutional barriers. 

Global Communities’ work on human trafficking in Honduras has been handed over to local organizations such as the CICESCT a collaborative relationship Global Communities and the impact of that work done continues to be felt today. Partner organizations working on the front line with victims are better equipped, not only to help address their client’s needs, but also to lobby local and national officials to ensure their continued commitment to fight trafficking. CICESCT continues its work, assisting victims, prosecuting traffickers, and raising awareness to help prevent at-risk populations from becoming victims. Human trafficking remains a persistent threat, with many of the causes driving people to take drastic measures to move somewhere else still prevalent. But thanks to 5 years of programming, and the brave work of Hondurans from all walks of life, the groundwork has been laid to help ensure that no person in Honduras becomes a victim of trafficking again.