Ecuador is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. The majority of Ecuadorian victims are women and children exploited in sex trafficking within the country, as well as in domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced labor, primarily in agriculture. Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorians are particularly vulnerable. Some impoverished indigenous families reportedly allowed traffickers to take their children temporarily in order to earn money either within the country or in neighboring countries, where they were forced to work as domestic servants, in sweatshops, as street and commercial vendors, and to a lesser extent, in begging. There were also reports of Ecuadorian women and girls in forced labor in Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, and Uruguay during the reporting period. To a more limited extent, Ecuadorian women and children are subjected to forced prostitution in neighboring countries. In some parts of the country, local gangs reportedly are involved in sex trafficking. There also have been reports of Ecuadorian children being forced to engage in criminal activity, such as drug trafficking and robbery, and that armed groups based in Colombia forcibly recruit Ecuadorian children in the northern border region. Ecuador is a destination for Colombian, Peruvian, and Paraguayan women and girls exploited in sex trafficking and domestic servitude. Colombian refugees and migrants are subjected to forced labor on palm oil plantations.
The Government of Ecuador does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the year, the government increased the number of trafficking convictions, including two for forced labor, and strengthened victim services by increasing funds for NGOs to provide services to trafficking victims and shelter to child trafficking victims. The government also strengthened its anti-trafficking police unit. Specialized services for adult victims remained limited and service provision was uneven across the country. The majority of law enforcement efforts focused on child trafficking and there were no reported convictions for cases involving adult trafficking victims. Trafficking-related complicity of officials remained a concern.
Recommendations for Ecuador: Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict trafficking offenders, particularly for cases involving adult trafficking victims; increase funding for specialized care services for trafficking victims, particularly for adults; develop and implement formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as children and adults in prostitution or among child and migrant workers, and increase identification of adult victims; hold public officials complicit in trafficking criminally accountable through investigations and prosecutions; increase anti-trafficking training for local police officers, judges, labor inspectors, immigration officials, social service workers, and other government officials; and enhance data collection and coordination.
The government notably strengthened law enforcement efforts during the year through increased trafficking convictions and its expansion of the dedicated police unit. Ecuador’s penal code prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes punishments of six to nine years’ imprisonment for those convicted of labor trafficking offenses, and eight to 12 years’ imprisonment for convicted sex trafficking offenders. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Prosecutors often rely on other statutes, including those prohibiting pimping, to prosecute human trafficking crimes as these other statutes are familiar and require less investigative resources; some of these statutes prescribe lower sentences than trafficking statutes.
The government increased significantly the number of police officers in the anti-trafficking unit in Quito for a total of 27 officers. The national organized crime prosecutorial unit in Quito handled trafficking cases in partnership with local prosecutors. Lack of funding limited police and prosecutor efforts, and personnel and law enforcement coordination continued to be uneven. The majority of investigations focused on child sex trafficking or forced labor of children. Data collection of trafficking in persons remained a challenge, and a database developed by an international organization for the government to track law enforcement efforts remained in the early stages of implementation.
Police reported referring 150 investigations to prosecutors in 2012, but did not report how many cases involved forced labor and how many involved sex trafficking. Authorities reported prosecuting at least 23 trafficking offenders, and convicted 10 trafficking offenders in 2012. Three of these convictions were achieved under trafficking-specific statutes, including two convictions for forced labor; all cases resulting in convictions involved child victims. Sentences ranged from probation and fines, in the case of a child offender, to 12 years’ imprisonment. In comparison, the government did not report convicting any trafficking offenders in 2011.
Some officials, particularly judges, demonstrated a lack of knowledge about trafficking, confusing it with prostitution or labor infractions to the detriment of the victim during legal procedures. Other judges reduced charges of trafficking to lesser crimes, such as pimping, resulting in shorter sentences. Civil society organizations and some officials noted that corruption impeded investigation and prosecution efforts. According to NGOs and some officials, corrupt officials allegedly informed traffickers prior to law enforcement operations, ignored sex trafficking in commercial sex sites, and some local authorities issued falsified business licenses to brothels. No prosecutions or convictions of complicit officials took place last year, although one judge reportedly was under investigation for complicity. Authorities provided increased training on human trafficking to police, immigration officers, and other officials during the year, including intensive training to new members of the anti-trafficking police unit. The government cooperated with other South American governments to investigate transnational trafficking cases, including several involving forced labor.
The Ecuadorian government increased victim protection efforts during the year, including by providing funding to NGOs to care for trafficking victims, though specialized services for adult victims remained limited, and services were not available in all parts of the country. Authorities reported continued efforts to remove children from sites of commercial sexual exploitation but did not systematically apply procedures to identify adult victims among vulnerable populations, such as women in prostitution. Police reported referring victims to services by consulting written referral mechanisms, though victim referrals from other officials were ad hoc. Police identified 127 trafficking victims in 2012: 88 were exploited in sex trafficking and 39 in forced labor. The majority of identified victims were female children.
The Ecuadorian government increased funding for specialized victim services in 2012 and provided $662,170 in funding to four NGOs that cared for over 130 victims of sex and labor trafficking during the year. Specialized victim services were lacking, however, in much of the country. Authorities reported that victims could receive general care services through a network of government-run protection centers, as well as at domestic violence shelters. However, there were no data on how many victims were helped at these centers in 2012, nor were all of these centers able to provide adequate services or protection for trafficking victims. In some parts of the country, police had nowhere to house rescued victims. There were few specialized services available to adult trafficking victims. NGOs reported that adult trafficking victims requiring shelter were housed temporarily in hotels, and could receive specialized outpatient services from government and NGO-run centers; they did not report how many adult victims received this shelter and assistance in 2012. In addition to these short-term services, the government reported providing some victims with counseling, job training, and educational training but did not indicate how many victims received these services during the year.
The government encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, and at least some victims did so during the year. The government maintained and funded a victim and witness protection program that reported assisting 25 trafficking victims in 2012, six of whom were subjected to forced labor. Many victims chose not to participate in investigations due to fear of threats and inadequate protection, lack of faith in the justice system, or costs associated with participating in lengthy judicial processes. Authorities reportedly did not penalize identified trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked. The Ecuadorian government does not provide specific legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they faced hardship or retribution. Authorities reported that foreign trafficking victims encountered in anti-trafficking raids were given the option to remain temporarily in Ecuador, but did not report how many foreign victims were permitted to do so during the year. The government provided some victim services to repatriated Ecuadorian trafficking victims.
The Government of Ecuador maintained prevention efforts during the year. The interagency anti-trafficking working group reportedly met regularly, and the Ministry of the Interior anti-trafficking sub-directorate coordinated government anti-trafficking activities, focusing on strengthening law enforcement efforts. Authorities continued awareness campaigns, many of which focused on the commercial sexual exploitation of children and partnered with businesses in the tourist sector to prevent child sex trafficking. The government did not report steps to reduce demand for commercial sex acts purchased from adults or forced labor during the reporting period.