El Salvador is a source, transit, and destination country for women, men, and children who are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Women and girls, some from rural areas of El Salvador, are exploited in sex trafficking in urban centers and forced to work as “bar girls.” Salvadoran adults and children are subjected to forced begging and forced labor in agriculture and domestic service. The majority of foreign victims are women and children from neighboring countries—particularly Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras—who migrate to El Salvador seeking employment, but are subsequently forced into prostitution, domestic service, construction, or work in the informal sector. Gangs continued to use children for illicit activities, including drug trafficking, in some cases using force or coercion. Salvadorans have been subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, and the United States. Members of organized criminal groups, including transnational criminal organizations, are reportedly involved in some trafficking crimes in El Salvador.
The Government of El Salvador 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, authorities continued to investigate and prosecute sex trafficking cases and to provide services to girls exploited in child sex trafficking. Efforts to identify and investigate forced labor cases, however, remained weak, and victim services for male and adult female victims were inadequate. Official complicity in trafficking crimes remained a serious obstacle to anti-trafficking efforts.
Recommendations for El Salvador: Ensure that victims, particularly adults, are provided comprehensive services through increased funding for such services; strengthen efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and to convict and sentence trafficking offenders, especially for forced labor; hold government officials who are complicit in trafficking offenses criminally accountable through criminal investigations and prosecutions; proactively investigate possible cases of forced labor, including domestic servitude; continue to increase training on victim identification and assistance for social workers and for immigration, labor, law enforcement, and judicial officials; increase resources for specialized police and prosecutorial anti-trafficking units; establish formal mechanisms for identifying victims among vulnerable populations; consider enhancing the trafficking legal framework through passing draft legislation; strengthen anti-trafficking coordination between different government entities and with civil society organizations, particularly outside of the capital; ensure that foreign victims are consistently offered legal alternatives to their deportation; improve data collection capacity regarding victim identification and care; and increase public awareness of all forms of human trafficking.
The Government of El Salvador continued to increase law enforcement efforts against sex trafficking offenders, but efforts against forced labor were weak and official complicity remained a significant concern during the reporting period. Article 367B of El Salvador’s penal code prohibits all forms of human trafficking and prescribes penalties of four to eight years’ imprisonment. Such penalties are sufficiently stringent, though not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape, which carries a punishment of six to 20 years’ imprisonment. Article 367B also prohibits fraudulent adoption, a separate crime from human trafficking. During the year, authorities presented to Congress new anti-trafficking legislation that would increase human trafficking penalties to eight to 10 years’ imprisonment. Authorities did not investigate or consider as trafficking cases involving children who may have been forced by gangs to engage in illicit activities, despite indications that force or coercion may have been involved. The government’s dedicated anti-trafficking police and prosecutorial units were located in the capital and also investigate other crimes, including human smuggling: there were seven police investigators and 12 prosecutors in these respective units.
Officials reported investigating 61 potential cases of human trafficking in 2012, all but one case involving sex trafficking. Authorities prosecuted at least 11 trafficking offenders, and obtained 11 convictions for sex trafficking, imposing sentences on those convicted ranging from eight to 22 years’ imprisonment. There were no reported convictions for forced labor. In comparison, 15 sex trafficking offenders were prosecuted and nine convicted in 2011. Corruption, particularly among the judiciary, remained a significant obstacle to law enforcement efforts. In 2012, three prison guards were arrested for allowing an incarcerated gang member to bring a girl into a prison and forcing her to engage in prostitution; the guards claimed they were following the orders of their supervisors. Related investigations remained ongoing. There was no information available regarding the investigation initiated in 2009 of the former head of the dedicated prosecutorial anti-trafficking unit for trafficking-related complicity. Some officials, particularly judges, demonstrated a limited understanding of human trafficking, which impeded efforts to hold trafficking offenders accountable. In 2012, the specialized police unit reported training over 700 police officers on how to detect trafficking cases and assist trafficking victims and authorities trained 420 immigration officials on human trafficking. During the reporting period, authorities reported cooperating on trafficking investigations with officials from Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Mexico, and the United States.
The Salvadoran government maintained efforts to assist underage girls exploited in sex trafficking, but services for other trafficking victims remained limited and authorities identified no forced labor victims during the year. Immigration officials continued efforts to identify possible trafficking victims in border regions, and identified two victims during the year. In general, however, the Salvadoran government did not proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as adults in prostitution or migrant laborers. The government’s San Salvador shelter for female child sex trafficking victims accommodated up to 15 girls at a time and offered victims psychological and medical care as well as education and vocational training. Victims were referred to the shelter by a judge. During the year, 17 victims received assistance at this shelter, and most stayed between seven to 12 months. Most assistance and services, including shelter, were not readily accessible to adults or male children, and NGOs and international organizations provided many services to trafficking victims. The government did not report funding civil society organizations to provide care to trafficking victims.
Authorities reported identifying 67 trafficking victims, none of whom were victims of forced labor. While the government referred 17 child sex trafficking victims to the government shelter, it is unclear how many of the other victims, including 35 adult female victims, received specialized services. Authorities encouraged identified victims to assist with law enforcement investigations and prosecutions but provided limited psychological and medical assistance to those who did; 11 victims participated in investigations or prosecutions of trafficking offenders during the reporting period. Other victims chose not to assist law enforcement efforts due to social stigma, fear of reprisals from their trafficking offenders, or lack of trust in the judicial system. Identified trafficking victims generally were not charged, jailed, or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. Authorities reported that foreign trafficking victims were eligible for either temporary or permanent residency on a case-by-case basis but did not report granting any foreign victims residency in 2012.
The Salvadoran government maintained prevention efforts during the reporting period. The government anti-trafficking council coordinated interagency efforts and launched a national anti-trafficking policy outlining the government’s anti-trafficking strategy. Authorities conducted awareness efforts focused on educating children about human trafficking. The Ministry of Tourism reported conducting awareness seminars on child sex tourism and trafficking for approximately 200 members of the business communities in coastal areas, but authorities did not report investigating or prosecuting any cases of child sex tourism during the year. Salvador officials reported employing radio and television interviews to publicize prison sentences for individuals who paid children for sexual services in order to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.