Uruguay is a source country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking and to a lesser extent a destination country for men, women, and children exploited in forced labor. Most victims are women and girls exploited in sex trafficking, including as “bar girls,” within the country, particularly in urban and tourist areas. Lured by fraudulent employment offers, some Uruguayan women are forced into prostitution in Spain, Italy, and Argentina. Foreign workers in domestic service and in agriculture are vulnerable to forced labor. Authorities continued to report that some cases of human trafficking were linked to local and international crime rings that smuggle narcotics and other contraband.
The Government of Uruguay does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite providing an increase in resources for the national women’s institute’s office for gender-based violence and sex trafficking and investigating several potential sex and labor trafficking cases, authorities convicted no trafficking offenders during the year. In addition, officials lacked formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims and specialized services were inadequate and almost exclusively targeted sex trafficking victims. Therefore, Uruguay is placed on Tier 2 Watch List.
Recommendations for Uruguay: Intensify efforts to investigate and prosecute all forms of trafficking and convict and sentence trafficking offenders; fund specialized services for trafficking victims, particularly outside the capital; increase training for law enforcement officials, labor inspectors, prosecutors, judges, and social workers on how to identify and assist victims of sex and labor trafficking; establish a formal mechanism to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including people in prostitution and migrant workers; implement a data collection system to maintain official statistics on trafficking cases; consider passing and enacting a comprehensive trafficking law that prohibits all forms of trafficking; enhance law enforcement and victim service coordination at the local level; and incorporate measures against forced labor into guidelines governing the employment of foreign workers in Uruguay.
The Government of Uruguay made progress by investigating and prosecuting several trafficking cases during the year. However, data collection on law enforcement efforts was weak, and there were no public reports of convictions for trafficking offenders. Article 78 of the immigration law, enacted in 2008, prohibits all transnational forms of trafficking, prescribing penalties of four to 16 years’ imprisonment; these penalties are increased if the victim is a child or if the trafficker uses violence, intimidation, or deceit, and are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government has never achieved a conviction under this law. For forced labor offenses occurring within Uruguay’s borders, authorities can use penal code articles prescribing sentences ranging from two to 12 years’ imprisonment for reducing a person to slavery or for imprisonment for the purposes of profiting from the coercive use of the victim’s services, but the government did not report doing so during the year. Prosecutors have relied on sexual exploitation or pimping statutes to prosecute domestic sex trafficking cases; these statutes prescribe lesser sentences, some of which can be commuted to community service or fines. Until July 2012, two judges in the specialized court on organized crime in Montevideo had jurisdiction over all trafficking cases in Uruguay, as well as other cases involving sexual exploitation and organized crime. This court lacked sufficient human and material resources to handle these cases. Rather than increasing resources for this court, new legislation enacted in 2012 limited the court’s jurisdiction to crimes performed by an organized criminal group of three or more individuals, shifting responsibility for all other trafficking cases to local courts with limited knowledge of human trafficking. There was no specialized law enforcement unit dealing with human trafficking crimes, and local police lacked adequate training on how to identify human trafficking cases.
There was no systematic data collection on trafficking offenses. According to press reports and authorities, Uruguayan officials investigated at least three possible sex trafficking and two possible labor trafficking cases in 2012; authorities also identified 40 cases of children in prostitution during the year, but it was unclear how many of these cases were investigated or prosecuted. Press reports and officials indicated that the government initiated prosecutions of at least 10 trafficking offenders during the reporting period. There were no reported convictions during the year; during the previous reporting period, the Government of Uruguay convicted one sex trafficking offender under statutes prohibiting the exploitation of a minor. The government did not report the investigation or prosecution of any government employee for alleged trafficking-related offenses. Most specialized training for Uruguayan officials was provided by international organizations with foreign government funding. Authorities also partnered with other governments on human trafficking investigations during the year.
The Uruguayan government continued to provide some services to female trafficking victims, including food, shelter, and legal and psychological services, but specialized services remained inadequate, particularly for minor sex trafficking victims. The government did not maintain formal, written procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as adults in prostitution or undocumented migrants. There were no comprehensive statistics on trafficking victims identified or assisted. Authorities reported assisting civil society organizations receiving international funding to provide psychological care and other services to 13 child sex trafficking victims, one Ecuadorian girl exploited in forced labor, and 45 women in sex trafficking in 2012. When international donor funding for these services ended, officials took over support of the psychological assistance program but did not provide funding to the NGO that had previously provided these services. During the year authorities increased funding and staffing for the national women’s institute unit focused on sex trafficking and domestic violence, which was composed of seven staff members. There were no specialized shelters for trafficking victims in the country. Uruguayan authorities referred child victims of trafficking to shelters for at-risk youth operated by the National Institute for Children and Adolescent Affairs (INAU); however, these shelters were not always prepared to provide specialized services needed for trafficking victims, authorities did not report how many child trafficking victims received services in these shelters during the year, and in one case, three child sex trafficking victims were recruited from an INAU shelter. INAU reported training 240 social workers on commercial sexual exploitation of children in 2012. The government operated shelters accessible to adult female victims of abuse, including trafficking victims, and sought to provide them with legal, medical, and psychological care, though authorities did not report how many adult trafficking victims received services at these shelters. Victim care services were uneven outside the capital. There were no specialized services for male trafficking victims. The government encouraged, but did not require, victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders. During the year, there were no reports of identified trafficking victims being jailed, deported, or otherwise penalized for acts committed as a direct result of their being subjected to human trafficking. While the government did not offer trafficking-specific legal alternatives to victims’ removal to countries where they faced retribution or hardship, authorities did offer general asylum and residential work permits to foreign trafficking victims during the year.
The Uruguayan government maintained prevention efforts during the year, and most activities were focused on sex trafficking. The national women’s institute continued to chair an interagency committee that coordinated government anti-trafficking efforts; it met on a monthly basis in 2012. This committee focused almost exclusively on sex trafficking of adult women, while a separate interagency committee met more frequently and focused on commercial sexual exploitation of children. The government continued awareness campaigns at border crossings and the airport. Addressing the demand for commercial sex acts and forced labor, authorities prosecuted some citizens for paying children for commercial sexual acts and enforced labor laws in cases involving Bolivian domestic workers working irregularly in Montevideo. There were no reports of Uruguayan citizens engaged in child sex tourism. Authorities provided anti-trafficking training to Uruguayan troops prior to their deployment on international peacekeeping missions during the year.