Uruguay is a source country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking and, to a lesser extent, a transit and destination country for men, women, and children exploited in forced labor and sex trafficking. Most victims are Uruguayan 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. To a more limited extent, Uruguayan transgender and male youth are found in commercial sexual exploitation within the country. Foreign workers in domestic service, agriculture, and lumber processing are vulnerable to forced labor. For example, during the year more than 70 Turkish men were found working in a lumber processing plant; these men did not speak Spanish and the company employing them had not paid their salaries for three months, provided only funds for food, and did not inform the men of their legal rights within the country. Authorities continued to report that some cases of human trafficking were linked to local and international crime rings that smuggle narcotics and migrants. Uruguayan officials have identified citizens of other countries, including China and the Dominican Republic, transiting through Uruguay en route to Argentina as potential victims of sex and labor trafficking.
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. The government investigated several potential sex and labor trafficking cases and launched two public awareness campaigns with foreign government funding. Despite these efforts, the government has not shown evidence of increasing overall efforts to address human trafficking compared to the previous year; therefore, Uruguay is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year. The lack of anti-trafficking data made it difficult to evaluate law enforcement efforts. Authorities convicted no trafficking offenders during the year. While authorities identified and assisted 40 potential victims of cross-border trafficking, it was unclear how many internal trafficking victims the government identified and assisted during the year, as anti-trafficking efforts were focused on transnational trafficking. The government provided limited services to victims of human trafficking outside the capital and to labor trafficking victims.
Recommendations for Uruguay:
Intensify efforts to investigate and prosecute all forms of trafficking and convict and sentence trafficking offenders; increase funding for specialized services for trafficking victims, particularly outside the capital and for labor trafficking victims; continue to 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; create and implement formal guidelines for additional government officials to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including people in forced prostitution and migrant workers; implement a data collection system to maintain official statistics on trafficking cases; consider passing and enacting a law that prohibits all forms of trafficking; and enhance law enforcement and victim service coordination at the local level.
The Government of Uruguay did not demonstrate increased efforts to convict and sentence traffickers, though authorities investigated several potential trafficking cases during the reporting period. 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 reported achieving a conviction under this law. Articles 280 and 281 prohibit forced labor occurring within Uruguay’s borders, 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. The government did not report any convictions under these provisions during the year. Prosecutors have relied on sexual exploitation or pimping statutes to prosecute domestic sex trafficking cases; some of these statutes prescribe lesser sentences that can be commuted to community service or fines.
Two judges in the specialized court on organized crime in Montevideo had jurisdiction over all trafficking cases performed by an organized criminal group of three or more individuals; this court lacked sufficient staffing and funding to focus on these cases. All other trafficking cases were heard by local courts with less expertise in human trafficking; NGOs reported that these courts might prosecute trafficking offenders under other statutes. The Ministry of Interior’s organized crime directorate investigated some human trafficking cases, but had a limited ability to function throughout the country, and local law enforcement units investigated many sex trafficking cases outside of the capital.
There continued to be no data collection on anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts in Uruguay, in part because the country did not have a centralized system for tracking judicial cases. According to press reports and authorities, Uruguayan officials investigated several possible sex and labor trafficking cases in 2013. The government also identified an unspecified number of cases of children in prostitution during the year; the judiciary did not identify how many of these cases resulted in prosecutions. Press reports indicated that Uruguayan authorities investigated six police officers for alleged involvement in a potential sex trafficking case. The organized crime courts heard two trafficking cases in 2013. Authorities reported no trafficking convictions for the second consecutive year. The Ministry of Interior increased efforts to provide training on human trafficking to Uruguayan officials—especially police officers—in 2013 in partnership with an international organization. Authorities did not report any joint human trafficking investigations with foreign governments during the year.
During the year Uruguayan authorities maintained victim protection efforts, although specialized services remained inadequate in many parts of the country and focused on sex trafficking. While labor inspectors screened for possible trafficking cases and Uruguayan officials had access to a regional guide on how to identify female victims of international sex trafficking, many officials lacked formal, written procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations. There were no comprehensive statistics on trafficking victims identified or assisted. The Ministry of Social Development (MIDES) reported identifying 40 possible international trafficking victims in 2013, including 19 sex trafficking victims and five labor trafficking victims. The National Institute for Children and Adolescent Affairs (INAU) identified 48 girls, 10 boys, and two transgender youth in commercial and non-commercial sexual exploitation in 2013; it was unclear how many were trafficking victims.
NGOs and some government officials noted that specialized services for trafficking victims remained weak across the country, particularly for labor trafficking victims. Uruguayan authorities reported using a regional guide on victim assistance for adult female victims of international sex trafficking, although protocols for assisting other victims were lacking. MIDES operated a unit in the capital responsible for offering psychological, social, and legal assistance to victims of crimes, including trafficking victims. MIDES continued to work with an NGO to provide specialized services to some adult female sex trafficking victims in 2013. During the reporting period, INAU established a unit to assist child victims of sexual abuse and commercial sexual exploitation; this unit was based in Montevideo, but provided mobile services to child victims in other parts of the country once a case was identified by law enforcement. 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 INAU, but INAU did not report how many child trafficking victims received services in these shelters during the year. The government operated shelters accessible to adult female victims of abuse, including trafficking victims, though Uruguayan authorities did not report how many adult trafficking victims received services at these shelters in 2013. Victim care services were weaker outside the capital. There were no specialized services for male trafficking victims. NGOs reported a need for long-term services such as reintegration, housing, and mental health care.
The government encouraged, but did not require victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders. While identified trafficking victims were not jailed, deported, or otherwise penalized for acts committed as a direct result of their being subjected to human trafficking, MIDES reported one case in 2013 where a court prosecuted an individual who MIDES believed to be a trafficking victim. While the government did not offer trafficking-specific legal alternatives to victims’ removal to countries where they faced retribution or hardship, authorities could offer general asylum and residential work permits to foreign trafficking victims.
The Government of Uruguay maintained prevention efforts and most activities were focused on sex trafficking. MIDES chaired an interagency committee that coordinated government anti-trafficking efforts, which met on a monthly basis in 2013. With foreign government funding, Uruguayan authorities launched a regional anti-trafficking awareness initiative—targeted at potential female trafficking victims—in border areas. The Uruguayan government also launched a public awareness campaign in the local press and on billboards about commercial sexual exploitation of children with foreign government funding. Authorities provided training on human trafficking to all Uruguayan diplomats. The government took actions to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts involving children and for forced labor, including by enforcing labor laws in cases involving labor exploitation of foreign domestic workers in Montevideo. In December 2013, the Uruguayan presidency issued a decree recommending tourist providers take certain measures to prevent commercial sexual exploitation of children and child sex tourism. Press articles indicated the possible existence of child sex tourism in Uruguay; however, authorities did not report any such cases being investigated or prosecuted during the reporting period. Authorities provided anti-trafficking training to Uruguayan troops prior to their deployment on international peacekeeping missions during the year.