ECUADOR: Tier 2
The Government of Ecuador does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous period; therefore, Ecuador remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by conducting more anti-trafficking law enforcement operations leading to an increased number of convictions, and by enacting a law to enhance assistance and protection efforts for trafficking victims and those vulnerable among migrant populations. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Specialized services for victims were unavailable in most of the country and official complicity remained a challenge. For the fourth year in a row, authorities failed to approve the revised anti-trafficking plan, and government agencies lacked adequate resources to implement anti-trafficking efforts.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ECUADOR
Strengthen the provision of specialized services for trafficking victims, including for adults, and increase funding for services, including for those provided by civil society organizations; increase efforts to hold criminally accountable public officials complicit in trafficking; amend anti-trafficking statutes for consistency with the international definition of trafficking and to make the prescribed penalties commensurate with other serious crimes such as rape and kidnapping; increase use of the national protocol for protection and assistance to trafficking victims, including identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as LGBTI individuals, irregular migrants, and individuals in prostitution; increase anti-trafficking training for police officers, judges, labor inspectors, immigration officials, social workers, and other government officials, particularly to enhance victim identification; enhance data collection and interagency coordination; partner with civil society to finalize, resource, and implement the national anti-trafficking action plan; and take steps to retain expertise among members of the anti-trafficking unit such as extending their rotation period.
The government increased law enforcement efforts. Article 91 of Ecuador’s 2014 criminal code prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties ranging from 13 to 16 years imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent, but not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 91 does not require the means of force, fraud, or coercion for sex trafficking of adults or for forced labor, and it includes all labor exploitation, child labor, illegal adoption, servile marriage, and the sale of tissues, fluids, and genetic materials of living persons. The criminal code allows for additional investigation techniques for trafficking, such as undercover investigations and wiretapping, and penalizes those who contract with workers using knowingly fraudulent or deceptive offers with a penalty of 10 to 13 years imprisonment. The criminal code also separately penalizes sexual exploitation (article 100), forced prostitution (article 101), sexual tourism (article 102), and forced labor and other forms of exploitative labor (article 105), including all labor of children younger than 15 years of age. Penalties under articles 101 and 102 are 13 to 16 years imprisonment, while penalties for forced labor under article 105 are 10 to 13 years imprisonment—less than the penalties for forced labor under article 91. The definitions used in these laws to prohibit trafficking may cause confusion for officials charging and prosecuting such offenses and may hinder efforts to hold perpetrators accountable. The Children and Adolescents Code contains definitions of child sexual exploitation (article 69), child labor exploitation (article 81), and child smuggling (article 70); however, the latter conflates smuggling and trafficking, which may cause confusion for officials implementing this code. In particular, the definition of child sexual exploitation is not consistent with the definition of sexual exploitation in article 91.
The anti-trafficking and human smuggling police unit (ATU) reported arresting 56 suspected traffickers and conducting 52 anti-trafficking operations in 2016, an increase from 10 anti-trafficking operations in 2015 and 19 in 2014. Authorities reportedly prosecuted 18 cases of trafficking and convicted 40 traffickers, compared with 64 prosecutions and 31 convictions in 2015 and 95 prosecutions and 20 convictions in 2014. In 2016, the average sentence for trafficking crimes was 16 years. The ATU in Quito focused on cases involving adult victims, while police units for crimes against children investigated cases of child trafficking, sometimes in coordination with the specialized anti-trafficking police. The national organized crime prosecutorial unit in Quito handled trafficking cases in partnership with local prosecutors across the country. Limited resources, limited presence in parts of the country, inadequate victim services, bureaucratic delays, and the frequent rotation of specialized police hampered law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Authorities did not report any new investigations into government complicity; however, NGOs indicated that corruption and official complicity of government officials in trafficking crimes continued and impacted victims and witnesses’ willingness to report cases. Most complicity cases from prior years remained open, including the 2015 prosecution of a police officer for sex trafficking, the case of the three civil registry officials for falsifying and altering documents used by international traffickers, the 2013 prosecution of two active and two former police officers for their involvement in sex trafficking, and the 2012 investigation of a judge for trafficking-related complicity. Authorities provided 17 training events reaching 537 government officials, including staff from the attorney general’s office and members of the public. An NGO and an international organization with foreign donor funding provided specialized training to law enforcement officials in the province of Sucumbios and Esmeraldas. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) provided mandatory specialized training as part of basic curriculum for all ATU officers; however, frequent rotations impede the development and retention of expertise.
The government decreased protection efforts. The government used the “National Unified Protocol for Integral Protection and Assistance to Victims of Trafficking” to refer victims. Authorities regularly referred victims to one of five government ministries responsible for victim assistance and referral, as well as NGOs who provided shelter and assistance. The government identified and assisted 75 potential trafficking victims, a decrease from 117 potential child trafficking victims in 2015. NGOs identified and assisted an additional 75 potential trafficking victims, compared to 63 in 2015. It was unclear how many government- and NGO-identified cases involved trafficking as defined in international law given the overlapping trafficking-related criminal offenses. During the reporting period, observers reported authorities charged two trafficking victims as criminals rather than identify them as victims.
Authorities, in partnership with NGOs, continued to provide emergency services to trafficking victims, including legal, psychological, and educational support, in addition to shelter for underage female victims. Lack of specialized shelters, especially for adult victims of trafficking, continued to be a concern. Male victims had limited options for services through care centers providing ambulatory services. Police reported challenges finding shelters for trafficking victims, particularly outside the capital; as a result, police sometimes placed victims in non-specialized shelters. The government provided an unspecified amount of funding for shelters and services for trafficking victims. NGOs reported government funding decreased in 2016 compared to the year before. An NGO reported assisting a transgender victim from Colombia who was mistreated by police on both sides of the border and unable to find shelter until the NGO helped her return to Colombia.
The Office of the Prosecutor General continued to support a formal witness protection program (SPAVT) and provided immediate support to victims. During the reporting period, the SPAVT program assisted 47 victims, a decrease from 72 victims in 2015 and 66 victims and dependents in 2014. The government granted a 30-day reflection period allowing victims to receive SPAVT protection while deciding whether to participate in the penal process against their traffickers. Many victims chose not to participate in investigations due to fear of threats, inadequate protections in the SPAVT program, or lack of faith in the judicial system. It was unclear how many victims participated during the reporting period. NGOs reported victims often sought NGO-provided or private legal assistance due to the public defender providing limited and poor quality legal assistance to victims. Foreign victims were entitled by law to the same services as domestic victims, but in practice, NGOs reported the government treated foreign victims as irregular migrants violating immigration law rather than as crime victims. Young foreign victims lacking personal identification documents can be considered minors and therefore have access to specialized state care, shelters, and psychological and legal assistance. NGOs reported a lack of specialized health professionals and denial of medical services to victims without legal presence in the country. The MOI reported it had mechanisms to repatriate trafficking victims and Ecuadorian diplomatic and consular missions abroad had funding to provide food, lodging, and airplane tickets to Ecuadorian victims seeking repatriation; however, the government did not use these mechanisms during the reporting period. According to authorities, financial restitution was not available for trafficking victims. In January 2016, the government enacted the Human Mobility Law, which guaranteed the non-return of people to countries where their lives or relatives are at risk, including foreign victims of trafficking. Authorities reported they could grant temporary or permanent residency to foreign victims, but did not report how many foreign victims received residency in 2016. The mobility law prevented re-victimization and penalization of victims by establishing a registry of identified trafficking victims and assigning responsibilities to state agencies to provide protection and reintegration in addition to prevention education. It was unclear if any of these requirements were implemented during the reporting period.
The government decreased prevention efforts. The MOI anti-trafficking sub-directorate coordinated anti-trafficking efforts, although civil society organizations continued to note a lack of coordination among government actors. During the reporting period, the government did not approve the revised version of the 2013-2017 national action plan and the interagency committee could not provide funding until its approval. Government agencies were required to dedicate their own resources for the implementation of the plan, which hindered anti-trafficking efforts. National authorities conducted awareness campaigns in public schools, including one in public schools reaching over 2,000 students. The criminal code prohibits sex tourism, but the government did not provide information on investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of child sex tourists in 2016. The mobility law requires the Ministry of Labor to register all cases of job placement abroad. Travel agencies were required to complete an online course on detecting trafficking victims in order to obtain a working license from the Ministry of Tourism. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex. In July, the MOI and a university hosted a seminar on human trafficking trends and using social media to improve victim assistance. In September, authorities from Peru and Ecuador held a bi-national dialogue on human trafficking. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.
As reported over the past five years, Ecuador is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Ecuadorian men, women, and children are exploited in sex trafficking and forced labor within the country, including in domestic servitude, forced begging, on banana and palm plantations, in floriculture, shrimp farming, sweatshops, street vending, mining, and in other areas of the informal economy. Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorians, as well as Colombian refugees and migrants, are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. Women, children, refugees, and migrants continued to be the most vulnerable to sex trafficking; however LGBTI individuals remain vulnerable to sex trafficking. Smugglers promising a better life confiscate documents, impose debts, and threaten or force into prostitution nationals of Cuba, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad, China, Pakistan, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela and Haiti, in Ecuador. Ecuador is also a destination for Colombian, Peruvian, Dominican, Venezuelan, Mexican, Haitian, Paraguayan, and Cuban women and girls exploited in sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced begging. Haitians migrate through Brazil into Ecuador to seek jobs on banana plantations, where they are vulnerable to forced labor. Traffickers use Ecuador as a transit route for trafficking victims from Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Traffickers recruit children from impoverished indigenous families under false promises of employment and subject them to forced labor in begging, domestic servitude, in sweatshops, or as street and commercial vendors in Ecuador or in other South American countries. Ecuadorian children are subjected to forced labor in criminal activity, such as drug trafficking and robbery. Traffickers threaten these children’s families. Ecuadorian men, women and children are exploited in forced labor and sex trafficking abroad, including in the United States, Europe and in other South American countries, particularly in Chile. Some Ecuadorian trafficking victims are initially smuggled and later exploited in prostitution or forced labor in third countries, including forced criminality in the drug trade. Allegedly, corrupt Ecuadorian officials have alerted traffickers prior to some law enforcement operations, and some local authorities assisted traffickers to get falsified identity documents, which resulted in victims’ lack of confidence in the police and a reluctance to report potential cases.