EL SALVADOR: Tier 2
The Government of El Salvador 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, El Salvador remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by convicting an official who engaged in commercial sex with a trafficking victim, investigating more trafficking cases, prosecuting child sex trafficking crimes, and providing services to some girl victims. The government promulgated regulations to further implement the 2014 anti-trafficking law intended to strengthen its interagency anti-trafficking council. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not investigate and has never prosecuted any labor trafficking cases. The judicial system’s overreliance on victim testimony contributed to victims facing threats of reprisal from traffickers, which undermined efforts to hold traffickers accountable. Services for adults, boys, and LGBTI victims were severely lacking. The government did not follow up on investigations of official complicity from previous years, constraining overall efforts to combat trafficking.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR EL SALVADOR
Provide comprehensive protection services for all trafficking victims, including adults and boys, and increase funding for specialized services; strengthen efforts to proactively investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and to convict and sentence traffickers, especially for forced labor; implement procedures to proactively identify victims among vulnerable groups, including children apprehended for illicit gang-related activities, irregular migrants returning to El Salvador, and individuals in the sex trade; conduct thorough criminal investigations and prosecutions of alleged government complicity in trafficking offenses and convict and punish complicit officials; enforce laws punishing local labor brokers for illegal practices that facilitate trafficking, such as fraudulent recruitment or excessive fees for migration or job placement; increase training for public officials on victim identification and assistance, trafficking investigations, and provisions in the new law; amend the 2014 anti-trafficking law to include a definition of human trafficking consistent with international law; strengthen anti-trafficking coordination between government entities and with civil society organizations, particularly outside the capital; and implement measures to prevent trafficking by raising awareness, educating youth, and increasing victim advocacy.
The government slightly increased law enforcement efforts to combat child sex trafficking, but did not investigate any cases of forced labor or government complicity; authorities have never prosecuted a labor trafficking case. The Special Law Against Trafficking in Persons prescribes penalties of 10 to 14 years imprisonment for human trafficking crimes, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. Although it prohibits all forms of human trafficking, the law defines trafficking inconsistently with international law: it treats force, fraud, and coercion as aggravating factors rather than essential elements of most trafficking crimes.
Similar to previous years, the government exclusively investigated and prosecuted sex trafficking crimes. In 2016, authorities investigated 55 sex trafficking cases, compared to 43 sex trafficking cases in 2015. Authorities prosecuted seven cases and convicted six sex traffickers in 2016, compared to eight cases and 19 sex traffickers convicted in 2015. Offenders convicted in 2016 received sentences ranging from eight to 10 years imprisonment. Despite evidence of force or coercion used by gangs to compel children to engage in illicit activities, authorities did not investigate or prosecute any such crimes as trafficking. Some officials, particularly judges, demonstrated a limited understanding of trafficking, which impeded efforts to hold traffickers accountable. During the year, the government provided anti-trafficking training to 2,718 government employees, including police, prosecutors, judges, labor inspectors, immigration officials, physicians, nurses, students, and teachers. The National Civil Police (PNC) Specialized Human Trafficking and Related Crimes unit comprises 32 persons in four groups that focus on trafficking, human smuggling, sexual crimes, and special/international investigations. The PNC reported a need to increase staffing in order to deal with an accumulation of cases during 2016.
A government official was convicted for purchasing sexual services from a trafficking victim and received a sentence of five years imprisonment. The government did not provide any updates on two investigations from previous years, one involving several officials for the alleged purchase of sex acts from trafficking victims and a second involving a public official suspected of sex trafficking. It did not report any developments in a 2012 case of three prison guards arrested for facilitating sex trafficking or a 2009 investigation of trafficking-related complicity by the former head of the prosecutorial anti-trafficking unit.
The government maintained victim protection efforts. It provided assistance primarily to girls subjected to sex trafficking; services remained inadequate overall. Immigration officials continued efforts to identify possible trafficking victims in border regions; however, the government lacked formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, including individuals in commercial sex. In 2016, the government reported identifying 53 sex trafficking victims, an increase from 49 victims identified in 2015, but a decrease from 87 victims identified in 2014. Those identified included 18 women and 35 girls; 48 were Salvadoran and five were from other Latin American countries. Authorities did not identify any forced labor victims in 2016 or 2015, compared with three in 2014.
During the year, the government developed two immediate response teams to coordinate victim assistance and referral and formulated a protocol on the care of trafficking victims. The government maintained a budget of $270,000 for victim assistance in 2016. The government offered no specialized services or shelter to boys, adults, or LGBTI victims, although NGOs and officials reported these populations needed shelter, rehabilitation, and mental health services. The government shelter for girl sex trafficking victims offered psychological and medical care to 15 victims in 2016. The government provided shelter in a Migrant Attention Center to three adult female victims identified by immigration officials, but 15 adult female victims did not receive services. Throughout the investigation and intake process, residents of the center were required to recount their trafficking experience multiple times to various government entities, highlighting a lack of interagency coordination and leading to re-traumatization. There were few long-term support or reintegration services available for victims, leaving them vulnerable to re-trafficking. Authorities made efforts to screen for trafficking indicators among Salvadorans returned from abroad and repatriated Salvadoran victims could be referred to services and the police to investigate their cases, but the government did not report doing so in 2016.
The judicial system’s inexperience with trafficking cases, overreliance on victim testimony, and threats of reprisal from traffickers undermined the effectiveness of the judicial system’s response to trafficking. Judges in criminal courts could order civil compensation awards in trafficking cases; however, victims had to work through the civil courts to receive payment. In 2016, no sentences included such compensation. The government reported having procedures to protect victims’ identities in court and allow for victims to provide testimony via teleconference, but did not report using these procedures. Identified trafficking victims generally were not charged, jailed, or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. However, due to the lack of a formal mechanism to screen vulnerable populations, some unidentified victims may have been punished for such crimes. Furthermore, civil society organizations reported the government treated as criminals children forced to engage in illicit activity by criminal groups, rather than providing them protection as trafficking victims. The 2014 trafficking law provides foreign trafficking victims the right to seek residency status, which would allow them to work legally, but no victims had received such benefits.
The government slightly increased prevention efforts. The government promulgated regulations to further implement the 2014 law, specifically, to facilitate investigations of forced child labor cases and improve coordination between law enforcement and prosecutors. The anti-trafficking council, whose 2015 budget was roughly $25,000, coordinated anti-trafficking activities and developed a national action plan for 2016-2019, which includes objectives related to prosecution of traffickers, protection of victims, prevention, and interagency coordination. The government did not report its 2016 budget. However, government entities continued to lack adequate funding to fulfill their responsibilities and interagency cooperation remained weak. While the 2014 law mandates an annual report on government efforts, the council had not yet published such a report. Government agencies partnered with NGOs to conduct campaigns using television, radio, and print media to warn the public against the dangers of labor and sex trafficking. An international organization reported the government formed a sub-commission to address migration policies that could facilitate forced labor, but this body did not report any related outcomes during the year. The government conducted 13 inspections for labor violations and forced labor involving 133 workers, but did not identify any instances of forced labor. In response to press reports highlighting working conditions in strip clubs, the Labor Ministry conducted an inspection of such a club, but did not publicize the results of the inspection. The government did not punish labor recruiters for illegal practices that contribute to trafficking or enforce labor migration policies that could decrease migrants’ vulnerability to exploitation abroad. It did not report identifying, investigating, or prosecuting any cases of child sex tourism during the year. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. The government provided anti-trafficking training to troops prior to their deployment abroad as part of international peacekeeping missions. Authorities did not report any specific efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor; however, highlighted the anti-trafficking law allows for the prosecution of those purchasing sexual services of a trafficking victim.
El Salvador is a source, transit, and destination country for women, men, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Women, men, and children are exploited in sex trafficking within the country; LGBTI persons, especially transgender individuals, are at particular risk. Salvadoran adults and children are subjected to forced begging and forced labor in agriculture, domestic service, and the textile industry. Some men, women, and children from neighboring countries—particularly Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras—are subjected to sex trafficking, domestic servitude, or forced labor in construction or the informal sector. Traffickers use employment agencies and social media to lure victims with promises of lucrative employment; one organization noted traffickers are increasingly targeting people in the regions of the country with high levels of violence and coercing victims and their families through threats of violence. Gangs subject children to forced labor in illicit activities, including selling or transporting drugs. Salvadoran men, women, and children are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, and the United States. Media and government officials report organized criminal groups, including transnational criminal organizations, are involved in trafficking crimes. Some Salvadorans who irregularly migrate to the United States are subjected to forced labor, forced criminal activity, or sex trafficking en route to or upon arrival in the country. Some Latin American migrants transit El Salvador to Guatemala and North America, where they are exploited in sex or labor trafficking. Corruption, particularly within the judiciary, remained a significant obstacle to law enforcement efforts. In 2014, media reported several public officials—including legislators, political party officials, and a mayor—purchased commercial sex acts from trafficking victims. Prison guards and justice officials have been investigated for trafficking-related complicity.