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 reporting period; therefore Ecuador remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by prosecuting more suspected traffickers and formally establishing and funding the Directorate for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons and Migrant Smuggling within the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) to coordinate the government’s anti-trafficking efforts. However the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Specialized services to victims remained unavailable in most of the country, the government decreased shelter funding for the second consecutive year, and the government did not approve a revised version of the 2013-2017 national action plan.
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; vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including public officials complicit in trafficking; amend anti-trafficking statutes for consistency with the international definition of trafficking; 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; partner with civil society to finalize, resource, and implement the national anti-trafficking action plan; enhance interagency coordination; and take steps to retain expertise among law enforcement investigating trafficking cases.
The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Article 91 of the 2014 criminal code criminalized sex and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties ranging from 13 to 16 years imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law did not establish the use of force, fraud, or coercion as essential elements of an adult trafficking offense. Article 91 defined trafficking broadly to include all labor exploitation, child labor, illegal adoption, servile marriage, and the sale of tissues, fluids, and genetic materials of living persons.
The Directorate for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons and Migrant Smuggling reported the government initiated 171 investigations into alleged trafficking cases in 2017. The government arrested 44 suspected traffickers and conducted 23 anti-trafficking operations in 2017 (52 operations arresting 56 suspected traffickers in 2016 and 10 operations in 2015). Authorities reported prosecuting 61 cases of trafficking and convicted 31 traffickers, compared with 18 prosecutions and 40 convictions in 2016 and 64 prosecutions and 31 convictions in 2015. The National Police Unit for Crimes against Children and Adolescents (DINAPEN) merged with the anti-trafficking police unit in August 2016 to become the primary law enforcement unit responsible for investigating trafficking cases. Limited resources, limited presence in parts of the country, bureaucratic delays, and the frequent rotation of specialized police hampered law enforcement efforts during the reporting period.
After an NGO alleged officials in Guayaquil issued fraudulent identity documents to adolescent girls allowing them to be exploited in commercial sex, the Attorney General’s Office began investigating the case in March 2018. Most complicity cases from prior years remained open, including the 2015 prosecution of a police officer for sex trafficking and the 2013 prosecution of two active and two former police officers for their involvement in sex trafficking. Authorities held a month-long training for 20 members of DINAPEN in November 2017. The MOI provided mandatory specialized training as part of basic curriculum for all DINAPEN officers; however, frequent rotations impede the development and retention of expertise.
The government decreased protection efforts. The Attorney General’s Office identified and assisted 56 victims (39 sex trafficking victims and 17 labor trafficking victims) during the reporting period, compared to identifying 75 victims in 2016. NGOs identified and assisted an additional 70 potential child trafficking victims, compared to 75 in 2016. It was unclear how many government- and NGO-identified cases involved trafficking as defined in international law given the overlapping trafficking-related criminal offenses. In partnership with an international organization, the MOI published an anti-trafficking training manual for MOI immigration officials to aid identification of victims especially among the influx of Venezuelan migrants. 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 that provided shelter and assistance.
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 services and 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 by interdisciplinary teams formed by psychologists, social workers, and attorneys. Two NGO-run specialized shelters with limited government funding provided services to adolescent girl sex trafficking victims; there were no specialized shelters for children, adolescent boys, adults, or victims of labor trafficking. At the end of the reporting period, the NGO running one of the two specialized shelters reported the precarious lack of funding might force the shelter to close. Police reported challenges finding shelters for trafficking victims, particularly outside the capital; as a result, police sometimes placed victims in non-specialized shelters or in police barracks until space in a shelter became available. For the second straight year, NGOs reported government funding for victim services decreased compared to the year before.
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 spent $6,447 to assist 31 victims, a decrease from 47 victims in 2016 and 72 victims in 2015. 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. Law enforcement reported at least 13 victims participated in investigations. Many victims chose not to participate in investigations due to fear of threats or lack of faith in the judicial system. Foreign victims were entitled by law to the same services as domestic victims. 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 report using these mechanisms during the reporting period. According to authorities, financial restitution was not available for trafficking victims. The Human Mobility Law 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 whether any foreign victims received residency in 2017. During the reporting period, the government was in the process of implementing provisions of the mobility law designed to prevent 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.
The government maintained prevention efforts. The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Committee was the national coordinating body chaired by the MOI and the anti-trafficking directorate within the MOI served as the Committee’s technical secretariat. In September 2017, the MOI established the Directorate for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons and Migrant Smuggling to serve as the Committee’s technical secretariat. The directorate replaced the MOI’s ad hoc Anti-Trafficking in Persons Unit and the government assigned the directorate personnel and a budget for personnel and operations. However, civil society organizations continued to note a lack of coordination among government actors. During the reporting period, the government did not approve a revised version of the 2013-2017 national action plan, although the Committee was drafting a new national action plan. National authorities conducted awareness-raising events in public schools and social media campaigns. The MOI also launched a series of illustrated advertisements and social media campaign to raise awareness. In September, authorities from Colombia and Ecuador held a bi-national fair at the principal border crossing to educate the public about trafficking. The criminal code prohibits sex tourism, but the government reported there were no investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of child sex tourists in 2017. The government participated in an exchange of best practices in preventing sex tourism with regional tourism ministries and provided training to staff of 120 hotels on identifying and reporting suspected sex tourism cases in 2017. Travel agents were required to complete a Ministry of Tourism online course on detecting trafficking victims. The mobility law required the Ministry of Labor (MOL) to register all cases of job placement abroad. In January 2018, the MOL announced plans for a system for registration of migrants’ employment contracts so authorities could verify adequate work conditions and salaries. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor. The government provided 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, fishing, 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. The influx of Venezuelan migrants in Ecuador (an international organization estimated about 800 Venezuelan migrants have arrived in Ecuador each day since December 2017) 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 migrants from South and Central America, the Caribbean, and to a lesser extent Africa and Asia in Ecuador. Ecuador is also a destination for South and Central American 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 and the Caribbean. 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. Ecuadorian men, women, and children are exploited in forced labor and sex trafficking abroad, including in the United States, 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.