Ecuador is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected president and unicameral legislature. On April 11, voters elected President Guillermo Lasso Mendoza from a center-right alliance among the Creating Opportunities Movement and the Social Christian Party and selected members of the National Assembly in elections that observers deemed free and fair.
The National Police maintains internal security and law enforcement and is under the authority of the Ministry of Government. The military is under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense and is responsible for external security. Police and military forces share responsibility for border enforcement, with the military also having limited domestic security responsibilities. The military may complement police operations to maintain and control public order when expressly mandated. Migration officers are civilians and report to the Ministry of Government. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture and abuse by police officers and prison guards; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; the existence of criminal libel laws; serious acts of government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women and children; and the use of child labor.
The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses and against those accused of corruption.
Members of criminal gangs operating in prisons committed acts of torture and killed their rivals during prison disturbances. The government investigated these crimes, and prosecutions were pending. There were incidents of violence and threats of violence against journalists by likely nongovernment actors. Members of society engaged in crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal and intimate partner rape and domestic violence. The government enforced the law, although victims were sometimes reluctant to report these crimes. Rape is punishable with penalties of up to 22 years in prison. The law includes spousal rape under crimes against sexual and reproductive integrity. The penalty for rape where death occurred is 22 to 26 years’ imprisonment. Domestic violence is punishable with penalties ranging from four days to seven years in prison and a substantial fine for “damages, pain, and suffering,” depending on the severity of the crime. Penalties for physical, psychological, and sexual violence were enforced.
The law provides reparation to victims of gender-based violence, while also advocating for the re-education of aggressors. The law defines rape, including spousal rape or incest, forced prostitution, sexual harassment, and other analogous practices, as forms of sexual violence. It also entitles victims to immediate protective measures designed to prevent or cease violence, such as police surveillance, placement in shelters, and awareness programs for the victim and family. These restorative measures were generally enforced.
According to human rights organizations, victims were generally reluctant to press domestic violence charges, and the court system was insufficiently staffed to deal with the caseload. On November 24, the Attorney General’s Office, in cooperation with the civil society-UN Spotlight Initiative reported 172 total femicides through November, compared with 118 in 2020 and 106 in 2019. On August 25, the Attorney General’s Office announced a 26-year prison sentence for a man from Morona Santiago Province for murdering his four-year-old stepdaughter in August 2020 in front of her mother, whom he threatened to harm if she intervened.
Due to a drop in the number of complaints filed in person with judicial authorities, the government expanded online legal services available to victims in April 2020. Nevertheless, barriers such as digital illiteracy, internet unavailability in rural areas, and lack of general familiarization with these technological resources continued to limit the ability of victims to obtain help.
Judges lacked specialized training for dealing with gender-based violence. Rights organizations also reported local protection-board officials at times discouraged victims from reporting their aggressors.
According to local experts, reporting rapes and other forms of violence continued to be a traumatic process, particularly for female minors. For example, a rape victim must file a complaint at the Public Prosecutor’s Office and submit to gynecological evaluations akin to rape kits administered by medical experts. Many individuals did not report cases of rape and sexual assault due to fear of retribution from the perpetrator and social stigma.
On February 10, the Attorney General’s Office announced a 12-year, seven-month prison sentence for a police officer in Tungurahua Province for raping a woman in September 2020 (see section 1.c.).
Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment and provides for penalties of one to five years in prison. The law defines sexual harassment and other analogous practices as forms of sexual violence and mandates that judges prohibit contact between the aggressor and the victim to prevent revictimization and intimidation, and the law was generally enforced. Despite the legal prohibition of sexual harassment and government implementation of the law, women’s rights organizations described a tendency not to report alleged harassment, and harassment remained common in public spaces.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Some women’s rights activists complained that a lack of comprehensive sex education limited individuals’ ability to manage their reproductive health and that ineffective distribution of birth control reduced access to contraception. Additionally, the Roman Catholic Church’s stance against contraceptive use and social stigma discouraged women from seeking family planning services.
A 2019 study found income status affected equity in sexual and reproductive health access and outcomes, with low income and rural individuals having significantly less access. UN agencies and CARE International reported migrant women faced limited access to, discrimination in, or both the provision of reproductive health services.
CARE International observed less access to sexual and reproductive health resources to survivors of sexual violence, and specifically, a lack of availability of emergency contraception as part of the clinical management of rape.
A February 2020 UNICEF-funded and Ministry of Health-supported teenage pregnancy report found that, although live birth rates for women ages 15 to 19 trended downward between 2009 and 2018 (the most recent year available for the report) from 88 live births per 1,000 women to 69), while live birth rates among girls ages 10 to 14 trended slightly upward, from 2.1 per 1,000 in 2007 to 2.8 in 2017. The report found the incidences of girls ages 10 to 14 having children were highest in coastal and Amazonian provinces, including Esmeraldas, Sucumbios, Orellana, and Morona Santiago. On August 17, Secretary of Human Rights Bernarda Ordonez stated 70 percent of girls ages 10 to 14 who become pregnant were most likely sexually violated. Ordonez added that many of these adolescents also suffered from sexually transmitted diseases, urinary tract infections, and other health complications.
Although the country’s maternal mortality rate had remained below 70 per 100,000 live births since 2012, media citing official national statistics indicated the rate increased from 37 to 57.6 between 2019 and 2020. According to local health experts, maternal mortality was 36 percent more likely among women in rural areas compared with those in urban areas, and women with primary or less education were three times more likely to suffer maternal death than those with at least a high school education. Further, indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian women were 69 and 50 percent more susceptible to maternal death, respectively, than their mestiza counterparts.
While the law prohibits discrimination against girls who become mothers, NGOs reported some faced discrimination and subsequently left school. A lack of resources also resulted in young mothers discontinuing their education to pursue work.
Discrimination: The constitution affords women the same legal status and rights as men. Nevertheless, discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. Women continued to face wage disparities compared with men. NGOs said women also faced discrimination in housing access and some judicial proceedings, namely, in reporting and filing charges in cases of alleged sexual abuse.
UN agencies and NGOs reported female medical staff were discriminated against and subject to violence, including physical and verbal assaults, from their partners and family members for assisting COVID-19-infected patients. According to information collected by UN Women and CARE International, women outnumbered men in the first line of defense against COVID-19, in a medical field already two-thirds composed of women, making women far more susceptible to COVID-19 exposure.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The constitution declares the state to be plurinational and affirms the principle of nonviolence and nondiscrimination by recognizing the rights of indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian, and Montubio (an independent ethnic group of persons with a mixture of Afro-Ecuadorian, indigenous, and Spanish ancestry) communities. It also mandates affirmative action policies to provide for the representation of minorities. NGOs and civil society representatives said those provisions were not effectively enforced.
A 2019 report by the National Council for the Equality of Peoples and Nationalities reiterated that racism and discrimination continued against indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants despite government policies promoting equality. The report reiterated that ethnic minorities continued to struggle with education and job opportunities and often earned less in comparison with their nonindigenous counterparts. Less than 4 percent of the indigenous population entered higher education, according to the most recent census, carried out in 2010. The same agency reported racial minority groups had less access to managerial positions and other professional opportunities.
Afro-Ecuadorian citizens, who accounted for approximately 7 percent of the population according to the 2010 census, suffered pervasive discrimination, particularly regarding educational and economic opportunity. Afro-Ecuadorian organizations noted that, despite the absence of official discrimination, societal discrimination and stereotyping in media continued to result in barriers to employment, education, and housing. A National Gender Survey published in November 2019 found Afro-Ecuadorian women were particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence and harassment based on racial, gender, and sexual stereotypes. Late-night news show host Andres Carrion was criticized in social media as reinforcing negative gender and racial stereotypes after asking Afro-Ecuadorian Olympic gold medal-winning weightlifter Neisi Dajomes in an August 16 interview whether she “knew how to cook,” followed by whether she “knew how to wash dishes.”
There were isolated reports of restrictions placed on indigenous persons and their institutions in decisions affecting their property or way of life. Media reported the Pastaza Provincial Court partially accepted a habeas corpus request on July 16 for former Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) president Antonio Vargas Guatatuca. Vargas Guatatuca was originally convicted for land trafficking in 2018, with his sentence extended to three years and four months in 2019, all of which he had served doing community service. He was arrested on June 20 in Pastaza Province after an arrest warrant had been issued a few days prior to serve part of his time in jail. CONAIE argued Vargas Guatatuca’s detention was arbitrary and illegal, as international conventions to which Ecuador is a signatory state indigenous persons are subject to prison alternatives. The court ruled Vargas Guatatuca should serve 60 days in jail and 30 in his community, then continue serving out the rest of his sentence doing community service. On November 8, President Lasso issued an executive pardon exonerating Vargas Guatatuca of charges and cancelling the fines ordered in his convictions.
The law provides indigenous persons the same civil and political rights as other citizens. The constitution recognizes Kichwa and Shuar as “official languages of intercultural relations.” The constitution grants indigenous persons and communities the right to prior consultation, which is to participate in decisions on the exploitation of nonrenewable resources located on their lands that could affect their culture or environment, although indigenous peoples’ organizations noted public- and private-sector actors often ignored prior consultation. The constitution also allows indigenous persons to participate in the economic benefits natural resource extraction projects may bring and to receive compensation for any damages that result.
In the case of environmental damage, the law mandates immediate corrective government action and full restitution from the responsible company, although some indigenous organizations asserted a lack of consultation and remedial action. The law recognizes the rights of indigenous communities to hold property communally, although the titling process remained incomplete in parts of the country. The constitution prohibits mining in urban and protected areas and limits oil drilling in Yasuni National Park.
Although confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths among indigenous communities were lower than the national average, indigenous leaders and international organizations asserted indigenous communities, like other rural low-income communities, were particularly vulnerable to the pandemic’s environmental, medical, and economic effects. Precise information on COVID-19 vaccination rates among indigenous persons was not available as of September 18, but government authorities declared they prioritized vaccinating indigenous communities and publicized several instances of vaccine drives in indigenous communities that included military-assisted vaccine transport to remote areas. The government nonetheless faced logistical challenges due to transportable vaccine availability and the physical isolation of some communities.
Media and activist groups reported environmental and anti-illegal mining activist Andres Durazno was stabbed outside his home in Azuay Province on March 17, allegedly by a relative. Activist groups called on the attorney general to open an investigation, which had not begun as of October 28.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired through birth in the country, birth to an Ecuadorian mother or father abroad, or by naturalization. According to media reports, ethnic minority families and those with limited economic resources continued to show registration rates significantly lower than those of other groups. Government brigades occasionally traveled to remote rural areas to register families and persons with disabilities. While the law prohibits schools from requesting civil registration documents for children to enroll, some schools, mostly public schools, continued to require them. Other government services, including welfare payments and free primary health care, require some form of identification.
Education: The lack of schools in some areas specifically affected indigenous and refugee and migrant children, who must travel long distances to attend school.
Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse and provides penalties of 30 days to 26 years in prison, depending on the severity of the abuse.
In 2020 Ana Cristina Vera, director of the local NGO Surkuna, estimated six of 10 rape aggressors were immediate relatives, with most underage victims younger than 14. In 2019 the Office of the Public Prosecutor stated approximately 60 percent of rape victims were children and adolescents.
In 2019 media reported that approximately 16 percent of the 7,977 sex-crime complaints tracked by the Ministry of Education between 2014 and May 2019 were directed against minors. Teachers or school staff were accused as perpetrators in 25 percent of all complaints.
Local NGOs and the government expressed concern regarding child abuse and infanticide during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Quito Rights Protection Council reported 10 suicides and seven cases of infanticide between March and May 2020. The council stated the infanticides in that span were allegedly committed by the victims’ immediate family members. Council vice president Sybel Martinez warned that a lack of precise statistics on violence against minors could fuel impunity. The Attorney General’s Office publicized progress on several intrafamilial violence cases throughout the year.
Bullying remained a problem in schools and increasingly occurred on social media. On April 10, reforms to the Intercultural Education Law took effect, aiming to prevent and combat digital sexual violence and strengthen the fight against cybercrimes by making online bullying punishable. The law obligates educators to investigate allegations of bullying, considering the victim’s best interests. Cases that may lead to school violence (defined as incidents that may lead to death, physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological harm), harassment, or discrimination are prioritized for reporting to higher authorities within 48 hours.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal marriage age is 18. There were reports of early and forced marriage in indigenous communities, particularly in instances in which girls became pregnant following an instance of rape. Indigenous leaders reported cases in which sexual aggressors compensated violence with payment or exchange of animals, but in some cases, victims were forced to marry their aggressors. CARE International reported the government did not respond effectively to these cases, especially in Kichwa and Shuar indigenous communities.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is 14. The law prohibits sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography, with penalties of 22 to 26 years’ imprisonment. The penalty for human trafficking, including child sex trafficking, is 13 to 16 years in prison. Authorities did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. The criminal code requires proof of force, fraud, or coercion as essential elements of a trafficking crime, neglecting to recognize that anyone younger than age 18 is unable to provide such consent. Child sex trafficking remained a problem, despite government enforcement efforts.
On May 5, the Pichincha Provincial Court upheld the convictions and maximum prison sentences of 25 years and four months for five members of a criminal ring responsible for trafficking an estimated 100 teenage girls in Quito since at least 2018. The group recruited teenage girls from low-income neighborhoods to attend parties in an affluent Quito neighborhood. The case was related to a February 2020 conviction against one of the same defendants to a 34-year sentence for rape resulting in the death of a 15-year-old girl.
Displaced Children: Humanitarian organizations expressed concern that an increasing number of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children entered via irregular crossings after the government closed its borders in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. International organizations remained concerned unaccompanied children and adolescents were vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking by criminal groups.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .
Section 7. Worker Rights
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including all forms of labor exploitation; child labor; illegal adoption; servile marriage; and the sale of tissues, fluids, and genetic materials of living persons. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Limited resources, limited presence in parts of the country, and inadequate victim services hampered the effectiveness of police and prosecutors, trends that NGOs reported the COVID-19 pandemic had worsened. NGOs and media outlets continued to report that children were victims of human trafficking in forced criminality, particularly drug trafficking and robbery.
Reports of forced labor of children (see section 7.c.) and women persisted. Observers most frequently reported women as victims of domestic servitude. In 2020 police detained 22 suspected traffickers. Authorities prosecuted eight individuals in seven trafficking cases and convicted and sentenced eight traffickers. In 2020 the government identified 140 victims of human trafficking and aided 126.
Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorians, Venezuelan migrants, and Colombian refugees (see section 7.d.) were particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. Traffickers often recruited children from impoverished indigenous families under false promises of employment; these children were then forced to beg or to work as domestic servants, in sweatshops, or as street and commercial vendors within the country or in other South American countries. Ecuadorian men, women, and children were exploited in forced labor within the country’s borders, including in domestic servitude; forced begging; on banana, hemp, and palm plantations; street vending; mining; and other areas of the informal economy. According to the government, COVID-19 lockdown measures further pushed trafficking underground to occur on private properties, and in some cases even in mines or hidden locations near the country’s borders.
Men, women, and children were exploited in forced labor abroad, including in the United States and other South American countries, particularly Chile and Colombia. Traffickers used the country as a transit route for trafficking victims from Colombia, Venezuela, and the Caribbean to other South American countries and Europe.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. It sets the minimum working age for minors at 15 for all types of labor and the maximum hours a minor may work at six hours per day, five days per week. The law requires employers of minors who have not completed elementary school to give them two additional hours off from work to complete studies. The law requires employers to pay minors the same wages received by adults for the same type of employment and prohibits minors younger than age 18 from working in “dangerous and unhealthy” conditions. A 2015 ministerial accord lists 27 economic activities that qualify as dangerous and unhealthy. Other illegal activities, including slavery, prostitution, pornography, and drug trafficking, are punishable. The law identifies work that is “likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of a child,” which includes work in mines, garbage dumps, slaughterhouses, livestock, fishing, textiles, logging, and domestic service, as well as in any work environment requiring exposure to toxic or dangerous substances, dust, dangerous machinery, or loud noises.
The law establishes penalties for violations of child labor laws, including fines and closure of the business. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. If an employer commits a second child labor violation, inspectors may close the business temporarily. The law authorizes labor inspectors to conduct inspections at factories, workshops, and any other location when they consider it appropriate or when an employer or worker requests an inspection.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Ministries of Labor and of Economic and Social Inclusion, Rights Protection Boards, and the Minors’ Tribunals are responsible for enforcing child labor laws.
A 2019 report by the governmental Intergenerational Equality Council indicated the provinces of Bolivar, Chimborazo, and Cotopaxi had the highest child labor rates for children between the ages of five and 14. Although the government conducted two surveys in 2017 that included some information on child labor, it had not conducted a nationwide child labor survey since 2012. Government, union, and civil society officials agreed that a lack of updated statistics hampered child labor eradication efforts.
Several labor organizations and NGOs reported that no reliable data concerning child labor in the formal employment sectors was available due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to these groups, even before the pandemic, the government-led austerity measures affected the Ministry of Labor’s child labor eradication program, and thus the number of government inspections decreased.
The government also did not effectively enforce child labor laws in the informal sector. Observers noted the COVID-19 pandemic most likely increased child labor in the informal sector, as NGO surveys and studies found an increase in children supporting family-run businesses who otherwise would attend school. The worsening national economic situation and nationwide school closures triggered by the pandemic further exacerbated this trend. The most common informal economic activity was cooking meals and selling them on the streets or delivering them to customers. According to CARE International, children in rural areas were most likely found working in family-owned farms or businesses, including banana and rose farms. Children were also subjected to gold mining and the production of bricks.
As COVID-19-induced nationwide school closures continued, some parents continued to take their children to agricultural fields while the parents worked. Labor organizations reported children were largely removed from the most heavy and dangerous work. For students who could not attend virtual classes due to internet connectivity problems, some communities organized community centers so these children could continue remote learning. Many children younger than 15 in urban areas worked informally to support themselves or to augment family income by peddling on the street, shining shoes, sorting garbage, or begging. According to the NGO Partners of the Americas, city governments took some children who worked on the street to attention centers where internet connections and computers provided an opportunity to resume online learning often unavailable in the home.
Local civil society organizations reported that children conducted domestic work, including paid household work. A July 2020 study by CARE International found that during the pandemic many female house cleaners took their children, mostly girls, to their place of employment to help with the mother’s household tasks, likely increasing child labor in domestic environments.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. The law prohibits employers from using discriminatory criteria in hiring, discriminating against unions, and retaliating against striking workers and their leaders. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations, but penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. An NGO reported that Ministry of Labor representatives were frequently unprepared for administrative cases regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity due to a lack of familiarity with LGBTQI+ issues.
Employment discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. A study of average salary statistics reported in media on August 25 found that the average pay gap between men and women widened between February and July. While men’s reported average monthly salary increased from $301 to $350 (or 16 percent), women’s salary decreased from $259 to $248 (or 4 percent) in that span. Reasons the article cited for this reduction in average pay for women were reduced labor opportunities and workhour reductions, as women disproportionately worked in sectors (lodging, food service, and manufacturing) most adversely affected by the COVID-19-induced economic slowdown.
The National Institute for Statistics and Census (INEC) announced the unemployment rate in July was 7.1 percent for women and 3.8 percent for men, compared with 15.7 percent and 11.6 percent, respectively, in June 2020.
Afro-Ecuadorians continued to demand more opportunities in the workforce and complained that employers often profiled them based on their job application photographs and racial stereotypes. At the conclusion of a December 2019 official country visit, the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent expressed concern about reports of impunity and also human rights abuses and violations against farm workers, the majority of whom were Afro-descendants, at banana plantations owned by Japanese subsidiary company Furukawa Plantations C.A. The Working Group was also concerned by “the lack of access to justice for people of African descent” seeking reparations for injuries doing agricultural work and welcomed the Constitutional Court’s commitment to address the backlog of labor cases against agricultural employers. NGOs and labor leaders continued to note significant delays in processing these cases. Indigenous and LGBTQI+ individuals as well as persons with disabilities also experienced employment discrimination.