The Government of Ecuador does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Ecuador remained on Tier 2. These efforts included identifying and assisting more victims, including Venezuelans, establishing a new specialized shelter for adolescent victims, and developing and implementing a case management database. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Efforts were inadequate in some coastal cities with a notable prevalence of sex and labor trafficking. The Ministry of Labor made insufficient efforts to address labor trafficking, and specialized services for all victims remained unavailable in most of the country. The government investigated, prosecuted, and convicted fewer cases.

Strengthen the provision of specialized services for trafficking victims, including for boys, adults, girls under the age of 12, and victims of forced labor. • Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including public officials complicit in trafficking. • Increase efforts to combat trafficking in coastal cities, particularly Guayaquil. • Consider adopting a comprehensive anti-trafficking law that criminalizes trafficking in line with international definitions and stipulates protection measures and preventive techniques to combat trafficking. • Increase use of the national protocol for protection and assistance to trafficking victims, including identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as irregular migrants, LGBTI individuals, and individuals in prostitution. • Train labor officials on trafficking indicators and expand the Ministry of Labor’s mandate to include inspections of the informal sector. • Provide adequate funding and increase staffing of the anti-trafficking unit. • Train all officials working on trafficking cases on victim-centered investigative techniques. • Increase victim-centered anti-trafficking training for police officers, judges, labor inspectors, immigration officials, social workers, and other government officials, particularly to enhance victim identification. • Establish an office for a specialized prosecutor to focus solely on trafficking crimes. • Partner with civil society to finalize, resource, and implement the national anti-trafficking action plan. • Approve and implement the recently introduced protocol to enhance interagency coordination in the provision of victim services.

The government decreased law enforcement efforts. Articles 91 and 92 of the 2014 Criminal Code (COIP) criminalized sex trafficking 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 pornography, child labor, illegal adoption, servile marriage, and the sale of tissues, fluids, and genetic materials of living persons. Observers indicated that the absence of comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation remained one of the biggest challenges in the fight against trafficking since the COIP did not stipulate protection mechanisms for victims or establish guidelines for preventive measures.

Although the law defined trafficking more broadly than the definition under international law, the government-reported data for 2018 included details that identified which cases met the international definition of sex and labor trafficking; data on 2017 cases continued to include crimes outside the international definition, making it difficult to compare efforts. The Directorate for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons and Migrant Smuggling reported the government initiated 139 investigations into alleged trafficking cases in 2018 (compared with 171 in 2017). The government arrested 18 suspected traffickers and conducted 13 anti-trafficking operations (compared with conducting 23 operations and arresting 44 suspected traffickers in 2017). Authorities prosecuted 24 cases (61 prosecutions in 2017), 22 for sex trafficking and two for forced labor, and convicted 19 traffickers (31 in 2017), 18 for sex trafficking and one for forced labor. Sentences for traffickers ranged from four to 25 years’ imprisonment.

The Anti-Trafficking Unit (ATU), under the command of the National Police Unit for Crimes against Children and Adolescents (DINAPEN), was the primary law enforcement unit responsible for investigating trafficking cases. Officials from the ATU received extensive training on victim-centered investigative techniques, but remained critically understaffed and under-resourced. The ATU had 10 officers and frequent rotation of staff for mandatory police training reduced the number of active staff to six officers for most of the year. Although ATU officials received mandatory annual training on trafficking and officers applied a victim-centered approach to investigations, observers reported some officials outside of the ATU did not handle anti-trafficking operations with a victim-centered approach. The Specialized Prosecutor’s Office in Transnational and International Organized Crime (FEDOTI) had prosecutorial responsibility for trafficking cases at the national level; however, due to its broad mandate, the majority of its work focused on the prosecution of non-trafficking crimes. Authorities recognized that sex trafficking was most prevalent in coastal provinces; however, government efforts to prosecute, protect, and prevent trafficking in major port cities like Guayaquil were deficient.

The government provided in-kind support to an international organization to train migration officials and first responders on trafficking indicators, mostly as a response to a mass influx of Venezuelan refugees and migrants. The Ministry of Labor (MOL) did not train labor inspectors on trafficking indicators, and the agency’s mandate did not include investigations of accusations of abuse in informal sectors. NGOs and some government officials expressed concern the MOL did not make sufficient efforts to investigate labor trafficking crimes. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting any new cases of official complicity; however, most complicity cases from previous years remained open, including the case involving officials in Guayaquil who allegedly issued fraudulent identity documents to adolescent girls later trafficked in commercial sex. Together with Colombia, the government offered a workshop for officials on victim identification, differentiating between trafficking and other crimes, and techniques for interviewing potential victims.

The government increased protection efforts. Authorities identified 167 victims and assisted 152 (compared with 56 assisted in 2017 and 75 in 2016). NGOs identified and assisted an additional 89 potential child trafficking victims (compared to 70 in 2017). It was unclear how many government- and NGO-identified cases involved trafficking as defined in international law given the overlapping trafficking-related criminal offenses. According to the Ministry of Interior (MOI), authorities identified 31 Venezuelan women and five Venezuelan girls as victims but did not report if these victims were included in the total number of victims identified.

The government had a victim identification manual to aid with the proactive identification of victims and authorities regularly referred victims to services. In 2018, the MOI drafted a protocol for strengthening interagency cooperation on trafficking crimes; approval for the plan was pending at the end of the reporting period. Authorities, in partnership with NGOs, continued to provide emergency and medium-term services to victims, including medical, legal, psychological, and educational support, in addition to specialized shelter for underage female victims. Insufficient services and shelters for boys, adult victims of trafficking, and girls under 12, continued to be a concern. These victims had limited options for general services through care centers providing ambulatory services by interdisciplinary teams formed by psychologists, social workers, and attorneys. Two specialized shelters with limited government funding provided services to female adolescent sex trafficking victims. Police reported challenges finding shelters for victims, particularly in provinces outside the capital; as a result, police sometimes placed victims in non-specialized shelters until space in a shelter became available. Observers expressed concern that some local officials did not provide Venezuelan victims with protection services due to insufficient understanding of their obligation to assist. An NGO reported one case in which the provincial state attorney’s office in Carchi province rejected a claim for assistance from a Venezuelan adolescent female self-identified as a victim of trafficking; presumably leaving the victim unprotected and vulnerable to re-trafficking. Authorities reported allocating $1.44 million for victim protection and assistance through its federal budget; however, civil society organizations continued to express concern over insufficient funding for victim protection.

The Office of the Prosecutor General had a formal witness protection program (SPAVT) that provided immediate support to victims, allowing a 30-day reflection period before deciding whether to participate in the penal process against their traffickers. If victims chose to assist in the prosecution of their traffickers, the government continued to provide services; otherwise, officials referred underage victims to the Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion and adult victims to the Human Rights Secretariat to assist with their reintegration. Services offered by the SPAVT included shelter, medical assistance, legal support, psychological care, job placement, and assistance with school or university admissions. In 2018, the SPAVT inaugurated a new specialized shelter that could house up to 21 female adolescent victims. The SPAVT program assisted 18 victims during the year, compared with 31 in 2017. Foreign victims were entitled by law to the same services as domestic victims. The government had mechanisms to repatriate victims, and Ecuadorian diplomatic and consular missions abroad had funding to provide food, lodging, and airplane tickets to Ecuadorian victims seeking repatriation. In 2018, the government provided lodging, food, medical care, and other essential services for 14 Ecuadorian victims identified abroad. Authorities funded the return ticket for four victims and coordinated the return of all 14 victims. 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 and in cases where the victims wish to repatriate, the government assisted. During the reporting period, the government returned one Venezuelan victim and reported taking measures to verify the victim’s safety upon return. In 2018, authorities developed a database that registered the progress of trafficking and smuggling cases to ensure timely access to care, data collection, and general information on the status of each case.

The government increased prevention efforts. The MOI chaired the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Committee, and the Directorate for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons and Migrant Smuggling was the committee’s technical secretariat. The government continued to use the 2006 national action plan, and with the support from a foreign government and an international organization, it began the development of a new national action plan. For five months of the year, officials from the anti-trafficking committee disseminated prevention material and information on reporting trafficking crimes at major bus terminals around the capital, reaching daily riders, including Venezuelan migrants. Authorities conducted 21 awareness-raising events targeting the public and some youth. The MOI also launched a series of illustrated advertisements and a social media campaign to raise awareness. In September 2018, authorities from Colombia and Ecuador held a bi-national fair at a main border crossing to educate the public about trafficking; the event reached over 1,000 people. The criminal code prohibited sex tourism, but the government reported there were no investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of child sex tourists in 2018.

The Ministry of Tourism (MOT) conducted inspections of hotels to ensure compliance with regulations to prohibit the entry of children vulnerable to sex or labor trafficking. In 2018, the MOT provided training to 32 travel agents through an optional online course focused on victim identification. The MOL required employers to register the contract of all foreign workers so authorities could verify adequate work conditions and salaries. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The government operated a hotline where the public can report crimes, and in 2018, calls to the hotline led to the identification of seven Venezuelan victims.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Ecuador, and traffickers exploit victims from Ecuador abroad. Traffickers exploit Ecuadorian men, women, and children in sex trafficking and forced labor within the country, including in domestic service, begging, banana and palm plantations, floriculture, shrimp farming, fishing, sweatshops, street vending, mining, and other areas of the informal economy. Sixty percent of underage female sex trafficking victims identified and assisted domestically by one of the specialized shelters came from the city of Quevedo. Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorians, Colombian refugees, and Venezuelan migrants are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Women, children, refugees, and migrants continued to be the most vulnerable to sex trafficking; LGBTI individuals also remain vulnerable to sex trafficking. Traffickers 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, and forced labor for domestic service and 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, in domestic service, 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 exploit Ecuadorian men, women, and children in sex trafficking and forced labor 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 before 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.

U.S. Department of State

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