The government increased victim identification and protection efforts; however, shelter and specialized services remained limited. The government identified 124 victims (75 sex trafficking victims, two forced begging, and 47 forced labor victims), compared to 53 victims (50 sex trafficking victims and three forced labor victims) in 2018, 72 victims (67 sex trafficking victims and five forced labor victims) in 2017, and 53 victims in 2016. Out of the 124 victims identified, 31 were adult males and eight were male adolescents; this marked the first time, since 2016, men or boys were identified as trafficking victims. The attorney general’s office, in collaboration with the police; the anti-trafficking council; NGOs; and international organizations, assisted 111 victims in 2019 with psychological care, temporary lodging, and job training and placement; this compared with the government referring 50 victims to NGOs for shelter and services in 2018. All identified victims assisted in the prosecution of their traffickers.
The anti-trafficking council operated 19 offices to provide information and referrals to victims in 15 municipalities across the country. The government’s 2018 Inter-Institutional Action Protocol for the Immediate Comprehensive Care of Trafficking Victims outlined the roles and responsibilities of government agencies in responding to trafficking victims. The Law for the Protection of Children and Adolescents established a comprehensive legal framework for the protection of children’s rights, including protection from child labor and trafficking. The anti-trafficking council provided a manual to immigration officials to identify possible trafficking victims in border regions and received training; however, the government lacked formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, including individuals in commercial sex. Several organizations provided some training on victim identification to immigration officials, labor inspectors, physicians, service providers, and tourism professionals. Officials observed that first responders had continuing gaps in knowledge of victim identification procedures and their application.
The government did not provide the Ministry of Justice and Public Security’s budget for the victims’ attention and gender equality area in FY 2019; however, its 2018 budget was $370,960. The government did not provide 2019 budget figures for its anti-trafficking unit; in 2018 this united received $486,570. Assistance to victims, including shelters, was limited and specialized care was not available. The Salvadoran Institute for the Complete Childhood and Adolescent Development (ISNA) maintained the only trafficking victims’ shelter in the country, which had the capacity to house 12 adolescent girls; there was no shelter available to house adult women. Furthermore, ISNA stated that they were limited in providing anti-trafficking training to their personnel due to financial constraints. Government services and shelters for boys, adults, LGBTQI persons, and the disabled continued to be nearly nonexistent, with the government relying on religious and civil society organizations to attend to these victims. NGOs reported these victims needed shelter, rehabilitation, and mental health services. The government offered few long-term support or reintegration services to trafficking victims, leaving them at risk of re-trafficking. Authorities assisted Salvadorans returned from abroad by providing medical, psychological, and social services, but the government did not identify trafficking victims among returnees in 2019. Social workers reported problems and delays in entering gang-controlled neighborhoods to attend to victims, impeding victim protection and assistance efforts. In spring 2019, the government formed the Women’s Coordination Unit, which was dedicated to combatting the country’s high rate of female and minority violence, including gangs involved in the sex trafficking of women.
El Salvador’s laws allowed judges to order convicted traffickers to pay restitution; however, the courts did not order restitution in any cases in 2019. The government provided witness protection and support to identified victims, including disguising victims’ identities in court and allowing victims to provide testimony by deposition or via videoconference. Experts criticized the government’s witness protection measures as insufficient, as they did not continue after the trial ended. Government officials and NGO representatives stated police needed additional procedures and training to properly identify, interact with, and protect victims, who were often mistaken for criminals and may have been punished for such crimes. Law enforcement detained and jailed minors associated with gangs for gang-related criminal activity, which may have involved sex trafficking or forced labor. The 2014 trafficking law provided foreign trafficking victims the right to seek residency status, which would allow them to work legally, but authorities did not offer such protection to any foreign victims in 2019 or 2018, compared to four foreign victims in 2017 who ultimately requested to be repatriated to their country of origin. In April 2019, the legislative assembly passed the Special Law on Migration and Foreigners that included a subsection on human trafficking; this law granted trafficking victims residency with multiple entry and exit permission for an initial period of up to two years with the option to extend. With the support of an international organization, 12 municipalities in the San Miguel Department approved a local ordinance again human trafficking in 2019, which provided rules that companies and local businesses must follow to prevent, detect, and support investigations on human trafficking; the local ordinances were expected to enable greater collaboration between municipal and national police.