The government maintained prosecution efforts. Articles 91 and 92 of the 2014 Criminal Code (COIP) criminalized all forms of labor trafficking and some forms of sex 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. Article 91 defined trafficking broadly to include all labor exploitation, child pornography, child labor, illegal adoption, and the sale of tissues, fluids, and genetic materials of living persons. During the reporting period, the government amended the definition of trafficking within Article 91 to better align with the definition of trafficking under international law. The amendment correctly established the use of force, fraud, or coercion as an essential element of an adult trafficking offense. However, the amendment did not include a necessary provision indicating that the element was unnecessary in the case of sex trafficking offenses involving child victims. Therefore, all forms of child sex trafficking were no longer explicitly criminalized under Article 91. Observers indicated that the absence of comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation remained a challenge in the fight against trafficking, due to confusion over the fact that different legal provisions, including the Human Mobility Law, the penal code, and the labor code, cover different aspects of the government’s response to trafficking.
The Directorate for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons and Migrant Smuggling, the lead anti-trafficking office within the Ministry of Government (MOG), indicated authorities initiated 126 investigations into alleged trafficking cases in 2020, compared with 132 in 2019. Police conducted 18 anti-trafficking operations and arrested 22 suspected traffickers, compared with 15 operations and 25 suspected traffickers arrested in 2019. In 2020, authorities prosecuted seven trafficking cases involving eight individuals, compared to eight trafficking cases involving 12 individuals in 2019. Authorities did not prosecute any cases of forced labor, compared with one in 2019. The government convicted and sentenced eight traffickers, compared with nine in 2019. Authorities reported 13 ongoing appeals for convictions in trafficking cases from 2020 and previous years. During the year, sentences for traffickers ranged from four to 25 years’ imprisonment. Most traffickers received serious and stringent punishments for their crimes, but during the reporting period, an appeals court revoked a four-year sentence prescribed for a trafficker. Some of the investigations, prosecutions, and convictions may have been for crimes that did not meet the definition of trafficking according to international law.
The National Investigative Unit for Trafficking in Persons and Illicit Migrant Smuggling (NIU), under the National Police Unit for Crimes against Children and Adolescents, was the primary law enforcement unit responsible for investigating trafficking cases. The National Specialized Unit for Investigation to Combat Transnational Organized Crime also investigated transnational trafficking crimes. Officials from the NIU received training in victim-centered investigative techniques but remained understaffed and under-resourced. In 2020, the NIU increased the number of investigators to 56 from 49; however, the frequent rotation of staff for mandatory police training reduced the number of operational staff for most of the year. The Specialized Prosecutor’s Office in Transnational and International Organized Crime had prosecutorial responsibility for trafficking cases at the national level; however, due to its broad mandate, most of its work focused on the prosecution of non-trafficking crimes. Authorities recognized sex trafficking was most prevalent in coastal provinces; however, government efforts to investigate and prosecute traffickers, and identify and protect victims in major port cities such as Guayaquil were deficient. The MOG—in some cases with the support of an international organization—trained 1,092 government officials, including police officers, community police chiefs, prosecutors, and judges in victim identification, victim-centered engagement, and investigating and prosecuting trafficking crimes, compared with 605 trained in 2019.
The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicity in human trafficking offenses; and most complicity cases from previous years remained unresolved, including a case involving officials in Guayaquil who allegedly issued fraudulent identity documents to girls later exploited in sex trafficking. With support from an international organization, the MOG, the national police, and the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) drafted a guide to help law enforcement officials identify, handle, and use evidence in trafficking cases. The government developed protocols to coordinate the prosecution of transnational trafficking crimes with Colombia and Peru. Officials reported cooperating with Peruvian counterparts on the investigation of 10 transnational trafficking cases. In 2020, the AGO joined the Ibero-American network of specialized prosecutors working on human trafficking and migrant smuggling.