ECUADOR: Tier 2

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, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Ecuador remained on Tier 2. These efforts included increasing funding for victim protection and assistance; developing assistance protocols outlining minimum standards of care for trafficking victims in specialized and non-specialized shelters; amending the trafficking provision in the penal code to better align with the definition of trafficking under international law; adapting the interagency protocol to include COVID-19 testing and medical care for victims; establishing three provincial anti-trafficking committees; and cooperating with foreign governments to bring traffickers to justice. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The Ministry of Labor (MOL) did not make sufficient efforts to address forced labor; authorities did not investigate, prosecute, or convict cases of labor trafficking; and specialized services for all victims remained unavailable in most of the country, including for adults who made up the majority of the victims identified.

Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including public officials complicit in trafficking. • Increase training for labor inspectors on indicators of forced labor, expand the MOL’s mandate to include inspections of the informal sector, and conduct proactive and unannounced labor inspections in formal sectors vulnerable to exploitation, such as banana plantations, floriculture, and mining. • Provide specialized services for victims of forced labor and sex trafficking, including adults, boys, and girls younger than the age of 12. • Amend legal provisions to explicitly prohibit employers from withholding passports, or travel documents from workers. • Appoint a specialized prosecutor to focus solely on trafficking crimes. • Create an anti-trafficking committee sub-working group focusing on prosecution. • Adopt comprehensive stand-alone anti-trafficking legislation that criminalizes all forms of trafficking in line with international definitions and stipulates protection measures and preventive techniques to combat trafficking. • Increase proactive identification and services for trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as irregular migrants, indigenous communities, LGBTQI+ individuals, some foreign workers, and individuals in commercial sex. • 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.

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.

The government maintained strong protection efforts, despite a slight decrease in the number of victims identified. In 2020, authorities identified 140 victims and assisted 126 (compared with 186 identified and 125 assisted in 2019), of which an NGO identified 10 and assisted 23. The government had a victim identification manual to aid with the proactive identification of victims, and authorities regularly referred victims to services. The MOG updated the interagency cooperation protocol to guide officials on how to test trafficking victims for the COVID-19 virus and provide those infected with appropriate medical care. In 2020, authorities dedicated $1.450 million for victim protection and assistance, compared with $422,700 in 2019. The government—in some cases with the support of international organizations—offered 11 training sessions on victim protection and identification, reaching 748 government officials from agencies in several provinces around the country. In partnership with NGOs, authorities 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. The Human Rights Secretariat (SDH) was the entity responsible for assisting adult victims of trafficking. It operated five non-specialized shelters and 46 care centers where trafficking victims had limited options for general ambulatory services by interdisciplinary teams that comprised psychologists, social workers, and attorneys. The Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion (MIES) was responsible for assisting adolescent trafficking victims. Three specialized shelters provided services to female adolescent sex trafficking victims. The government exclusively funded two shelters and provided limited funding for a third. Civil society organizations noted government assistance for victims was good but limited in most parts of the country. Police reported challenges finding shelters for victims, particularly in provinces outside the capital; thus, police sometimes placed victims in non-specialized shelters until space in a shelter became available. In 2020—with the support of a foreign government and the EU—the SDH and MIES officials developed two separate assistance protocols to outline minimum standards of care given to female adult and adolescent victims of trafficking in specialized and non-specialized shelters. During the pandemic, government officials reported identifying and assisting victims but noted measures taken to mitigate the spread of the virus, such as lockdowns and travel restrictions, hindered these efforts. International organizations expressed concern over the lack of protection for all victims, including victims of forced labor, boys, adults, individuals with disabilities, and girls younger than 12. According to an international organization, in 2020, NGOs played a crucial role in helping the government carry out victim protection services during the pandemic.

The Office of the Prosecutor General’s formal witness protection program (SPAVT) provided immediate support to victims, allowing them 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 through SPAVT; otherwise, officials referred child victims to MIES and adult victims to SHD to help with their reintegration. During the reflection period, services offered by the SPAVT included shelter, medical assistance, legal support, psychological care, job placement, and assistance with school or university admissions. The SPAVT program assisted 32 victims during the year, including five who received shelter, compared with 44 assisted in 2019. The law entitled foreign victims 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 2020, authorities did not repatriate any victims identified abroad and reported six foreign victims requested temporary residency status. Officials could seek reparations for victims. However, authorities did not report any cases where courts ordered restitution compared with the previous year when judges sought reparations for victims in eight of the nine convictions, totaling $1.28 million. The Human Mobility Law guaranteed protection against refoulement to countries where the lives of victims’ or their relatives were 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 wished to repatriate, the government assisted.

The government increased prevention efforts. The MOG chaired the Inter-Institutional Committee for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons. In 2020, the national committee’s sub-working groups met virtually and with less frequency due to the pandemic. The prosecution working group met three times, and the protection and prevention working groups met twice. During the year, the national committee established three new provincial anti-trafficking committees in Azuay, Imbabura, and Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas. The government continued implementing the 2019-2030 national action plan for the elimination of trafficking (PACTA) and allocated funding for all interagency members of the anti-trafficking committee to implement PACTA-mandated activities. Authorities reported 90 percent progress in the PACTA work-plan developed for the year; however, pandemic-related funding cuts hindered some of the anticipated activities. The MOG began implementing a database to track human trafficking and human smuggling cases, an effort officials indicated improved interagency coordination. Authorities conducted 21 awareness-raising events targeting the public, including employees in vulnerable sectors, teachers, and some youth; the events reached 2,188 individuals. The criminal code prohibited sex tourism, but the government reported no investigations of child sex tourism cases and no prosecutions or convictions of child sex tourists in 2020. The Ministry of Tourism worked on a protocol to help hotels detect cases of sexual exploitation of children, including trafficking. In 2020, authorities shared the protocol for input with an international organization’s regional action committee focused on the prevention of child sexual exploitation in the tourism sector.

Efforts to combat forced labor were deficient. The government did not have labor inspectors dedicated to identifying forced labor. While the MOL provided limited training to labor inspectors on trafficking indicators in 2019, authorities did not strengthen those efforts or close the significant institutional gap in their fight against labor trafficking. In 2020, the MOL conducted 522 labor inspections reportedly focused on foreign workers, but authorities did not report identifying any victims of forced labor or if those inspectors received training on trafficking indicators. The MOL reported inspecting some banana plantation and flower farms but did not report screening for trafficking indicators or inspecting other vulnerable sectors, such as hemp, mining, and palm plantations. The pandemic led to an economic crisis that created income loss for at-risk communities working in the informal sector, increasing their vulnerability to labor exploitation and human trafficking. NGOs and some government officials expressed concern the MOL did not make sufficient efforts to investigate forced labor. In addition, the MOL required employers to register the contracts of all foreign workers so authorities could verify they had adequate work conditions and salaries. While the law did not explicitly prohibit employers from confiscating workers’ passports or travel documents, additional provisions against collecting, archiving, processing, distributing, or disseminating personal data without an individual’s consent existed. However, the absence of a specific prohibition against the confiscation of workers’ passports or travel documents by a recruiter or employer increased the vulnerability of workers to remain on the job. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. With the support of an international organization, authorities developed a guide for journalists to improve reporting on trafficking crimes, and separately, began developing an interactive map to track trafficking and smuggling cases. The government operated a hotline for the public to report crimes. In 2020, calls to the hotline led to an investigation that concluded with the arrest of one trafficker and the identification of three victims. In 2020, authorities shared the new protocols for the care of victims of trafficking in specialized and non-specialized shelters with Colombian officials, its communication strategy to mitigate trafficking of vulnerable populations with Peru, and details of a project for the intervention and restitution of rights for child victims of trafficking with Chilean counterparts.

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 adults and children in sex trafficking and forced labor within the country, including in domestic service; begging; banana, hemp, and palm plantations; floriculture; shrimp farming; fishing; sweatshops; street vending; mining; and other areas of the informal economy. Sex trafficking was most prevalent in coastal provinces, including El Oro, Guayas, Manabí, Los Rios, and northern border provinces, including Carchi, Esmeraldas, Loja, and Sucumbíos. Sixty percent of child female sex trafficking victims, whom one of the specialized shelters identified and assisted, originated from Quevedo, Los Rios province. Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorians, Colombian refugees, and Venezuelan migrants are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Women, children, LGBTQI+ individuals, refugees, and migrants continued to be the most at risk for sex trafficking; indigenous persons and Chinese workers are vulnerable to forced labor. Traffickers promising a better life to migrants from South and Central America, the Caribbean, and to a lesser extent, Africa and Asia, confiscate documents, impose debts, and threaten or force migrants into prostitution upon the victims’ arrival in Ecuador. Traffickers exploit Colombian, Peruvian, Venezuelan, and to a lesser extent Central American, women and girls in sex trafficking and domestic servitude and forced begging. Traffickers increasingly use social media networks to recruit and groom individuals to later exploit them in sex and labor trafficking. 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, Venezuela, and the Caribbean to other South American countries and Europe. Traffickers recruit children from impoverished indigenous families under false promises of employment and subject them to forced begging, domestic servitude, or forced labor in sweatshops and street and commercial vending in Ecuador and other South American countries. Ecuadorian children are subjected to forced labor in illicit activities, such as drug trafficking and robbery. Traffickers exploit Ecuadorian adults and children in sex trafficking and forced labor abroad, including in the United States and other South American countries, particularly Chile and Colombia. Traffickers exploited Ecuadorian children in sex trafficking and forced labor in Chile, Colombia, Peru, and to a lesser degree in Argentina, Spain, and Suriname. Some Ecuadorian trafficking victims are initially smuggled and later exploited in commercial sex or forced labor in third countries, including forced criminality in drug trafficking. Allegedly, some corrupt Ecuadorian officials have alerted traffickers to law enforcement operations, and some local authorities assisted traffickers in procuring falsified identity documents, which resulted in victims’ lack of confidence in the police and a reluctance to report potential cases. Colombian illegal armed groups targeted and forcibly recruited Ecuadorian children living along the northern border. Traffickers lured vulnerable displaced Venezuelans with fraudulent employment opportunities, particularly those in irregular status, and later exploited them into sex trafficking and forced labor.

U.S. Department of State

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