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. In 2020, 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), reported authorities initiated 93 investigations into alleged trafficking crimes, including 15 cases of forced labor, compared with 126 investigations in 2020 and 132 in 2019. Police arrested 65 individuals suspected of trafficking crimes (18 for sex trafficking and 47 for unspecified exploitation), compared with 22 in 2020 and 25 in 2019. In 2021, authorities prosecuted 17 sex trafficking cases involving 47 individuals, compared to seven trafficking cases and eight individuals in 2020 and eight trafficking cases involving 12 individuals in 2019. During the reporting period in a notable and high-profile case involving allegations of forced labor in an abaca hemp plantation, the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office in Transnational and International Organized Crime (FEDOTI) charged the current CEO and two of his predecessors with human trafficking crimes for the alleged forced labor of 123 victims. The case remained pending at the end of the reporting period. In 2021, the government convicted 13 traffickers, of which 10 were sentenced to a minimum of 13 years in prison and a fine of 150 times the statutory minimum wage ($63,750); courts subsequently acquitted two traffickers on appeal, and there were no additional details on the last case. This compares to eight traffickers convicted in 2020 and nine in 2019. Because the criminal code’s definition of trafficking under Article 91 was broader than the definition of trafficking under international law, some of the investigations, prosecutions, and convictions reported under this law may not have been trafficking cases.
The Anti-Trafficking Unit (ATU), under the National Police Unit for Crimes against Children and Adolescents, was the primary law enforcement unit responsible for investigating trafficking cases. The ATU remained understaffed and under-resourced. The frequent rotation of staff for mandatory police training reduced the number of operational staff at a given time, likely affecting their readiness. In 2021, stakeholders reported the pandemic severely affected the ATU and its ability to conduct anti- trafficking operations, mostly due to mitigation measures that reduced staffing even further. ATU officials reported a 40 percent decrease in cases reported, which authorities attributed to possible victims’ fear of contagion. The MOG also reported being understaffed due to illness and other impacts of the pandemic. FEDOTI had 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 international organizations or foreign governments—trained 2,189 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 1,092 in 2020 and 605 trained in 2019.
The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of any government employees complicit in trafficking crimes; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year, and cases from previous years remained mostly unresolved. NGOs reported immigration officials at border crossings allowed alleged traffickers to transport potential sex trafficking victims to neighboring countries. During the reporting period, a government official reported possible corrupt practices at the labor inspectorate, highlighting that labor inspectors often accepted bribes to overlook violations. With support from an international organization, the MOG, the national police, and the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) finalized a guide to help law enforcement officials identify, handle, and use evidence in trafficking cases, but authorities did not report relevant officials received any training on its use. The government cooperated with Peruvian authorities on a case involving two Ecuadorian victims identified in Peru. Jointly, law enforcement authorities arrested four individuals, three in Ecuador and one in Peru, for their alleged involvement in this case. Similarly, the government cooperated with Colombian authorities to repatriate two Ecuadorian victims identified in Colombia; however, civil society organizations reported insufficient coordination between Colombian and Ecuadorian authorities on trafficking prosecutions.