The government increased protection efforts. The government reported identifying 357 trafficking victims (39 adult women and 318 children) in 2021, compared with identifying 37 adult female victims in 2020. The Ministry of Social Development (MIDES) and its agencies facilitated the care and protection of trafficking victims. The National Institute for Women (Inmujeres) served adult female trafficking victims, and the National Institute for Children and Adolescents (INAU) served child trafficking victims. Both institutions primarily catered to sex trafficking victims. In 2021, MIDES designated its sociocultural promotion office as the entity responsible for coordinating care for adult male trafficking victims, filling a gap in the government’s care framework. MIDES coordinated with MTSS when providing care to labor trafficking victims; MTSS could provide additional services, such as vocational training, and ensure labor trafficking victims understood relevant labor regulations. Inmujeres assisted 140 trafficking victims in 2021, compared with assisting 37 victims in 2020 and 83 victims in 2019; the adult female victims Inmujeres assisted were mostly Uruguayan and Dominican, but authorities also identified women victims from Bolivia, Cuba, Peru, and Venezuela. INAU assisted 318 child trafficking victims during the reporting period; INAU provided victims care (based on their needs) through its residential programs, mobile units, and daytime care centers. INAU did not collect trafficking-specific demographic statistics; it reported most of the child victims of sexual exploitation, including trafficking, it identified in 2021 were teenage girls. The Human Rights Division did not assist any adult male trafficking victims during the reporting period. MTSS coordinated with a civil society organization to provide additional support, including legal advice, for three potential labor trafficking victims, all adult women. MIDES reported its agencies assisted six LGBTQI+ individuals, including a transgender girl, although it did not specify whether the child was a victim of trafficking as opposed to other forms of exploitation.
The government had a variety of victim protection protocols and written referral mechanisms on assisting victims, including an interagency response system. The government worked with an international organization to draft a new interinstitutional protocol outlining interagency procedures for identifying and referring trafficking victims to services; the government approved the plan in 2021 and implemented it in 2022. MIDES was the principal provider of services for victims of all crimes, including trafficking. The government coordinated with civil society to provide trafficking victims with similar services as those available to victims of other crimes and vulnerable populations, such as individuals experiencing homelessness, refugees, and citizens receiving social support. These services included housing, vocational training, immediate response care, and counseling; however, specialized services for victims of trafficking were very limited in Uruguay and, in practice, most accessible to adult female sex trafficking victims. Civil society reported government-funded services focused mostly on psycho- social and legal assistance, while long-term services, such as housing, vocational support, and job placement, were insufficient. Inmujeres continued to coordinate with civil society to provide services for female sex trafficking victims at its specialized centers in Montevideo and Cerro Largo and established a new center in Paso de los Toros. INAU had a partial-service center for child sex trafficking victims in Paysandú and coordinated with civil society to operate a 14-member mobile team of psychologists, social workers, and lawyers that responded to cases involving child victims in the broader Montevideo region. Although the government had some facilities that could temporarily house victims, it did not have dedicated shelters for trafficking victims. Government officials expressed concern that victims’ security would be at risk in a centrally located, trafficking-specific shelter, due to the country’s small size. The government instead preferred to lodge victims in hotels and occasionally referred them to shelters or group homes serving other populations, such as victims of domestic violence. Civil society expressed concerns about the suitability of these facilities, as they did not meet the needs of trafficking victims, and reported challenges finding shelter for trafficking victims, particularly for those identified outside the capital. Many shelters were overnight-only facilities; observers identified a need for daytime facilities and programming. The government did not have specialized services or shelters designed to accommodate male, LGBTQI+, or labor trafficking victims. When officials identified such victims, the government could usually arrange ad hoc housing in hotels or non-specialized shelters designed to serve other vulnerable populations, such as individuals experiencing housing insecurity or recovering from addiction.
Inmujeres provided some services by phone or video call during the reporting period to limit disruption under pandemic-related restrictions, although it could not administer all services virtually, and these services were unavailable to victims for periods of time. The government adapted physical spaces to continue accommodating victims in person where possible, including by installing barriers and screening for symptoms. Inmujeres provided 14.32 million pesos ($322,160), compared with 11.37 million pesos ($255,790) in 2020, to its NGO partners to fund provision of services. The government did not report allocating funding to cover short-term hotel stays for victims, compared with 304,500 pesos ($6,850) in 2020. The government did not report other budget allocations or funding for victim assistance. The government had a protocol to provide security and protection measures to victims. Uruguayan law required courts to order restitution upon a trafficker’s conviction; the government reported courts ordered restitution payments in four cases in 2021. Separately, victims could file civil suit to seek compensation from their traffickers with support from public prosecutors, but the government did not report whether any victims did so in 2021. The law entitled foreign victims to work permits and permanent residency status, and they had 180 days to decide whether to stay in the country, return to their country of origin, or resettle in a third country. However, the government did not report issuing residence permits to any foreign victims, and there was no record it had done so since the 2018 legislation establishing this entitlement. The government offered limited training opportunities related to victim identification, referral, and care throughout the year, often virtually and with the support of international organizations.