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Uruguay (Tier 2)

The Government of Uruguay 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, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Uruguay remained on Tier 2. These efforts included adopting and beginning to implement a new interinstitutional victim identification and referral protocol, designating an agency responsible for coordinating care for male trafficking victims, and investigating more alleged traffickers. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Officials did not identify any adult male trafficking victims, the government did not provide adequate victim services or consistent access to shelters, and law enforcement officials did not proactively and systematically identify victims. The government devoted inadequate resources to combating labor trafficking and protecting labor trafficking victims. The government’s national action plan (NAP) to combat trafficking expired without replacement.

  • Provide adequate services and shelter for all victims, especially male victims and those outside the capital.
  • Train law enforcement officials, labor inspectors, coast guard officers, prosecutors, judges, and social workers to understand human trafficking and utilize the interagency mechanism for victim identification and referral.
  • Operationalize a centralized database to systematically record official statistics on anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and victim identification, including those outside the capital.
  • Refer labor trafficking victims to services upon identification, hold labor traffickers criminally accountable, and establish standard operating procedures for Ministry of Labor officials to combat labor trafficking.
  • Adopt and fund a new NAP to combat human trafficking.
  • Allocate a dedicated anti-trafficking budget and expand funding for victim services, including daytime, long-term, and reintegration services.
  • Proactively screen foreign workers for trafficking indicators, including through inspections aboard foreign-flagged vessels in Uruguayan waters and docked at port.
  • Vigorously investigate and prosecute all forms of human trafficking, including forced labor and child sex trafficking.
  •  Sentence convicted traffickers to adequate penalties, which should involve significant prison terms.
  • Consistently inform victims of their rights under the law, including to apply for permanent residence permits and compensation from their traffickers, and support those victims who wish to pursue these rights.
  • Revise the definition of trafficking under Uruguayan law to align with the definition in the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. 

The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Article 78 of the 2008 immigration law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking, prescribing penalties of four to 16 years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The penalties were increased by one-third to one-half if the trafficking offense involved a child victim. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law established the use of force, fraud, or coercion as an aggravating factor rather than as an essential element of the crime.

The government reported partial law enforcement statistics representing 11 months of 2021. The government initiated 33 trafficking investigations through November 2021, compared with 22 investigations in 2020 and 23 in 2019. The government prosecuted nine alleged traffickers through November 2021, compared with 11 alleged traffickers in 2020 and four in 2019. The government did not report whether these alleged traffickers were accused of sex or labor trafficking or whether they were Uruguayan citizens or foreign nationals. Officials also prosecuted at least nine individuals for soliciting child sex trafficking victims, compared with 39 such prosecutions in 2020 and two in 2019. The government convicted four traffickers through November 2021, compared with four traffickers convicted in 2020 and eight in 2019. The government did not report sentencing data for traffickers convicted in 2021; by comparison, judges sentenced traffickers convicted in 2020 to between 17 months and six years’ imprisonment. In the past five years, the government reported prosecuting 51 alleged traffickers but convicted just 16 traffickers. The government reported convicting 13 individuals for soliciting a child sex trafficking victim in 2021, compared with one in 2020. The government reported it prosecuted three law enforcement officials for alleged complicity in trafficking crimes. The national prosecutor’s office collected data on active cases, including trafficking cases, via the Accusatory Penal Process Information System (SIPPAU). However, the system did not compile key metrics, such as convicted traffickers’ sentences or whether authorities charged alleged traffickers with sex or labor trafficking; it remained difficult to analyze trends and obtain comprehensive data, especially on trafficking investigations, prosecutions, and convictions outside the capital region.

The Ministry of Interior’s organized crime division was the primary entity responsible for anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The Ministry of Labor (MTSS) directed most efforts related to labor trafficking; MTSS primarily punished labor traffickers through administrative processes, although the national prosecutor’s office could also criminally prosecute labor trafficking cases under the anti-trafficking law. The attorney general’s office in Montevideo had three gender-based violence units that prioritized investigating and prosecuting crimes related to human trafficking and the exploitation of children; there were no specialized units outside of the capital.

The government offered limited anti-trafficking training to law enforcement officials responsible for victim identification and investigation, but it collaborated with an international organization to provide prosecutors a series of trainings on prosecuting human trafficking and other sexual crimes. The government included trafficking-specific modules in standard gender-based violence training and offered an optional online anti-trafficking training for law enforcement. Observers indicated law enforcement officials’ use of systematic procedures to proactively identify victims varied throughout the country. Uruguayan officials coordinated with foreign counterparts on two anti-trafficking cases; in a joint operation with Spanish authorities, officials detained and prosecuted three alleged traffickers accused of recruiting Uruguayan women to travel to Spain with fraudulent job offers, where they exploited them in sex trafficking. The government reported the ongoing pandemic had a limited impact on efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers; courts did not experience pandemic-related closures or modify proceedings due to the pandemic.

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.

The government maintained prevention efforts. The national anti-trafficking council, composed of high-level government agencies and civil society participants and led by MIDES, met twice during the reporting period. The council was responsible for the implementation of recommendations from international organizations and institutional oversight on the implementation of Law 19.643 and the NAP to combat trafficking. However, the government’s 2018-2020 NAP expired without replacement; the government did not establish a new NAP during the reporting period. The national anti-trafficking council did not release a required public report on anti-trafficking efforts for the second consecutive year. The government did not allocate funding to implement the trafficking law or the NAP, and the trafficking council lacked an operational budget.

The government conducted activities to promote awareness of human trafficking in 2021. It displayed information on trafficking risks prominently on its websites and conducted awareness-raising workshops on trafficking risks for local officials. The government continued to distribute to the public informational and awareness-raising materials developed in previous reporting periods. In 2021, it allocated 46,750 pesos ($1,050) to producing and distributing awareness materials. The government’s awareness-raising efforts primarily featured trafficking as a sub-topic of wider programming on gender-based violence and other crimes; however, some efforts were trafficking-specific, including the guide the government developed and distributed to journalists on accurately depicting trafficking situations in media. The government implemented a new annual anti-trafficking training course for diplomats. The government operated telephone hotlines and a corresponding cellphone app where the public could report crimes; in 2021, it established a separate line for reports of sexual violence and trafficking. The government did not report how many calls involved trafficking cases. The Ministry of Labor reported it trained its inspectors to identify labor trafficking indicators; these inspectors continued to perform regular labor inspections during the pandemic, including in establishments known to facilitate commercial sex. Labor inspectors did not have agency-specific procedures to identify trafficking during inspections, although they had access to the new interinstitutional identification and referral protocol. The government coordinated with an international organization to fund a program to reduce demand for commercial sex acts involving children.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Uruguay, and traffickers exploit victims from Uruguay abroad. Uruguayan women and girls—and, to a more limited extent, transgender adults and male adolescents—are exploited in sex trafficking within the country. Traffickers force Uruguayan women and LGBTQI+ individuals into commercial sex in Argentina, Brazil, Italy, and Spain. Traffickers exploit women from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and to a lesser extent South American countries, in sex trafficking in Uruguay. Many victims are South American women of African descent. Foreign workers, mainly from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Paraguay, are exploited in forced labor in construction, domestic service, cleaning services, elder care, wholesale stores, textile industries, agriculture, fishing, and lumber processing. Cuban nationals working in Uruguay may be forced to work by the Cuban government. Sex traffickers exploit migrants, particularly women, from Cuba in border cities; sex traffickers may move victims city-to-city to avoid detection and prolong exploitation. From 2018 to 2020, 17 crewmember deaths were associated with Taiwan-, People’s Republic of China (PRC)-, and other foreign-flagged fishing vessels docked at the Montevideo port and in Uruguay’s waters; before 2018, observers reported an average of 11 crewmember deaths per year. Foreign workers aboard these vessels are subjected to abuses indicative of forced labor, including unpaid wages, confiscated identification documents, and physical abuse, and there are anecdotal reports of murder at sea. Citizens of other countries, including the PRC and the Dominican Republic, may transit Uruguay en route to other destinations, particularly Argentina, where some are exploited in trafficking. There is heightened vulnerability to trafficking in the interior of the country, where the government’s monitoring and anti-trafficking efforts have limited reach; in particular, domestic workers employed in the interior of the country are at greater risk of trafficking.

U.S. Department of State

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