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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 with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Ecuador remained on Tier 2.  These efforts included increasing the number of suspects investigated for trafficking crimes, increasing the number of police officers working on trafficking crimes, maintaining robust law enforcement cooperation with foreign governments, and continuing the prosecution of three individuals in a high-profile case involving forced labor allegations.  The government also identified more victims, reopened a government-funded shelter, and enacted an anti-trafficking law that strengthened protection and prevention provisions.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several areas.  Authorities did not adequately protect most trafficking victims, and officials prosecuted and convicted fewer traffickers.  In addition, Ecuador did not criminalize all forms of trafficking, as the penal code required officials to prove the use of force, fraud, or coercion in child sex trafficking cases.

  • Fund and implement provisions established in the new anti-trafficking law.
  • Provide specialized services for all victims of labor and sex trafficking, including adults, boys, and girls younger than 12.
  • Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including public officials complicit in trafficking and labor traffickers.
  • Fund and increase support for NGOs to provide victim services.
  • Amend the definition of trafficking in the penal code to remove the requirement of force, fraud, or coercion in child sex trafficking offenses.
  • Train labor inspectors on indicators of forced labor and conduct proactive and unannounced labor inspections in sectors vulnerable to exploitation, such as banana plantations, floriculture, hemp (abaca), and mining.
  • Establish systems to protect workers from labor trafficking, including amending legal provisions to prohibit employers from withholding passports or travel documents from workers, collecting worker-paid recruitment fees, and allowing foreign workers to change employers without facing penalties or deportation.
  • Appoint a specialized prosecutor to focus solely on trafficking crimes.
  • Increase training and efforts to pursue financial crime investigations in tandem with human trafficking cases.

The government maintained prosecution efforts.  Articles 91 and 92 of the 2014 Criminal Code 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.  The definition of trafficking within Article 91 correctly established the use of force, fraud, or coercion as an essential element of an adult trafficking offense.  However, the law did not include a necessary provision indicating that the elements of force, fraud, or coercion were unnecessary in the case of sex trafficking offenses involving child victims.  Therefore, some forms of child sex trafficking offenses were not explicitly criminalized under Article 91.

The Directorate for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons and Migrant Smuggling, the lead anti-trafficking office within the Ministry of Interior (MOI), reported authorities investigated 101 trafficking cases with 103 suspects, including one suspected labor trafficker.  This compared with 93 cases with 18 suspects, including 15 cases of labor trafficking in 2021.  Authorities prosecuted 17 trafficking cases involving 38 individuals, compared with 17 trafficking cases involving 47 individuals in 2021, eight in 2020, and 12 in 2019.  Officials convicted 13 traffickers, the same as in 2021.  Sentenced traffickers received between 13 and 25 years in prison.  Members of the judiciary reported there were 14 convictions overturned on appeal at the end of 2022.  In addition, officials investigated 51 cases of unspecified exploitation that likely included some forms of trafficking, compared with 47 cases in 2021.  Because Article 91 defines trafficking broadly, some of the investigations, prosecutions, and convictions reported under this law may not have involved crimes that rose to the level of trafficking as defined under international law.  The Specialized Prosecutor’s Office in Transnational and International Organized Crime (FEDOTI), under the Attorney General’s Office (AGO), continued prosecuting a current CEO and two of his predecessors for their role in the alleged labor trafficking of 123 victims at an abaca hemp plantation; the prosecution remained ongoing at the end of 2022.

The Anti-Trafficking and Human Smuggling Unit (UNATT) under the National Police was composed of the police’s Anti-Trafficking Unit, focused on crimes against children and adolescents, and the judicial police unit, responsible for trafficking crimes against adults.  Authorities reported this recommendation, found in the NAP (known as PACTA), and administrative change significantly increased the number of police officers working on trafficking crimes and reduced staff rotations.  Despite this improvement, officials indicated the UNATT remained under-resourced and understaffed, which impacted the unit’s readiness.  FEDOTI had responsibility for the prosecution of trafficking cases at the national level; however, due to its broad mandate, most of its work focused on the prosecution of non-trafficking crimes.  At the end of 2022, the judicial branch inaugurated the first-ever specialized court against corruption and organized crime, which covered human trafficking crimes under its mandate.

The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of any government employees complicit in human 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.  Officials did not investigate allegations that immigration officials at border crossings allowed alleged traffickers to transport potential sex trafficking victims to neighboring countries or provide updates in the case of the labor inspectors who may have accepted bribes to overlook violations.  In 2022, an Ecuadorian diplomat reportedly restarted negotiations to settle an outstanding judgment from 2007 involving her former domestic worker.  Some officials noted alleged corruption in the judiciary could inhibit justice in the abaca hemp plantation case.  According to sources, the company was well financed and extremely powerful, which increased the chance that members of the judiciary might accept a bribe to bring the case to an end or to determine violations did not rise to forced labor.

The MOI – in some cases in partnership with international organizations or foreign governments – trained officials, including police officers, prosecutors, and judges, on victim identification, victim-centered engagement, and investigating and prosecuting trafficking crimes.  With support from an international organization, the MOI, the national police, and the 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 foreign governments on anti-trafficking operations.  In 2022, authorities carried out 15 anti-trafficking investigations with foreign countries, 13 of which happened in coordination with one country and led to the arrest of 43 alleged traffickers and the identification of 34 victims.  Of these cases, four were for sex trafficking, four were for labor trafficking, four were for both, and one involved unspecified forms of trafficking.  The MOI may not have included these cases in its law enforcement statistics.  Similarly, the government cooperated with Colombian and Peruvian authorities to repatriate five Ecuadorian victims identified in those countries, three in Colombia, and two in Peru.

The government increased protection efforts.  In 2022, authorities identified 225 trafficking victims, compared with 51 victims in 2021.  Of these, 220 were sex trafficking victims, and five were labor trafficking victims; 170 were female, and 55 were male; 33 were girls, two were boys, three were LGBTQI+; and two were individuals with disabilities.  Government and government-supported NGOs reported providing services to 53 victims, compared with 66 victims in 2021.  Of these, 49 were sex trafficking victims, and four were labor trafficking victims; 46 were female, and three were male; 26 were girls, one was a boy, and one was LGBTQI+; and 35 were Ecuadorian victims, and four were foreign victims.  Three specialized shelters provided services to female adolescent sex trafficking victims, of which the government fully funded and operated two.  The third shelter was operated by an NGO and partially funded by the government.  The government did not fund civil society organizations promptly and consistently, leaving victims vulnerable to re-trafficking and NGOs without secure funding for operations.  Authorities reported housing 30 victims of trafficking in government-operated shelters.  The NGO shelter reported housing 11 trafficking victims.  Authorities noted frustration that, in some cases, migrants received assistance in specialized shelters, taking valuable spots from trafficking victims who needed specialized care; however, according to official and NGO reports, all victims who received shelter in 2022 were Ecuadorian nationals.  In 2023, the president approved an anti-trafficking law that, if funded and implemented, could improve protection mechanisms for victims.  The law, which was developed with the support of an international organization, included the creation of a victim assistance protocol and an increase of government-funded shelters with trained staff.  It enhanced coordination with international actors to ensure adequate protection of foreign victims and robust coordination for the protection of Ecuadorian victims identified in other countries.  In addition, the law prioritized a victim-centered approach from identification to reintegration with the goal of preventing revictimization.

The government had a victim identification manual to aid with the proactive identification of victims, and authorities regularly referred victims to services.  An NGO described an improvement in government coordination and reported an increase in case referrals from government authorities since the adoption of the PACTA.  Stakeholders, including government officials, noted concern with the absence of specialized services and care outside major cities.  Police noted challenges finding shelters for victims, particularly in provinces outside the capital; thus, police sometimes placed victims in non-specialized shelters until space in a specialized shelter became available.  NGOs that relied on government funding for victim services expressed frustration with consistent and significant delays in the disbursement of funds needed to provide adequate care.

In 2022, the Human Rights Secretariat became the Ministry of Women and Human Rights (MWHR); the MWHR was responsible for assisting adult victims of trafficking.  There were five non-specialized shelters and 46 ambulatory care centers where adult female trafficking victims could receive general services by interdisciplinary teams that comprised psychologists, social workers, and attorneys.  According to one government agency, the MWHR did not assist any female trafficking victims in 2022.  The MWHR had a $17 million budget for the creation of non-specialized emergency shelters where adolescents and adult female victims of violence, including trafficking victims, could receive shelter care for 24 hours.  MWHR authorities did not report opening any emergency shelters before the end of 2022.  Authorities did not provide adequate services to men and boy victims.  Officials remained confused and unaware of which agency was responsible for services for men or boy victims.  The Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion (MIES) was responsible for assisting child trafficking victims; however, it did not have specialized services for child forced labor victims, boy sex trafficking victims, or girl sex trafficking victims younger than the age of 12.  The government had two separate assistance protocols outlining minimum standards of care for female adult and adolescent trafficking victims in specialized and non-specialized shelters.  Authorities did not report providing specialized care for victims in non-specialized shelters in 2022.

The AGO’s formal witness protection program (SPAVT) could provide immediate support to victims, allowing them a 30-day reflection period before deciding whether to participate in the penal process against traffickers.  If victims chose to assist in the prosecution of traffickers, the government continued to provide services through SPAVT; otherwise, officials referred female child victims to MIES and adult female victims to MWHR to help with their reintegration.  During the reflection period, services offered by the SPAVT usually included shelter, medical assistance, legal support, psychological care, job placement, and assistance with school or university admissions.  The SPAVT program assisted 38 victims during the year, compared with 10 in 2021.  The government reopened a shelter operated by SPAVT that closed in 2021; authorities provided shelter to one victim.  Foreign victims had access to the same services as Ecuadorian 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.  Authorities did not report if any of the foreign victims identified requested temporary residency status.  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 – in some cases with the support of international organizations – trained NGOs, public officials, and teachers on victim protection measures.

The government slightly increased prevention efforts.  The MOI chaired the Inter-Institutional Committee for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons.  In 2022, the national coordinating body met three times.  The new anti-trafficking law established the appointment of permanent delegates and a substitute to the interinstitutional committee.  If implemented, these measures could improve coordination and foster the institutional knowledge needed to tackle the complexities of human trafficking crimes.  In addition, the law provided a comprehensive victim-centered approach, reinforced best practices, and outlined a whole-of-government approach.  The government continued implementing the 2019-2030 NAP for the elimination of trafficking, commonly known as PACTA, but did not report funding the interagency members of the anti-trafficking committee responsible for the implementation of PACTA-mandated activities.  Authorities conducted some public awareness campaigns but did not provide details on the targeted audiences or the effectiveness of such campaigns.  Officials – in some cases with the support of international organizations – provided training for teachers, civil servants, and youth on the prevention of trafficking crimes.  The criminal code prohibited sex tourism.  The government did not report investigations of child sex tourism or prosecutions or convictions of child sex tourists.  The Ministry of Tourism issued a code of conduct to prevent child sex trafficking in the tourism sector and shared it with hotel owners and workers in six provinces.  Authorities did not indicate if they had identified any victims since the release of the new code of conduct.

The Ministry of Labor (MOL) – with the support of an international organization – developed a victim identification protocol for labor inspectors; however, authorities did not train officials on its use.  In 2021, authorities announced a government certification for companies using fair labor practices.  Officials did not report issuing any certifications in 2022.  The MOL reported conducting labor inspections but did not report screening for trafficking indicators or conducting inspections in sectors with vulnerable workers, such as banana plantations, abaca hemp, flower farms, mining, and palm plantations.  NGOs and some government officials expressed concern the MOL did not make sufficient efforts to investigate forced labor.  The MOL required employers to register the contracts of all foreign workers so authorities could verify they had adequate work conditions and salaries.  Ecuadorian law did not prohibit labor recruitment practices that traffickers commonly exploited, such as charging worker recruitment fees, confiscating workers’ passports, or allowing migrant workers to change employers without obtaining special permissions or losing their work permit.  The absence of specific prohibitions against these practices increased the vulnerability of workers to exploitation.  The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.  The government operated a hotline for the public to report crimes.  In 2022, calls to the hotline led to 12 investigations, but authorities did not report if those investigations led to arrests or the identification of victims.

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, abaca hemp, and palm plantations; floriculture; shrimp farming; fishing; sweatshops; street vending; mining; and other areas of the informal economy.  In 2019, the ombudsman’s office released a report on behalf of hundreds of agricultural workers and their families accusing a multinational corporation of child labor, forced labor, and practices analogous to slavery.  According to sources, including the ombudsman’s office, abaca hemp workers, mostly Afro-Ecuadorians, lived on plantations under tin roofs in subhuman conditions without running water or electricity.  Workers’ housing was in remote locations on the plantations, and access roads were often locked to prevent the workers’ freedom of movement.  Most of the workers at the start of the supply chain did not have labor contracts in place and had to provide between three and five tons of abaca hemp to receive payment for their work.  Women and girls worked as camp cooks and did not receive payments for their work.  In 2021, a judge ruled in favor of the workers and ordered the company to pay compensation.  In 2022, the company contested the ruling, and, in 2023, a court upheld the original decision.  This is the largest criminal case in terms of victims of alleged human trafficking crimes in Ecuador’s history.

Sex trafficking is 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, which one of the specialized shelters identified and assisted, originated from Quevedo, Los Rios province.  Indigenous peoples and Afro-Ecuadorians, Colombian refugees, and Venezuelan migrants are particularly vulnerable to trafficking.  Traffickers use Ecuador as a transit route for trafficking victims from Colombia, Venezuela, and the Caribbean to other South American countries and Europe.  According to law enforcement officers, there were 42 informal border crossing points controlled by gangs and locals between Ecuador and Peru.  Migrants unable to enter the country legally opted for illegal border crossings, which significantly increased their vulnerability to gender-based violence, exploitation, and human trafficking crimes.  In 2022, an international organization reported that between eight and 10 single Venezuelan males crossed the border weekly with children with whom they did not have a familial relationship.  Women, children, LGBTQI+ individuals, refugees, and migrants continue to be the most at risk for sex trafficking; Indigenous persons and nationals from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) 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 commercial sex upon the victims’ arrival in Ecuador.  Traffickers exploit Colombian, Peruvian, Venezuelan, and, to a lesser extent, Central American women and girls in sex trafficking, 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.  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.  Traffickers exploit Ecuadorian children in forced criminality, such as drug trafficking and robbery.  In 2022, authorities reported an increased number of children forced into criminality as the country faced an uptick in gang violence.  Criminal gangs recruited minors to sell drugs and to murder their rivals.  An NGO reported child recruitment by criminal gangs sometimes involved children as young as 10 years old.  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 exploit 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 or labor inspections, and some local authorities assisted traffickers in procuring falsified identification documents, resulting in victims’ lack of confidence in the police and a reluctance to report potential crimes.  Colombian illegal armed groups target and forcibly recruit Ecuadorian children living along the northern border.  Traffickers lure vulnerable displaced Venezuelans with fraudulent employment opportunities, particularly those in irregular statuses, and later exploit them in sex trafficking and forced labor.  Workers in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing – which is a maritime security threat and human rights concern for South American countries, including Ecuador – are vulnerable to forced labor.  Foreign-flagged fishing vessels, including reefers that belong to PRC-based companies and often using Panamanian ‘flags of convenience’ are found slightly outside Ecuador’s exclusive economic zone.  These fleets deployed small vessels into Ecuador’s waters and turn off mandatory satellite radars, preventing authorities from tracking their location.  Operators of foreign-flagged vessels often subjected workers to forced labor and coerced them to illegally cross into sovereign territories, risking criminalization.  IUU fishing practices could cause severe biodiversity loss because of overfishing and threatened the livelihood of Ecuadorian coastal communities who relied on artisanal fishing for survival; which forced displacement because of environmental degradation and risked additional trafficking in alternative sectors.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future