Ecuador is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. The majority of Ecuadorian victims identified are women and children exploited in sex trafficking within the country, as well as in domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced labor, primarily in agriculture. In some parts of the country, local gangs are involved in sex trafficking. Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorians are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. Traffickers recruit children from impoverished indigenous families under false promises of employment; these children are forced to work as domestic servants, in sweatshops, as street and commercial vendors, or in begging in Ecuador or neighboring countries. Media reports identified cases of Ecuadorian children subjected to forced labor in criminal activity, such as drug trafficking and robbery. In 2013, one report documented an illegal armed group attempting to recruit an Ecuadorian child along the northern border with Colombia. Ecuadorian women and children have been identified in forced labor and sex trafficking in other South American countries, including Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, and Chile, as well as other countries. Ecuador is a destination for Colombian, Peruvian, and Paraguayan women and girls exploited in sex trafficking and domestic servitude. Government officials characterize over 75 percent of identified trafficking victims as having been recruited with false promises of employment. Colombian refugees and migrants are subjected to forced labor on palm oil plantations.
The Government of Ecuador does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Authorities increased the number of trafficking prosecutions and convictions and reported identifying a large number of trafficking victims compared with the previous reporting period. While authorities continued to provide funding to NGOs to provide victim assistance, specialized services were inadequate in most of the country, and one of only two dedicated shelters for child sex trafficking victims closed during the year. Complicity of government officials in trafficking remained a serious concern.
Recommendations for Ecuador:
Ensure the provision of specialized care services for trafficking victims—including for adults—in partnership with civil society organizations through increased funding; continue to increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and punish trafficking offenders, particularly for cases involving adult trafficking victims; hold criminally accountable public officials complicit in trafficking; develop and implement procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as children and adults in prostitution or among child and migrant workers; implement procedures to ensure identified victims are referred to care services; increase anti-trafficking training for police officers, judges, labor inspectors, immigration officials, social workers, and other government officials, particularly to enhance victim identification; and enhance data collection and interagency coordination.
The Government of Ecuador significantly increased prosecution and conviction efforts during the year, though prosecution efforts were weaker in cases involving adult trafficking victims and official complicity remained a serious problem. Ecuador’s penal code prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes punishments of six to nine years’ imprisonment for those convicted of labor trafficking offenses and eight to 12 years’ imprisonment for convicted sex trafficking offenders. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Prosecutors also use other statutes, including those prohibiting pimping, to prosecute human trafficking crimes as prosecutors are more familiar with these statutes, and can use the statutes to obtain convictions with less investigative resources. Some of these statutes prescribe lower sentences than human trafficking statutes. In January 2014, the government approved a new criminal code which allows for enhanced law enforcement investigation techniques for human trafficking—such as undercover investigations and wire-tapping—and more than doubles minimum sentences for human trafficking crimes. The new criminal code will come into effect in August 2014.
The government maintained an anti-trafficking unit in Quito, and across the country police units for crimes against children also investigated cases of child labor and sex trafficking. The frequent rotation of specialized police hampered the effectiveness of these units. The national organized crime prosecutorial unit in Quito handled trafficking cases in partnership with 32 local prosecutors working on sex crimes, organized crime, and other related issues across the country. Police and prosecutors were generally limited by lack of funding and personnel, and law enforcement coordination continued to be uneven. The majority of investigations focused on child sex trafficking or forced labor of children. Authorities reported launching a pilot program for a national law enforcement trafficking database that was not yet fully functional at the end of the reporting period. Data collection on anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts was weak.
Police reported referring 145 trafficking investigations to prosecutors in 2013, but did not report how many cases involved forced labor and how many involved sex trafficking. Authorities reported prosecuting at least 95 trafficking offenders and convicting 19 trafficking offenders in 2013; 14 convictions were for sex trafficking and five were for labor trafficking. Six of these convictions were achieved under trafficking-specific statutes. Authorities did not report how many cases, if any, involved adult victims. Sentences ranged from two-and-a-half months to 20 years’ imprisonment. The number of prosecutions and convictions reported in 2013 was a significant increase over reported prosecution efforts in 2012, when authorities achieved at least 23 prosecutions and 10 convictions, including two convictions for forced labor.
Some officials, particularly judges, demonstrated a lack of knowledge about trafficking, confusing it with prostitution or labor infractions during legal procedures. Other judges reduced charges of trafficking to lesser crimes, such as pimping, resulting in shorter sentences. Civil society organizations and some officials noted that corruption impeded investigation and prosecution efforts. Corrupt officials allegedly alerted traffickers prior to law enforcement operations and ignored sex trafficking in commercial sex sites, and some local authorities issued falsified business licenses to brothels. During the reporting period, the government initiated the prosecution of two active police officers and two former police officers for their involvement in sex trafficking. There was no information provided on the investigation of a judge for complicity initiated in 2012. Authorities provided training on human trafficking to police, immigration officers, and other officials during the year, often in partnership with civil society organizations and foreign governments. The government cooperated with other South American governments to investigate an unspecified number of transnational trafficking cases.
The Government of Ecuador increased efforts to identify trafficking victims during the reporting period and continued to provide funding to NGOs to assist victims, though officials and NGOs identified a critical need for more specialized services for trafficking victims, which were lacking in much of the country. Police reported identifying 450 potential trafficking victims in 2013; 76 percent were exploited in sex trafficking and 24 percent in labor trafficking. As government agencies did not record victim identification data in a uniform fashion, it is possible some child laborers were also included in this total. The majority of identified victims were female children. Authorities continued efforts to remove children from sites of commercial sexual exploitation, but did not systematically apply procedures to identify adult victims among vulnerable populations, such as women in prostitution. Police reported referring victims to services by consulting written referral mechanisms, though victim referrals from other officials were ad hoc.
The Ecuadorian government did not report how much funding it provided to four NGOs providing specialized services to victims of sex and labor trafficking in 2013; in 2012, authorities reported giving these NGOs approximately $662,000. While it was unclear how many trafficking victims NGOs assisted in 2013, two NGOs reported averaging a total of 140 potential sex and labor trafficking child victims assisted per year. In 2013, an NGO operating a shelter offering innovative and comprehensive reintegration services to child sex trafficking victims closed the shelter after seven years of operation, citing a fundamental disagreement with authorities on how comprehensive services should be. The Ministry of Economic and Social Inclusion (MIES) operated one specialized shelter for girls in commercial sexual exploitation, but did not report how many victims were assisted at this shelter in 2013. MIES also maintained a special protection unit to assist child victims of crime and abuse, but did not report how many child trafficking victims it assisted during the year. Authorities reported that victims could receive general care services through a network of government-run protection centers, as well as at domestic violence shelters. Authorities did not report how many victims were assisted at these centers in 2013, nor were all of these centers able to provide adequate services or protection for trafficking victims. In some parts of the country, police had no facilities to house rescued victims. There were few specialized services available to adult trafficking victims. NGOs reported that adult trafficking victims could be housed temporarily in hotels and receive specialized outpatient services from government and NGO-run centers, but did not report how many adult victims received this shelter and assistance in 2013. In addition to short-term services, Ecuadorian authorities reported providing some victims with counseling, job training, and education, but did not indicate how many victims received these services in 2013. Reintegration services were generally lacking.
The government encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, and some victims did so during the year. The government maintained and funded a victim and witness protection program that reported assisting five trafficking victims in 2013. Many victims chose not to participate in investigations due to fear of threats and inadequate protection, lack of faith in the justice system, or costs associated with participating in lengthy judicial processes. Authorities did not penalize identified trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked. The new criminal code provides specific legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they faced hardship or retribution. Authorities reported that foreign trafficking victims encountered in anti-trafficking raids are given the option to remain temporarily in Ecuador, but did not report how many foreign victims total were permitted to do so in 2013. The government provided victim services to repatriated Ecuadorian trafficking victims.
The Government of Ecuador maintained prevention efforts during the year. The Ministry of the Interior anti-trafficking sub-directorate coordinated government anti-trafficking efforts, although civil society organizations noted a lack of coordination between government actors during the year. Authorities continued awareness campaigns, many of which focused on the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The government did not report any efforts to reduce demand for forced labor. There were no reports of investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of child sex tourists in 2013.