El Salvador is a source, transit, and destination country for women, men, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Women, men, and children are exploited in sex trafficking within the country. Officials and NGOs report that LGBT Salvadorans are also vulnerable to sex trafficking. Salvadoran adults and children are subjected to forced begging and forced labor in agriculture and domestic service. Some men, women, and children from neighboring countries—particularly Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras—migrate to El Salvador seeking employment, but are subsequently forced into prostitution, domestic service, construction, or work in the informal sector. Gangs use children for illicit activities, including drug trafficking, and some of these children are trafficking victims. Salvadoran men, women, and children have been subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, and the United States. Media and government officials report that organized criminal groups, including transnational criminal organizations, are involved in trafficking crimes in El Salvador. Latin American migrants transit El Salvador en route to Guatemala and North America; some of these migrants are subsequently exploited in sex or labor trafficking.
The Government of El Salvador does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Authorities continued to investigate and prosecute child sex trafficking cases and to provide services in the capital to some girls exploited in child sex trafficking. Victim services for male and adult female victims were inadequate, and authorities did not report how many identified victims received specialized care. Efforts to identify and investigate forced labor cases remained weak, and authorities have never prosecuted or convicted any labor trafficking offenders. Training for government officials decreased compared with the previous year. Official complicity remained a largely-unaddressed problem.
Recommendations for El Salvador:
Provide comprehensive protection services for all trafficking victims, including adults, and increase funding for specialized services; strengthen efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and to convict and sentence trafficking offenders, especially for forced labor; hold government officials who are complicit in trafficking offenses criminally accountable through criminal investigations and prosecutions; proactively investigate possible cases of forced labor, including domestic servitude, in partnership with NGOs working with vulnerable populations; increase training on victim identification and assistance for social workers and for immigration, labor, law enforcement, and judicial officials; increase resources for specialized anti-trafficking units; strengthen anti-trafficking coordination between different government entities and with civil society organizations, particularly outside of the capital; ensure foreign victims are consistently offered legal alternatives to their deportation; and improve data collection capacity regarding victim identification and care.
The government continued law enforcement efforts to combat child sex trafficking, but made inadequate efforts to address forced labor; authorities have never prosecuted or convicted a labor trafficking offender. Penal code Article 367B prohibits all forms of human trafficking and prescribes penalties of four to eight years’ imprisonment. Such penalties are sufficiently stringent, though not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape, which carries a punishment of six to 10 years’ imprisonment. Article 367B conflates fraudulent adoption with human trafficking. Officials used other statutes to investigate certain forms of trafficking, including Article 205, which prohibits exploiting minors in begging but only carries penalties of two to four weeks of community service. Congress failed to pass draft anti-trafficking legislation introduced in 2012. This draft law would increase penalties for human trafficking, but in contrast to international law, would treat force, fraud, or coercion as aggravating factors only, rather than as essential elements of the crime. Authorities did not consider cases involving children forced by gangs to engage in illicit activities to be human trafficking, despite the use of force or coercion for the purposes of exploitation.
Data collection remained a challenge. The government almost exclusively investigated and prosecuted cases of child sex trafficking. Officials opened 51 investigations in 2013, but did not report how many, if any, involved labor trafficking; in comparison, authorities investigated 60 trafficking cases in 2012. The government also investigated three cases of forced begging. Authorities prosecuted cases involving at least 14 sex trafficking offenders, and obtained 12 convictions for sex trafficking of children, imposing sentences ranging from eight to 26 years’ imprisonment. There were no reported convictions for forced prostitution of adults or forced labor. In comparison, 11 sex trafficking offenders were prosecuted and convicted in 2012.
The government’s dedicated anti-trafficking prosecutorial unit in the capital consisted of 14 prosecutors who also investigated other crimes, including human smuggling. Prosecutors worked with a unit within the homicide police division that investigated trafficking and human smuggling. Some officials, particularly judges, demonstrated a limited understanding of human trafficking, which impeded efforts to hold trafficking offenders accountable. The government trained 23 police officers in the specialized unit and anti-trafficking prosecutors conducted two training sessions on victim assistance; this represented a decrease from more than 700 police officers and 420 immigration officials trained by the government in 2012. Authorities cooperated on trafficking investigations with officials from Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and the United States.
Corruption, particularly among the judiciary, remained a significant obstacle to law enforcement efforts. The government provided no information on a 2012 case involving three prison guards arrested for allowing an incarcerated gang member to bring a girl into a prison and forcing her to engage in prostitution; the guards claimed they were following the orders of their supervisors. There was also no information available regarding the investigation initiated in 2009 of the former head of the dedicated prosecutorial anti-trafficking unit for trafficking-related complicity. The government did not report any new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking.
The government maintained efforts to assist some underage girls exploited in sex trafficking, but services for most trafficking victims remained inadequate. Immigration officials continued efforts to identify possible trafficking victims in border regions. In general, the Salvadoran government did not proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as adults in prostitution or migrant workers. Labor officials had a limited capacity to identify labor trafficking as they only inspected the formal sector. Prosecutors reported identifying 84 trafficking victims; it was unclear how many were labor trafficking victims. Of these victims, 32 were girls, three were boys, 37 were adult women, and three were adult men. In nine cases, the victim’s age was not documented, and authorities reported that the gender of six victims was unknown; it is possible that these victims were transgender. The government agency responsible for children’s issues identified 21 victims of forced child begging and 28 children in commercial sexual exploitation in 2013.
Victim referral to services remained uneven, and it was unclear how many of the identified victims received specialized services. The government shelter for female child sex trafficking victims could accommodate up to 15 girls at a time and offered psychological and medical care as well as education and vocational training. Victims were referred to this closed shelter by a judge. The shelter housed 11 victims as of early 2014, but it was unclear how many total victims were assisted throughout 2013. Victims staying at the shelter were required to recount their trafficking experience multiple times to multiple government entities, highlighting a lack of interagency coordination and leading to re-victimization. The government offered no specialized services or shelter to adult victims or boys, and NGOs and officials reported a need for shelter as well as rehabilitation and mental health services for these victims. Authorities assisted seven foreign victims during the year, all from other countries in the region.
Authorities encouraged identified victims to assist with law enforcement investigations and prosecutions, but provided limited psychological and medical assistance to those who did; 14 victims participated in investigations or prosecutions of trafficking offenders during the reporting period. Other victims chose not to assist law enforcement efforts due to social stigma, fear of reprisals from their trafficking offenders, or lack of protection for victims of crimes. Identified trafficking victims generally were not charged, jailed, or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. Civil society organizations, however, reported that children forced to engage in criminal activity by criminal groups were treated as criminals instead of trafficking victims. Authorities reported that foreign trafficking victims were eligible for either temporary or permanent residency on a case-by-case basis, but did not report granting any foreign victims residency in 2013.
The Salvadoran government maintained weak prevention efforts. The government anti-trafficking council coordinated interagency efforts and conducted several awareness events during an anti-trafficking day. The council lobbied for the draft anti-trafficking legislation introduced in 2012 to be passed and continued to implement the national trafficking policy, though government entities lacked funding to fulfill their responsibilities under this policy. With private sector funding, authorities participated in a joint awareness campaign at high-volume border crossings with other Central American countries. The government did not report identifying, investigating, or prosecuting any cases of child sex tourism during the year. Authorities did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor.