EL SALVADOR: Tier 2
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, including LGBT persons, are exploited in sex trafficking within the country. 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—are subjected to sex trafficking, domestic servitude, or forced labor in construction or the informal sector. Gangs subject children to forced labor in illicit activities, including selling or transporting drugs. Salvadoran men, women, and children are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, and the United States. Media and government officials report organized criminal groups, including transnational criminal organizations, are involved in trafficking crimes. Some Salvadorans who irregularly migrate to the United States are subjected to forced labor, forced criminal activity, or sex trafficking en route or upon arrival. Some Latin American migrants transiting El Salvador en route to Guatemala and North America are subsequently exploited in sex or labor trafficking. Corruption, particularly among the judiciary, remained a significant obstacle to law enforcement efforts. In 2014, media reported several public officials—including legislators, political party officials, and a mayor—purchased commercial sex acts from trafficking victims. Prison guards and justice officials have been investigated for trafficking-related complicity.
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 crimes and provide services to some girls subjected to sex trafficking. The government enacted new legislation that increased penalties for human trafficking offenses and codified an institutional framework for addressing these crimes; however, its definition of human trafficking is inconsistent with international law. Victim services for adults, boys, and LGBT victims were inadequate. Efforts to investigate labor crimes remained weak. The government’s failure to conduct a thorough, transparent investigation into allegations that government officials facilitated trafficking in 2014, or to initiate prosecutions following such investigations in previous years, undermined overall efforts to combat trafficking.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR EL SALVADOR:
Provide comprehensive protection services for all trafficking victims, including adults and boys, and increase funding for specialized services; strengthen efforts to proactively investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and to convict and sentence traffickers, especially for forced labor; conduct thorough and transparent criminal investigations and prosecutions of alleged government complicity in trafficking offenses and convict and sentence complicit officials; amend the 2014 anti-trafficking law to include a definition of human trafficking consistent with international law; implement procedures for the proactive identification of victims among vulnerable groups, including children apprehended for illicit gang-related activities and irregular migrants returning to El Salvador; enforce laws punishing local brokers for illegal practices that facilitate trafficking, such as fraudulent recruitment or excessive fees for migration or job placement; continue and increase training for public officials on victim identification and assistance; and strengthen anti-trafficking coordination between different government entities and with civil society organizations, particularly outside the capital.
The government continued law enforcement efforts to combat child sex trafficking, but made inadequate efforts to address forced labor; authorities have never prosecuted a labor trafficker. In October 2014, the legislature passed the Special Law Against Trafficking in Persons, which took effect in January 2015. This law replaced Article 367B of the penal code and increased prescribed penalties for human trafficking crimes from four to eight years’ imprisonment to 10 to 14 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. Though it prohibits all forms of human trafficking, the law includes a definition of trafficking that is inconsistent with international law, as it treats force, fraud, and coercion as aggravating factors, rather than essential elements of most trafficking crimes. The government used Article 367B of the penal code to prosecute all cases in 2014. Despite evidence of force or coercion used by gangs to compel children to engage in illicit activities, authorities failed to investigate or prosecute any such crimes as human trafficking.
Data collection remained a challenge. The government almost exclusively investigated and prosecuted child sex trafficking crimes. In 2014, officials opened 53 investigations, but did not report how many, if any, involved labor trafficking. Authorities prosecuted and convicted seven sex traffickers, a decrease from at least 14 suspects prosecuted and 12 offenders convicted in 2013. Offenders convicted in 2014 received sentences ranging from eight to 63 years’ imprisonment. Some officials, particularly judges, demonstrated a limited understanding of human trafficking, which impeded efforts to hold traffickers accountable. During the year, the government provided several trainings to police, prosecutors, and judges on investigating trafficking crimes, assisting victims, and ensuring their access to justice. Salvadoran officials provided training to Panamanian officials on strengthening anti-trafficking responses. Authorities cooperated on trafficking investigations with officials from INTERPOL, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and the United States.
There were media reports that several officials purchased commercial sex acts from trafficking victims. The government opened an investigation into the case, but closed it to public inquiry. Without additional transparency, the thoroughness of the investigation cannot be determined. The government reported investigating one suspected case of sex trafficking by a public official, but did not provide details. It did not report any developments in a 2012 case of three prison guards arrested for facilitating sex trafficking or a 2009 investigation of trafficking-related complicity by the former head of the prosecutorial anti-trafficking unit. Despite several reports and investigations initiated in previous reporting periods, in 2014, the government did not prosecute or convict any government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses.
The government maintained efforts to assist female child sex trafficking victims, but services remained inadequate overall. Immigration officials continued efforts to identify possible trafficking victims in border regions; however, the government did not typically employ procedures to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as adults in prostitution or migrant workers. In 2014, the government reported identifying 87 victims compared with 84 victims identified in 2013. Those identified included 76 female victims and 11 male victims; 68 victims were children and nine were adults, while the ages of 10 were unknown. Three were victims of forced labor and 10 were non-Salvadoran, all from neighboring countries. The government did not provide statistics on the number of LGBT victims, if any, identified.
Victim referral to services remained uneven, and it was unclear how many victims received specialized services. For example, the government offered no specialized services or shelter to boys, adults, or LGBT victims, and NGOs and officials reported a particular need for shelter, rehabilitation, and mental health services for these populations. The government shelter for female child sex trafficking victims offered psychological and medical care to an unknown number of victims in 2014; as of early 2015, the shelter housed 13 victims—the maximum it could accommodate. Residents of the shelter were required to recount their trafficking experience multiple times to various government entities, highlighting a lack of interagency coordination and leading to re-victimization. Repatriated Salvadoran victims could be referred to services and the police. Authorities made efforts to screen for trafficking indicators among the Salvadorans returned from abroad; however, returnees were often reluctant to communicate with officials about their experiences, and therefore, many victims may have remained unidentified.
Although it reported using procedures to protect victims’ identities in court, the government did not provide further witness protection to guard against reprisal from traffickers. In 2014, three convictions included civil compensation awards ranging from $300 to $15,000; however, victims had to work through the civil courts to receive payment, and it is unknown if they received any compensation. Identified trafficking victims generally were not charged, jailed, or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. However, due to the lack of a formal mechanism to screen vulnerable populations, some unidentified victims may have been punished for such crimes. Furthermore, civil society organizations reported the government treated as criminals children forced to engage in illicit activity by criminal groups—rather than providing them protection as trafficking victims. There were no formal policies for providing alternatives to removal for foreign trafficking victims who may face hardship or retribution in their home countries.
The government maintained modest prevention efforts. The newly enacted law includes provisions to strengthen the anti-trafficking council and calls for the development of a national action plan. During the year, the council coordinated interagency efforts and continued to implement its existing national policy on trafficking, though government entities lacked adequate funding to fulfill their responsibilities and interagency cooperation remained weak. Government agencies used television, radio, and print media to warn the public against the dangers of trafficking, though these public messages typically focused only on the trafficking of women and girls. The government did not punish labor recruiters for illegal practices that contribute to trafficking or to enforce labor migration policies that could decrease migrants’ vulnerability to exploitation abroad. With funding from a foreign donor, the government conducted training on the prevention of child sex tourism for businesses in the tourism sector. It did not report identifying, investigating, or prosecuting any cases of child sex tourism during the year. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. Authorities did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor.