ECUADOR (Tier 2 Watch List)

Ecuador is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. The majority of trafficking victims are believed to be women and children recruited within the country from border and central highland areas and moved to urban centers where they are exploited for sex trafficking, as well as for domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced labor in mines and other hazardous work. Indigenous Ecuadorians are vulnerable to forced labor. Some families reportedly allowed traffickers temporarily to take their children in order to earn money either within the country and or in neighboring countries; these children are forced to work as domestic servants, street vendors, and beggars. There also have been reports of Ecuadorian children being forced to engage in criminal activity, such as drug trafficking and robbery, and Ecuadorian children have been recruited by armed groups along the northern border with Colombia. Ecuadorian children were identified in situations of forced labor in Brazil and Venezuela during the year. Ecuadorian women are subjected to forced prostitution in Colombia, Peru, and Spain. Ecuador is a destination for Colombian and Peruvian women and girls exploited in sex trafficking. Colombian refugees and migrants are subjected to forced labor in palm oil plantations. There were limited reports of child sex tourism involving Ecuadorian citizens visiting tourist destinations, such as Tena and the Galapagos Islands.

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. During the year authorities increased efforts to investigate trafficking offenses by establishing a dedicated anti-trafficking police unit, and supplemented the number of centers providing general assistance to at-risk youth, including trafficking victims. However, the government did not convict any trafficking offenders during the year, official complicity continued to be a significant and largely unaddressed problem, and victim services remained minimal in many parts of the country; therefore, Ecuador is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year.

Recommendations for Ecuador: Match the increased effort to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses with an effort to convict and punish trafficking offenders, including public officials complicit in trafficking crimes; develop and implement formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as those in prostitution or among child and migrant workers; increase funding for specialized care services for trafficking victims, including for adults; increase anti-trafficking training for local police officers, judges, labor inspectors, immigration officials, social service workers, and other government officials; provide foreign victims with formal legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face hardship or retribution; enhance data collection and coordination; and increase public awareness of all forms of human trafficking.


The government made uneven progress in its law enforcement efforts against trafficking in persons crimes last year. Ecuador prohibits all forms of human trafficking in Article 190 of its penal code, amended in 2005, which prescribes punishments of six to nine years' imprisonment for labor trafficking offenses, and eight to 12 years' imprisonment for sex trafficking offenses. Such penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Other statutes, including those prohibiting various forms of sexual exploitation, also are used to prosecute human trafficking crimes.

In July 2011, the government established an anti-trafficking police unit with a staff of 14 in Quito to improve efforts to identify and investigate trafficking cases. During the previous year, the police unit responsible for investigating all crimes against children had been responsible for trafficking cases but was unable to report how many were investigated. The organized crime prosecutorial unit continued to handle trafficking cases with insufficient resources to deal with a large caseload. Data collection on trafficking crimes remained uneven.

The new police unit reported initiating 49 trafficking investigations between June and December 2011, with a significant number of cases involving forced labor. Authorities reported that all of these investigations led to prosecutions, due to a new policy of police and prosecutors working closely during the investigative stage. However, the government did not report any convictions for human trafficking in 2011; while authorities achieved convictions under statutes prohibiting various sexual crimes, there was no disaggregated data available to confirm whether any of these convictions were for human trafficking crimes. In comparison, officials reported convicting three sex trafficking offenders in 2010.

Some judges demonstrated a lack of knowledge about trafficking: one judge dismissed a child sex trafficking case because prostitution is legal over the age of 18, while another dismissed a domestic servitude case on the grounds that the accused were helping the victim by providing food and shelter. Other judges reduced charges of trafficking to charges of pimping or disappearance, crimes that carry shorter sentences. Civil society organizations and some officials noted that corruption impeded investigation and prosecution efforts. According to NGOs, police officers were partners in brothels that employed women and girls with false documentation, civil registry officials issued false identity documents to children, and police threatened Colombian women with deportation in order to obtain sexual favors. Some corrupt officials allegedly informed traffickers prior to law enforcement operations. Despite these reports of trafficking-related corruption, no prosecutions or convictions of complicit officials took place last year, although one local government official reportedly was under investigation for trafficking offenses. The specialized police unit trained several thousand police officers in seven cities, and officials attended other training sessions provided by international organizations. Ecuadorian officials partnered with Venezuelan, Brazilian, and Colombian authorities to investigate several international labor trafficking cases.


The Ecuadorian government sustained limited protections for victims of trafficking throughout the year. Authorities reported continued efforts to remove children from commercial sexual exploitation but did not have systematically applied procedures to identify adult victims among vulnerable populations, such as women in brothels. Authorities referred victims to services through the National Institute for Children and Families, although NGOs noted that sometimes cases were not properly referred. There was no reliable estimate of the total number of trafficking victims identified during the reporting period, although one NGO reported assisting more than 79 child sex trafficking victims at its shelter, and the dedicated police unit reported rescuing 12 victims – four were victims of sex trafficking, while the rest were victims of forced labor, and seven were children.

One NGO maintained a dedicated shelter capable of caring for 25 girl sex trafficking victims at a time, and was almost always at capacity. There were few specialized services and no specialized shelters for adult trafficking victims or for boys. Authorities reported that child victims could receive general care services through a network of government-run at-risk youth protection centers that expanded from 43 to 86 over the last year. However, there were no data on how many child trafficking victims were helped at these centers, nor were all of these centers able to provide adequate services or protection for trafficking victims. The government provided limited funds to other general-purpose shelters operated by civil society organizations. In addition to these short-term services, the government reported providing victims with counseling, protection, job training, and educational training but did not report how many victims received these services during the year.

The government encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, and at least one victim did so during the year. The government maintained and funded a victim and witness protection program, although this program had insufficient resources for adult victims. Many victims chose not to participate in investigations due to inadequate protection or lack of faith in the justice system. Authorities did not penalize identified trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked. The Ecuadorian government did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they faced hardship or retribution, although it often allowed identified foreign victims to remain in the country temporarily. In the past, however, there were reports that some foreign victims were not identified and were deported instead of receiving care services. The government reportedly provided victim services to repatriated Ecuadorian trafficking victims.


The Government of Ecuador maintained trafficking prevention efforts last year. The interagency anti-trafficking working group reportedly began meeting on a biweekly basis in late 2011, and the Ministry of the Interior created an anti-trafficking sub-directorate to coordinate government anti-trafficking efforts. A draft national anti-trafficking plan, which included a budget and sought to address challenges such as poor data collection mechanisms and limited funding, was discarded, and officials reported using the 2006 anti-trafficking plan. The Ministry of Tourism continued an awareness campaign aimed at preventing sexual exploitation of children in tourist areas. Local authorities worked with an international organization and with NGOs to conduct awareness and prevention activities in their localities. The government continued to fund a campaign to prevent seasonal begging, a practice that sometimes involves forced child labor. Most awareness efforts focused on child sexual exploitation or child labor. The government did not report steps to reduce demand for commercial sex acts purchased from adults or forced labor during the reporting period.


This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.