ECUADOR: Tier 2
Ecuador is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Ecuadorian men, women, and children are exploited in sex trafficking and forced labor within the country, including in domestic servitude, forced begging, on banana and palm plantations, in floriculture, shrimp farming, sweatshops, street vending, mining, and in other areas of the informal economy. Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorians, as well as Colombian refugees and migrants, are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. Women, children, refugees, and migrants continued to be the most vulnerable to sex trafficking, but NGOs reported an increase in LGBTI individuals vulnerable to or victims of sex trafficking. Nationals of Cuba, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad, China, Pakistan, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti, initially lured by smugglers promising a better life, have documents confiscated, debts imposed, and are threatened or forced into prostitution. Ecuador is also a destination for Colombian, Peruvian, Dominican, Venezuelan, Mexican, Haitian, Paraguayan, and Cuban women and girls exploited in sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced begging. Local officials reported Haitians migrated through Brazil into Ecuador to seek jobs on banana plantations, where they are vulnerable to forced labor. Traffickers used Ecuador as a transit route for trafficking victims from Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Sex traffickers use emotional relationships and job offers to recruit victims and prey on vulnerabilities such as prior domestic and sexual violence.
Traffickers recruit children from impoverished indigenous families under false promises of employment and subject them to forced labor in begging, domestic servitude, in sweatshops, or as street and commercial vendors in Ecuador or in other South American countries. Authorities report an increase in 2015 of Ecuadorian children being subjected to forced labor in criminal activity, such as drug trafficking and robbery. Traffickers threaten these children's families; a clergyman working to protect such children was murdered during the reporting period. Ecuadorian women and children are exploited in forced labor and sex trafficking abroad, including in other South American countries, the United States, and Europe. Some Ecuadorian trafficking victims were initially smuggled and later exploited in prostitution or forced labor in third countries, including forced criminality in the drug trade. An illegal armed group reportedly attempted to recruit Ecuadorian children along the northern border with Colombia. Allegedly corrupt Ecuadorian officials have alerted traffickers prior to some law enforcement operations, and some local authorities assisted traffickers to get falsified identity documents, which resulted in victims' lack of confidence in the police and a reluctance to report potential cases.
The Government of Ecuador does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Authorities maintained law enforcement efforts with a steady number of investigations initiated, decreased prosecutions, and increased convictions during the reporting period. The government continued to provide funding for food and emergency services for trafficking victims and shelters for girl victims. Specialized services for victims were unavailable in most of the country. The government identified more potential victims than in 2014, but significantly fewer than in 2013. Official complicity in trafficking remained a challenge. Authorities did not finalize a new anti-trafficking plan, and government agencies lacked adequate resources to implement anti-trafficking efforts.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ECUADOR:
Finalize, resource, and implement a national anti-trafficking action plan that appropriately defines roles and responsibilities across government agencies and facilitates effective interagency coordination; strengthen the provision of specialized services for trafficking victims, including for adults, in partnership with civil society organizations, and increase funding for services; increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, particularly for cases involving adult trafficking victims; hold criminally accountable public officials complicit in trafficking; amend anti-trafficking statutes for consistency with the international definition of trafficking; fully implement the national protocol for protection and assistance to trafficking victims, including identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as individuals in prostitution or child and migrant workers; increase anti-trafficking training for police officers, judges, labor inspectors, immigration officials, social workers, and other government officials, particularly to enhance victim identification; issue and implement guidelines to ensure officials consistently offer foreign victims legal alternatives to removal; and enhance data collection and interagency coordination.
The government sustained law enforcement efforts. Article 91 of Ecuador's 2014 criminal code prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons and prescribes penalties ranging from 13 to 16 years' imprisonment or 16 years' to 26 years' imprisonment with certain aggravating circumstances. These penalties are sufficiently stringent, but not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, article 91 is overly broad in that it does not require the means of force, fraud, or coercion for sex trafficking of adults or for forced labor; and includes all labor exploitation, child labor, illegal adoption, servile marriage, and the sale of tissues, fluids, and genetic materials of living persons. The criminal code allows for additional law enforcement investigation techniques for human trafficking, such as undercover investigations and wiretapping; and penalizes those who contract with workers using knowingly fraudulent or deceptive offers with a penalty of 10 to 13 years' imprisonment.
The criminal code also separately penalizes sexual exploitation (article 100), forced prostitution (article 101), sexual tourism (article 102), and forced labor and other forms of exploitative labor (article 105), including all labor of children younger than 15 years of age. Penalties under articles 101 and 102 are 13 to 16 years' imprisonment, while penalties for forced labor under article 105 are 10 to 13 years' imprisonment – less than the penalties for forced labor under article 91. The definitions used in these laws to prohibit trafficking may cause confusion for officials charging and prosecuting such offenses and may hinder efforts to hold perpetrators accountable. The Children and Adolescents Code contains definitions of child sexual exploitation (article 69), child labor exploitation (article 81), and child smuggling (article 70); however, the latter conflates smuggling and trafficking, which may cause confusion for officials implementing this code. In particular, the definition of child sexual exploitation is not consistent with the definition of sexual exploitation in article 91.
Data collection on anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts was uneven. The anti-trafficking and human smuggling police unit investigated 52 trafficking cases in 2015 and reported conducting 10 anti-trafficking operations in 2015 compared with 19 in 2014, while police dealing with crimes against children investigated 49 cases of child sexual exploitation in 2015 compared with 84 in 2014. Prosecutors reportedly initiated prosecutions of 64 alleged traffickers in 2015 compared with 95 in 2014, and convicted 31 traffickers compared with 20 in 2014. The anti-trafficking and human smuggling police unit in Quito focused on cases involving adult victims, while police units for crimes against children investigated cases of child trafficking, sometimes in coordination with specialized anti-trafficking police. The national organized crime prosecutorial unit in Quito handled trafficking cases in partnership with local prosecutors across the country. Efforts by police and prosecutors were hampered by limited resources, limited presence in parts of the country, inadequate victim services, bureaucratic delays, and the frequent rotation of specialized police. Authorities previously initiated the prosecution of a police officer for sex trafficking, but reported no convictions of complicit officials in 2015. The government reported no progress on the 2013 prosecution of two active and two former police officers for their involvement in sex trafficking or on the 2012 investigation of a judge for trafficking-related complicity. Authorities arrested three civil registry officials for falsifying and altering documents used by international traffickers; their cases are pending. Authorities provided some anti-trafficking training to police, prosecutors, and other officials, but most specialized training was conducted by an international organization with foreign donor funding. Authorities provided mandatory training on trafficking as part of basic training for judicial police. The government undertook joint trafficking investigations with U.S., Colombian, and Peruvian officials.
The government sustained efforts to protect trafficking victims. The government used the "National Unified Protocol for Integral Protection and Assistance to Victims of Trafficking" to refer victims. In 2015, victims were regularly referred to one of five government ministries responsible for victim assistance and referral, as well as NGOs who worked with the government to provide shelter, protection, and assistance. The government identified and assisted 117 potential child trafficking victims – sexual exploitation (19), labor exploitation (87), and trafficking (11). NGOs identified and assisted an additional 63 potential trafficking victims, with approximately half of these victims being Ecuadorian and half foreign nationals; it is unclear how many were trafficking cases as defined in international law given the overlapping trafficking-related criminal offenses. Police reported challenges in finding shelter for trafficking victims, particularly in the provinces; as a result, police sometimes detained adult victims in local police stations and child victims in juvenile detention centers, or placed them in non-specialized shelters in contrast to Ecuadorian law, which provides that victims may not be punished for offenses directly resulting from being subjected to human trafficking.
The government partnered with NGOs to provide emergency services to trafficking victims, shelter, and legal, psychological, and educational support. NGOs reported a lack of specialized doctors and denial of medical services to undocumented individuals. The Specialized Victim Witness Protection Program (SPAVT) assisted 72 trafficking victims in 2015, compared with 66 victims and six dependents in 2014. NGOs reported victims often sought NGO or private legal assistance due to the public defender providing limited and poor quality legal assistance to victims. The government provided an unspecified amount of funding for shelters and services for trafficking victims; NGOs reported government funding decreased in 2015 compared to the year before. Male victims had limited options for services through care centers providing ambulatory services. Foreign victims were entitled by law to the same services as domestic victims, but in practice NGOs reported the government treated foreign victims as irregular migrants violating immigration law rather than as crime victims. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) reported it had mechanisms to repatriate trafficking and human smuggling victims and that Ecuadorian diplomatic and consular missions had funding to provide food, lodging, and airplane tickets to Ecuadorian victims seeking repatriation; however, the government did not use these mechanisms during the reporting period. During the reporting period, the government granted 42 victims up to 30 days of reflection to allow them to receive SPAVT protection while deciding whether to participate in the penal process against their traffickers. Trafficking victims did not have a means to seek restitution. Many victims chose not to participate in investigations due to fear of threats, inadequate protections in the witness protection program, or lack of faith in the judicial system. There were no specific legal alternatives for foreign victims facing removal to countries in which victims would face hardship or retribution. Authorities reported they could grant temporary or permanent residency to foreign victims, but did not report how many foreign victims received residency in 2015. NGOs reported some eligible victims were not granted residency, and some foreign victims with irregular migratory statuses had difficulties accessing government-provided services.
The government sustained prevention efforts. The MOI anti-trafficking sub-directorate coordinated anti-trafficking efforts, although civil society organizations continued to note a lack of coordination among government actors. The government did not finalize a new anti-trafficking action plan or provide adequate funding to conduct anti-trafficking efforts. National authorities conducted awareness campaigns reaching over 4,000 individuals and 1,450 officials. Two provincial and two municipal governments conducted awareness campaigns. The criminal code prohibits sex tourism, but there were no reports of investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of child sex tourists in 2015. In February 2015, a U.S. citizen received a U.S. prison sentence of almost five years, followed by 20 years of supervised release for attempting to facilitate child sex tourism in Ecuador. The government promulgated regulations for tourist accommodations granting authority to inspect such accommodations for potential trafficking cases, but did not report efforts targeting the demand for forced labor. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.