The government decreased law enforcement efforts. Articles 91 and 92 of the 2014 Criminal Code (COIP) criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties ranging from 13 to 16 years’ imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law did not establish the use of force, fraud, or coercion as essential elements of an adult trafficking offense. Article 91 defined trafficking broadly to include all labor exploitation, child pornography, child labor, illegal adoption, servile marriage, and the sale of tissues, fluids, and genetic materials of living persons. Observers indicated that the absence of comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation remained one of the biggest challenges in the fight against trafficking since the COIP did not stipulate protection mechanisms for victims or establish guidelines for preventive measures.
Although the law defined trafficking more broadly than the definition under international law, the government-reported data for 2018 included details that identified which cases met the international definition of sex and labor trafficking; data on 2017 cases continued to include crimes outside the international definition, making it difficult to compare efforts. The Directorate for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons and Migrant Smuggling reported the government initiated 139 investigations into alleged trafficking cases in 2018 (compared with 171 in 2017). The government arrested 18 suspected traffickers and conducted 13 anti-trafficking operations (compared with conducting 23 operations and arresting 44 suspected traffickers in 2017). Authorities prosecuted 24 cases (61 prosecutions in 2017), 22 for sex trafficking and two for forced labor, and convicted 19 traffickers (31 in 2017), 18 for sex trafficking and one for forced labor. Sentences for traffickers ranged from four to 25 years’ imprisonment.
The Anti-Trafficking Unit (ATU), under the command of the National Police Unit for Crimes against Children and Adolescents (DINAPEN), was the primary law enforcement unit responsible for investigating trafficking cases. Officials from the ATU received extensive training on victim-centered investigative techniques, but remained critically understaffed and under-resourced. The ATU had 10 officers and frequent rotation of staff for mandatory police training reduced the number of active staff to six officers for most of the year. Although ATU officials received mandatory annual training on trafficking and officers applied a victim-centered approach to investigations, observers reported some officials outside of the ATU did not handle anti-trafficking operations with a victim-centered approach. The Specialized Prosecutor’s Office in Transnational and International Organized Crime (FEDOTI) had prosecutorial responsibility for trafficking cases at the national level; however, due to its broad mandate, the majority of its work focused on the prosecution of non-trafficking crimes. Authorities recognized that sex trafficking was most prevalent in coastal provinces; however, government efforts to prosecute, protect, and prevent trafficking in major port cities like Guayaquil were deficient.
The government provided in-kind support to an international organization to train migration officials and first responders on trafficking indicators, mostly as a response to a mass influx of Venezuelan refugees and migrants. The Ministry of Labor (MOL) did not train labor inspectors on trafficking indicators, and the agency’s mandate did not include investigations of accusations of abuse in informal sectors. NGOs and some government officials expressed concern the MOL did not make sufficient efforts to investigate labor trafficking crimes. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting any new cases of official complicity; however, most complicity cases from previous years remained open, including the case involving officials in Guayaquil who allegedly issued fraudulent identity documents to adolescent girls later trafficked in commercial sex. Together with Colombia, the government offered a workshop for officials on victim identification, differentiating between trafficking and other crimes, and techniques for interviewing potential victims.