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 are exploited in sex trafficking within the country; LGBTI persons, especially transgender individuals, are at particular risk. Salvadoran adults and children are subjected to forced begging and forced labor in agriculture, domestic service, and the textile industry. 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. Traffickers use employment agencies and social media to lure victims with promises of lucrative employment; one organization noted traffickers are increasingly targeting regions of the country with high levels of violence and coercing victims and their families through threats of violence. 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 to or upon arrival in the country. Some Latin American migrants transit El Salvador to Guatemala and North America, where they are exploited in sex or labor trafficking. Corruption, particularly within 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 meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government continued to investigate and prosecute child sex trafficking crimes and provide services to some girl victims; however, it identified fewer victims, and services for adults, boys, and LGBTI victims were severely lacking. The government drafted a new national action plan to guide its anti-trafficking efforts from 2016-2019 and allocated $24,700 to its interagency anti-trafficking council. It developed an immediate response team to coordinate victim assistance and referral and formulated a protocol on the care of trafficking victims. The government did not investigate, and has never prosecuted, any labor trafficking cases. The government did not investigate public officials suspected of trafficking-related complicity or initiate prosecutions following investigations in previous years, undermining 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; implement procedures to proactively identify victims among vulnerable groups, including children apprehended for illicit gang-related activities, irregular migrants returning to El Salvador, and individuals in the sex trade; conduct thorough and transparent criminal investigations and prosecutions of alleged government complicity in trafficking offenses and convict and punish complicit officials; enforce laws punishing local labor brokers for illegal practices that facilitate trafficking, such as fraudulent recruitment or excessive fees for migration or job placement; increase training for public officials on victim identification and assistance, trafficking investigations, and provisions in the new law; amend the 2014 anti-trafficking law to include a definition of human trafficking consistent with international law; and strengthen anti-trafficking coordination between government entities and with civil society organizations, particularly outside the capital.
The government continued law enforcement efforts to combat child sex trafficking, but did not investigate any cases of forced labor or government complicity; 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 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. Although 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.
Similar to previous years, the government exclusively investigated and prosecuted sex trafficking crimes; several cases included women or male victims. In 2015, authorities investigated 43 sex trafficking cases and no cases of labor trafficking. Authorities prosecuted and convicted 19 sex traffickers in eight cases, an increase from seven sex traffickers prosecuted and convicted in 2014. Offenders convicted in 2015 received sentences ranging from four to eight years’ imprisonment. The government prosecuted all cases using its previous anti-trafficking law because the crimes occurred before the new law came into effect. Despite evidence of force or coercion used by gangs to compel children to engage in illicit activities, authorities did not investigate or prosecute any such crimes as human trafficking. Some officials, particularly judges, demonstrated a limited understanding of human trafficking, which impeded efforts to hold traffickers accountable. During the year, the government provided anti-trafficking training to 2,473 government employees, including police, prosecutors, judges, and labor inspectors. Authorities cooperated on trafficking investigations with officials from Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Mexico, and the United States. In 2015, the government developed a specialized 30-person anti-trafficking police unit, in compliance with the new anti-trafficking law.
Despite several reports and investigations initiated as early as 2009, in 2015 the government did not investigate, prosecute or convict any government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses. The government did not provide any updates on two investigations from previous years, one involving several officials for the alleged purchase of sex acts from trafficking victims and a second involving a public official suspected of sex trafficking. 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.
The government maintained efforts to assist girls subjected to sex trafficking but identified fewer victims, and services remained inadequate overall. Immigration officials continued efforts to identify possible trafficking victims in border regions; however, the government lacked formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, including individuals in commercial sex. In 2015, the government reported identifying 49 sex trafficking victims, a decrease from 87 victims identified in 2014. Those identified included 21 women, 24 girls, two men, and two boys; 45 were Salvadoran and four were from other Latin American countries. Authorities did not identify any forced labor victims, compared with three in 2014. The government did not provide statistics on the number of LGBTI victims identified, if any. An international organization reported assisting 159 victims, including 40 women, 98 girls, seven men, and 14 boys.
During the year, the government developed an immediate response team to coordinate victim assistance and referral and formulated a protocol on the care of trafficking victims. However, referral of victims to services remained uneven, and it was unclear how many victims received specialized services. The government offered no specialized services or shelter to boys, adults, or LGBTI victims, although NGOs and officials reported these populations needed shelter, rehabilitation, and mental health services. The government shelter for girls subjected to sex trafficking offered psychological and medical care to an unknown number of victims in 2015; as of early 2015, it housed six victims. Throughout the investigation and intake process, 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. There were few long-term support or reintegration services available for victims, leaving them vulnerable to re-trafficking. Repatriated Salvadoran victims could be referred to services and the police to investigate their cases, but the government did not report doing so in 2015. Authorities made efforts to screen for trafficking indicators among Salvadorans returned from abroad; however, because returnees were often reluctant to communicate with officials about their experiences, many victims may have remained unidentified.
Although it reported using procedures to protect victims’ identities in court and passed legislation allowing for victims to provide testimony via teleconference, the government did not provide sufficient victim and witness protections to guard against reprisal from traffickers—a particular threat to those victimized by criminal groups. Judges in criminal courts could order civil compensation awards in trafficking cases; however, victims had to work through the civil courts to receive payment. In 2015, no convictions included such compensation, compared with three convictions that included compensation in 2014. 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. The 2014 trafficking law provides foreign trafficking victims the right to seek residency status, which would allow them to work legally, but no victims had received such benefits.
The government maintained modest prevention efforts. It expanded its anti-trafficking council to include more agencies, per provisions in the 2014 law. The council, which received a budget of $24,700, coordinated anti-trafficking activities and developed a national action plan for 2016-2019. However, government entities continued to lack adequate funding to fulfill their responsibilities and interagency cooperation remained weak. Government agencies partnered with NGOs to conduct campaigns using television, radio, and print media to warn the public against the dangers of trafficking, but these public messages typically focused only on the trafficking of women and girls. An international organization reported that the government formed a sub-commission to address migration policies that could facilitate forced labor, but this body did not report any related outcomes during the year. The government did not punish labor recruiters for illegal practices that contribute to trafficking or enforce labor migration policies that could decrease migrants’ vulnerability to exploitation abroad. 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.