[ Country-by-Country Reports ]

EL SALVADOR (TIER 2)   [Extracted from U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2009]

El Salvador is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. Most victims are Salvadoran women and girls trafficked within the country from rural to urban areas for commercial sexual exploitation, although some adults and children are trafficked internally for forced agricultural labor. The majority of foreign victims are women and children from Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and Colombia who travel to El Salvador in response to job offers, but are subsequently forced into prostitution or domestic servitude. Some adults and children from neighboring countries are subject to forced labor in agriculture and apparel assembly. Salvadorans have been trafficked to Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, the United States, Spain, and Italy, for commercial sexual exploitation.

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. During the reporting period, the government sustained strong anti-trafficking prosecution, protection, and prevention activities, though it neglected to take adequate measures to protect adult trafficking victims and to confront trafficking-related corruption.

Recommendations for El Salvador: Continue to strengthen law enforcement efforts against trafficking offenders; investigate and prosecute, as appropriate, reports of forced labor and domestic servitude, as well as allegations relating to public officials who may be involved with trafficking activity; increase use of pro-active law enforcement techniques such as brothel raids to rescue victims; increase victim services and assistance, particularly for adults; and strengthen statutory penalties for trafficking-in-persons crimes.

The Government of El Salvador sustained solid law enforcement efforts against trafficking offenders during the reporting period. Article 367B of the Salvadoran Penal Code prohibits all forms of human trafficking and prescribes penalties of four to eight years’ imprisonment. Sentences may be increased by one-third when the offense is accompanied by aggravated circumstances, such as when the victim is a child or the defendant is a public official. Such penalties are sufficiently stringent but do not appear commensurate with penalties prescribed for serious offenses such as rape, which carries a punishment of six to 20 years’ imprisonment. Since passage of El Salvador’s anti-trafficking statute in 2004, some prosecutors have elected to charge trafficking-related crimes under the country’s rape statute in order to secure heavier mandatory sentences against offenders. In 2008, the government’s dedicated anti-trafficking police and prosecutorial units brought charges in 15 cases of human trafficking, obtaining 8 convictions with sentences ranging from four to 10 years’ imprisonment. Such results compare with 46 prosecutions and five convictions secured in 2007. The majority of the government’s law enforcement efforts focused on trafficking for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation, though a smaller number of cases related to forced labor. During the reporting period, police conducted undercover trafficking investigations and acted on trafficking-related tips to execute raids on brothels and commercial sex sites. The government also cooperated with neighboring foreign governments on anti-trafficking investigations. Despite credible reports of public officials involved with trafficking activity, particularly in the department of Chalatenango, no investigations or prosecutions of such officials were opened during the reporting period.

The Salvadoran government increased victim assistance last year. With U.S. and international assistance, the government re-opened a dedicated shelter for trafficking victims in January 2008. The shelter houses approximately 20 child trafficking victims. The country’s federal agency for children and adolescents, ISNA, also operated a national network of 11 shelters to provide secure housing, 24-hour medical attention, psychological counseling, and vocational workshops to victims of abuse, including trafficking victims. However, most government assistance and services were directed to child trafficking victims, and were not readily accessible to adult or male trafficking victims. NGOs noted that government support services typically cease once a victim leaves shelter care, and that trafficking victims could benefit from greater reintegration assistance. The government trained personnel, including consular officers, on identifying trafficking victims abroad; consular officials identified four trafficking victims during the reporting period. Domestically, Salvadoran authorities encouraged victims to assist with law enforcement efforts; 57 victims participated in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers during the reporting period, though others did not do so due to social stigma or fear of reprisals from their traffickers. Victims generally are not charged, jailed, or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. The government does not provide a formal legal alternative to deportation to a country where a trafficking victim may face hardship or retribution, though law enforcement and social service officials may request residency status for a victim on a case-by-case basis.

The Salvadoran government sustained anti-trafficking prevention efforts during the reporting period. The government ran information and education campaigns, and operated an anti-trafficking hotline. During the reporting period, the government trained more than 5,000 officials across the country on preventing human trafficking. Border agents received training to detect trafficking activity and irregular migration patterns, and referred identified trafficking cases for further police investigation. Salvadoran troops assigned to peacekeeping operations receive anti-trafficking training before deployment. No specific government efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor were reported over the last year.