Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 May 2023, 15:20 GMT

2018 Trafficking in Persons Report - El Salvador

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 28 June 2018
Cite as United States Department of State, 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report - El Salvador, 28 June 2018, available at: [accessed 18 May 2023]
DisclaimerThis 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.


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 demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous period; therefore El Salvador remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by investigating and prosecuting more trafficking cases, including forced labor; opening new offices to provide victim services, and providing services to some girl victims; and adopting and launching the UN Office on Drugs and Crime "Blue Heart" Campaign as part of its awareness-raising efforts. The government did not, however, meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not report progress in investigations of official complicity initiated in previous years, constraining overall efforts to combat trafficking. The government lacked formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, including individuals engaged in commercial sex. Services for adults, boys, and LGBTI victims were severely lacking.


Conduct thorough criminal investigations and prosecutions of alleged government complicity in trafficking offenses and convict and punish complicit officials; provide adequate funding for and implement the "Protocol for Intergovernmental Action for the Integral Care of Trafficking in Persons Victims," paying particular attention to areas where gaps in current assistance exist – adults, boys, and LGBTI victims; 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 commercial sex; strengthen efforts to proactively investigate and prosecute traffickers, and to convict and sentence traffickers, especially for forced labor, including forced criminal activity; enforce laws punishing local labor brokers for illegal practices that facilitate trafficking, such as fraudulent recruitment or excessive fees for migration or job placement; amend the 2014 anti-trafficking law to include a definition of human trafficking consistent with international law; strengthen anti-trafficking coordination between government entities and with civil society organizations, particularly outside the capital; and fully implement prevention measures such as the "Blue Heart" Campaign.


The government increased law enforcement efforts. The 2014 Special Law Against Trafficking in Persons criminalized sex and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of 10 to 14 years imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law considered the use of force, fraud, and coercion as aggravating factors rather than essential elements of the crime; the penalties increased to 16-20 years imprisonment for trafficking offenses involving these factors.

The government investigated and prosecuted both sex trafficking and forced labor. In 2017, authorities investigated 76 cases (73 sex trafficking cases, two forced labor cases, and one domestic servitude case), compared to 55 sex trafficking cases in 2016. Authorities prosecuted nine cases and convicted six sex traffickers in 2016, compared to seven prosecutions and six sex traffickers convicted in 2016. Offenders convicted in 2017 received sentences ranging from 10 to 14 years imprisonment. Notably in 2017, authorities investigated and prosecuted a case of a gang member compelling women and children to engage in forced labor and sexual servitude. The judicial system's inexperience with trafficking cases, overreliance on victim testimony, and threats of reprisal from traffickers impeded efforts to hold traffickers accountable. During the year, the government provided anti-trafficking training to approximately 800 government employees, including police, prosecutors, judges, labor inspectors, immigration officials, physicians, nurses, students, and teachers. The Specialized Human Trafficking and Related Crimes unit of the National Civil Police comprised nine persons focused on trafficking and 23 persons focused on migrant smuggling, sexual crimes, and special or international investigations. The Attorney General's anti-trafficking unit comprised 16 persons, including nine prosecutors. Government officials reported a need to increase staffing and funding, both of which limited their ability to investigate and prosecute cases.

The government reported that in a 2012 case of three prison guards arrested for facilitating sex trafficking, the anti-trafficking unit was unable to locate additional victims to strengthen its case. Regarding a 2009 investigation of trafficking-related complicity by the former head of the prosecutorial anti-trafficking unit, the Attorney General's office reported it made efforts to locate the alleged victims; the investigation remained open at the close of the reporting period.


The government maintained victim protection efforts. The anti-trafficking council provided a manual to immigration officials 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 2017, the government reported identifying 72 victims – 67 sex trafficking victims (64 of sexual exploitation and three of forced marriage) and five labor trafficking victims (four victims of forced labor and one victim of servitude) – an increase from 53 in 2016. Those identified included 29 women and 38 girls; 67 were Salvadoran and five were from other Latin American countries. Officials observed a gap between knowledge of victim identification procedures and the application of those procedures by first responders.

The anti-trafficking council revised the "Protocol for Intergovernmental Action for the Integral Care of Trafficking in Persons Victims" required by the national action plan for 2016-2019. The anti-trafficking council also opened 19 offices to provide information and referrals to victims in 15 municipalities across the country. The Ministry of Justice and Public Security's budget for the victims' attention and gender equality area in FY 2017 was $274,920 while the anti-trafficking council received a separate budget of $62,108. The government maintained only a single shelter with the capacity for 20-25 girls and housed and offered psychological and medical care to 12 girls in 2017 compared to 15 in 2016. The government did not offer or fund services to the remaining 60 identified victims, rather these victims were assisted by NGOs and churches. 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 provided shelter in a Migrant Attention Center to four adult male Colombian victims identified by immigration officials, but 15 Colombian adult female victims did not receive services. Throughout the investigation and intake process, residents of the center were required to recount their trafficking experience multiple times to various government entities, highlighting a lack of interagency coordination and leading to re-traumatization. Authorities made efforts to screen for trafficking indicators among Salvadorans returned from abroad and repatriated Salvadoran victims could be referred for food and medical attention and the police to investigate their cases, but the government did not report doing so in 2017. The government offered few long-term support or reintegration services to victims, leaving them vulnerable to re-trafficking.

El Salvador's laws provided for restitution and civil compensation awards in trafficking cases; however, victims had to work through the civil courts to receive payment. In 2017, the courts issued no judgements that included restitution or civil compensation. The government reported having procedures to provide witness protection and support, including disguising victims' identities in court and testifying by teleconference, but did not report using these procedures. Identified trafficking victims generally were not penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; however, both government officials and NGO representatives stated police need additional procedures and training to properly identify, interact with, and protect victims, who were often mistaken for criminals and 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 provided foreign trafficking victims the right to seek residency status, which would allow them to work legally, and such protection was offered to four foreign victims in 2017, who ultimately requested to be repatriated to their country of origin.


The government maintained prevention efforts. The government promulgated regulations to further implement the 2014 law, specifically, to facilitate investigations of forced child labor cases and improve coordination between law enforcement and prosecutors. The 2014 law mandated an annual report on government efforts, and the anti-trafficking council provided a report of 2016 efforts, but had not yet provided a report of 2017 efforts. The government, with support from the United States government, launched the UN Office on Drugs and Crime "Blue Heart" Campaign in November 2017, which included billboards and broadcast media. The National Civil Police established a 24-hour crime-reporting hotline distinct from the 911 emergency hotline, but did not report the number of calls received, trafficking victims identified, or trafficking investigations resulting from such calls. An international organization reported the government formed a sub-commission to address migration policies that could facilitate forced labor, but this body did not release its report before the end of the reporting period. Labor inspectors conducted 698 inspections, but did not identify any cases of forced labor for the second year in a row. The National Civil Police conducted searches at strip clubs and bars for potential sex trafficking and child labor, but did not report identifying any cases. 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. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel and troops prior to their deployment abroad as part of international peacekeeping missions. Authorities did not report any specific efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor, but did report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Authorities investigated and prosecuted four individuals who patronized a minor sex trafficking victim for commercial sex acts; however, the court acquitted these individuals, which is under review by the Attorney General. The tourism ministry trained tour guides, businesses, and students in a popular tourist destination to prevent and report trafficking crimes.


As reported over the past five years, 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. Men, women, and children from neighboring countries – particularly Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras – are subjected to sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced labor in construction or the informal sector. Traffickers are increasingly recruiting victims in the regions of the country with high levels of violence and coercing victims and their families through threats of violence. Gangs actively recruit, train, arm, and subject children to forced labor in illicit activities – including assassinations, extortion, and drug trafficking – and force women and children to provide sexual services and childcare for gang members' children. Salvadoran men, women, and children are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, and the United States. Salvadorans who irregularly migrate to the United States are subjected to forced labor, forced criminal activity, and sex trafficking en route to or upon arrival. Latin American migrants who transit El Salvador to Guatemala and North America are exploited in sex and labor trafficking. Corruption and complicity, including within the judiciary, legislature, and local government, remained a significant obstacle to law enforcement efforts.

Search Refworld