2023 Trafficking in Persons Report: Uruguay
URUGUAY (Tier 2)
The Government of Uruguay does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Uruguay remained on Tier 2. These efforts included identifying more victims, opening a new facility to support adult female trafficking victims, and hiring specialized labor inspectors to identify child labor violations, including forced child labor. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government investigated, prosecuted, and convicted slightly fewer traffickers. Officials did not identify any adult male trafficking victims. The government did not provide consistent access to shelters. Authorities lacked comprehensive SOPs for victim identification and referral that included adequate guidance for supporting male victims and labor trafficking victims.
- Provide adequate services and shelter for all victims, especially male victims and those outside the capital.
- Ensure SOPs for victim identification and referral include male victims and support the Ministry of Social Development (MIDES) in developing internal procedures to provide services to male trafficking victims.
- Train law enforcement officials, labor inspectors, coast guard officers, prosecutors, judges, and social workers to understand human trafficking and utilize the interagency mechanism for victim identification and referral.
- Operationalize a centralized database to systematically record official statistics on trafficking cases and victim identification.
- Establish SOPs to guide labor inspectors in identifying and referring potential labor trafficking victims, including through proactive screening for trafficking indicators.
- Adopt and fund a new NAP to combat human trafficking.
- Allocate a dedicated anti-trafficking budget and expand funding for victim services, including daytime, long-term, and reintegration services.
- Proactively screen foreign workers for trafficking indicators, including through inspections aboard foreign-flagged vessels in Uruguayan waters and docked at port.
- Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms.
- Consistently inform victims of their rights under the law, including to apply for permanent residence permits and compensation from their traffickers, and support those victims who wish to pursue these rights.
- Revise the definition of trafficking under Uruguayan law to align with the definition in the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The government decreased law enforcement efforts. Article 78 of the 2008 immigration law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking, prescribing penalties of four to 16 years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The penalties were increased by one-third to one-half if the trafficking offense involved a child victim. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under the international law definition, the law established the use of force, fraud, or coercion as an aggravating factor rather than as an essential element of the crime. Additionally, the government used Law 17.815, relating to sexual offenses against children and persons with disabilities, and Law 8.080, relating to procurement of commercial sex acts, to prosecute trafficking crimes during the reporting period. Article 4 and 5 of Law 17.815 criminalized the compensation or promise of compensation of a minor for sex acts and abetting the sexual exploitation of a minor; the law prescribed penalties of two to 12 years’ imprisonment for these crimes. Article 1 and 2 of Law 8.080 criminalized pimping offenses and prescribed penalties of two to eight years’ imprisonment; the penalties were increased to four to eight year’s imprisonment when the offense involved a child under the age of 14 or when the use of force, fraud, or coercion was involved.
The government reported partial law enforcement statistics representing 10 months of 2022, compared with the partial data available in 2021, which represented 11 months of that calendar year. In 2022, the government expanded its reporting to include prosecutions and convictions under related statutes as trafficking cases when the circumstances of the crime likely constituted trafficking under international law; in past years, the government used stricter criteria, and only assessed cases involving the trafficking statute. The government initiated 17 trafficking investigations through October 2022, compared with initiating 33 trafficking investigations through November 2021. The government prosecuted 20 alleged traffickers through October 2022; it charged two of these alleged traffickers with human trafficking, 14 with soliciting a child sex trafficking victim, three with contributing to the sexual exploitation of a child, and one with “pimping.” By comparison, the government prosecuted 23 alleged traffickers (nine for human trafficking and 14 for soliciting a child sex trafficking victim) between January and November 2021, and 50 alleged traffickers in 2020. The government did not report whether alleged traffickers charged under the anti-trafficking statute were accused of sex or labor trafficking. The government convicted 13 traffickers (11 for soliciting a child sex trafficking victim and two for contributing to the sexual exploitation of a child) through October 2022; compared with convicting 17 traffickers (four for human trafficking and 13 for soliciting a child sex trafficking victim) through November 2021; and five (four for human trafficking and one for soliciting a child sex trafficking victim) in 2020. The government did not report sentencing data for traffickers convicted in 2022 or 2021; in 2020, the last year for which data was available, judges sentenced convicted traffickers to between 17 months and six years’ imprisonment. In the past five years, the government reported prosecuting 30 alleged traffickers under the anti-trafficking statute, but convicted just 16 of these traffickers. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; it did not provide updates on prosecutions, initiated in 2021, involving three law enforcement officials for alleged trafficking crimes.
The Ministry of Interior’s organized crime division was the primary entity responsible for anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The Ministry of Labor (MTSS) directed most efforts related to labor trafficking; MTSS punished labor traffickers through administrative processes and referred labor trafficking cases to the national prosecutor’s office for criminal prosecution. The attorney general’s office in Montevideo directed its gender-based violence units to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of sex and labor trafficking crimes; in 2022, the attorney general’s office established a new GBV unit, increasing the number of these units from three to four. There were no specialized units outside of the capital. The national prosecutor’s office collected data on active cases, including trafficking cases, via the Accusatory Penal Process Information System (SIPPAU). However, the system did not compile key metrics, such as convicted traffickers’ sentences or whether authorities charged alleged traffickers with sex or labor trafficking; it remained difficult to analyze trends and obtain comprehensive data, especially on trafficking investigations, prosecutions, and convictions outside the capital region.
The government included trafficking-specific modules in standard GBV training and offered an optional online anti-trafficking training for law enforcement. Observers indicated law enforcement officials’ use of systematic procedures to proactively identify victims varied throughout the country. The government reported officials coordinated with international law enforcement on two anti-trafficking cases, which resulted in the arrest of several suspected traffickers and identification of at least 17 victims. The government reported lifting pandemic-related measures in April 2022; these measures did not impact efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers between January and April.
The government slightly increased protection efforts. The government reported identifying 406 trafficking victims (60 women and 346 children) in 2022, compared with identifying 357 trafficking victims (39 women and 318 children) in 2021. The government reported identifying both Uruguayan and foreign victims, including from Cuba, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Venezuela. The Ministry of Social Development (MIDES) and its subsidiaries were the principal providers of services for victims of all crimes, including trafficking victims; the National Institute for Women (Inmujeres) served adult female trafficking victims and the National Institute for Children and Adolescents (INAU) served child trafficking victims. While both institutions primarily catered to sex trafficking victims, in 2022, Inmujeres also reported assisting seven adult female labor trafficking victims. MTSS coordinated with the government’s other victim support entities when officials identified labor trafficking victims, although it did not have internal SOPs for responding to situations of labor trafficking; MTSS provided services for labor trafficking victims, including vocational training, ensured victims had accurate information on relevant labor regulations, and referred adult female victims of labor trafficking to Inmujeres. In 2022, MTSS coordinated with a civil society organization to provide support for at least three potential labor trafficking victims, all adult women. The National Prosecutor’s Victims and Witness Protection Unit provided additional assistance, such as counseling, to victims supporting law enforcement operations for the duration of those proceedings; in 2022, it reported working with dozens of victims. The government did not report identifying or assisting any adult male trafficking victims during the reporting period. Inmujeres assisted all 60 adult female trafficking victims, including seven victims of labor trafficking, in 2022, compared with assisting 140 victims in 2021 and 37 victims in 2020. INAU assisted all 346 child trafficking victims during the reporting period; INAU provided child victims care services through its residential programs, mobile units, and daytime care centers. INAU grouped child trafficking victims with child victims of sexual exploitation and did not disaggregate its demographic statistics; most of the victims of sexual exploitation INAU supported in 2022 were teenage girls. MIDES’s sociocultural promotion office was responsible for coordinating care for adult male trafficking victims; however, MIDES had not developed SOPs or designated staff to support male victims. MIDES reported assisting three LGBTQI+ trafficking victims, compared with assisting six LGBTQI+ trafficking victims in 2021.
The government had a variety of victim identification, referral, and assistance SOPs, including an Inter-Institutional Guide for Trafficking and Situations of Exploitation (IAG), which outlined procedures to identify and refer trafficking victims to services. These resources designated responsible agencies the care of male victims and labor trafficking victims, but they did not enumerate specific guidance for the proactive identification or provision of services to these victims and there were no agency-specific SOPs to fill this gap. The government launched an implementation plan for the IAG in 2022 and, under the plan, trained civil servants from various ministries in two of five regions on the use of the IAG. The government coordinated with civil society to provide trafficking victims with similar services to those available to victims of other crimes and vulnerable populations, such as individuals experiencing homelessness, refugees, and citizens receiving social support. These services included housing, vocational training, immediate response care, and counseling; however, the government lacked specialized services for trafficking victims and, in practice, provided services primarily to adult female sex trafficking victims. Civil society reported government-funded services focused mostly on psycho-social and legal assistance, while long-term services, such as housing, vocational support, and job placement, were insufficient. Inmujeres continued to coordinate with civil society to provide services for female sex trafficking victims at its specialized centers in Cerro Largo, Montevideo, and Tacuarembo and established a new center in Paysandu. INAU could provide some services for child sex trafficking victims at its center in Paysandu and it began soliciting bids for a civil society partner to implement a pilot program for INAU’s first overnight shelter for child victims of sexual exploitation, including trafficking. It coordinated with civil society to operate a mobile team of psychologists, social workers, and lawyers that responded to cases involving child victims across the country; in 2022, INAU reorganized the teams to have one member permanently based in each region. Although the government had some facilities that could temporarily house victims, it did not have dedicated shelters for trafficking victims. Government officials expressed concern that victims’ security would be at risk in a centrally located, trafficking-specific shelter, due to the country’s small size. The government instead lodged victims in hotels and occasionally referred them to shelters or group homes serving other populations, such as victims of domestic violence. Some civil society organizations expressed concerns about the suitability of these facilities, as they did not meet the needs of trafficking victims, and reported challenges finding shelter for trafficking victims, particularly for those identified outside the capital. Many non-specialized shelters were overnight-only facilities; observers identified a need for daytime facilities and programming. The government did not have specialized services designed to accommodate male, LGBTQI+, or labor trafficking victims. When officials identified such victims, the government could usually arrange ad hoc housing in hotels or non-specialized shelters designed to serve other vulnerable populations, such as individuals experiencing housing insecurity or recovering from addiction.
Inmujeres provided 16.28 million pesos ($407,510) to its NGO partners to fund service provision, compared with 14.32 million pesos ($358,448) in 2021. The government did not report allocating funding to cover short-term hotel stays for victims, compared with 304,500 pesos ($7,622) in 2020. The government did not report other budget allocations or funding for victim assistance. Uruguayan law required courts to order restitution upon a trafficker’s conviction; the government did not report any court-ordered restitution payments in 2022, compared with four payments in 2021. Separately, victims could file civil suit to seek compensation from their traffickers with support from public prosecutors, but the government did not report whether any victims did so in 2022. The law entitled foreign victims to work permits and permanent residency status, and to 180 days to decide whether to stay in the country, return to their country of origin, or resettle in a third country. However, the government did not report issuing residence permits to any foreign victims, and there was no record it had done so since the 2018 legislation establishing this entitlement. The government did not report training officials on victim assistance during the year.
The government maintained prevention efforts. The national anti-trafficking council, led by MIDES and composed of high-level government agencies and civil society participants, met twice in 2022; its technical sub-group met 10 times. The council was responsible for the implementation of recommendations from international organizations and institutional oversight on the implementation of Law 19.643 and the NAP. The council drafted, but did not adopt, a new plan to replace the expired 2018-2020 NAP. The council published a required annual evaluation, assessing government anti-trafficking efforts in the years 2020 and 2021. The government did not allocate funding for anti-trafficking efforts, and the trafficking council lacked an operational budget.
The government conducted activities to promote awareness of human trafficking in 2022, including by hosting awareness-raising workshops on trafficking risks for local officials. The government continued to distribute to the public informational and awareness-raising materials, including media guidance for accurately depicting trafficking cases, developed in previous reporting periods. The government did not report the funding expended to produce and distribute awareness materials, compared with 46,750 pesos ($1,170) in awareness-related expenditures in 2021. The government’s awareness-raising efforts primarily featured trafficking as a subtopic of wider programming on GBV and other crimes. The government operated telephone hotlines and a corresponding cellphone app where the public could report crimes. The government did not report how many calls involved trafficking cases. The Ministry of Labor reported its inspectors were equipped to identify labor trafficking indicators; these inspectors performed regular labor inspections, including in establishments known to facilitate commercial sex. Labor inspectors did not have agency-specific procedures to identify trafficking during inspections, although they used the interinstitutional identification and referral protocol. In 2022, INAU hired and deployed 13 new officials to specialize in identifying child labor violations during inspections. The government did not report efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Uruguay, and traffickers exploit victims from Uruguay abroad. Uruguayan women and girls – and, to a more limited extent, boys and transgender adults – are exploited in sex trafficking within the country. Traffickers force Uruguayan women and LGBTQI+ individuals into commercial sex in Argentina, Brazil, Italy, and Spain. Traffickers exploit women from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and to a lesser extent, South American countries, in sex trafficking in Uruguay. Many trafficking victims are South American women of African descent. Foreign workers, mainly from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Paraguay, are exploited in forced labor in construction, domestic service, cleaning services, elder care, wholesale stores, textile industries, agriculture, fishing, and lumber processing. Cuban nationals working in Uruguay may be forced to work by the Cuban government.
Traffickers exploit migrants in sex and labor trafficking in cities near Uruguay’s land borders; civil society reports suggest women from Cuba are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking in these border cities. Sex traffickers may move victims city-to-city to avoid detection and prolong exploitation. Foreign workers aboard foreign-flagged fishing vessels are subjected to abuses indicative of forced labor – including unpaid wages, confiscated identification documents, and physical abuse – and there are anecdotal reports of murder at sea. From 2018 to 2020, 17 crewmember deaths were associated with Taiwan-, PRC-, and other foreign-flagged fishing vessels docked at the Montevideo port and in Uruguay’s waters. PRC, Dominican, and other foreign citizens may transit Uruguay en route to Argentina and other destinations, where some are exploited in trafficking. There is heightened vulnerability to trafficking in the interior of the country, where the government’s monitoring and anti-trafficking efforts have limited reach; in particular, domestic workers employed in the interior of the country are at greater risk of trafficking.