The government decreased protection efforts. The Ministry of Social Development (MIDES) facilitated the care and protection of trafficking victims through two entities: the National Institute for Women (Inmujeres), which served adult female trafficking victims, and the National Institute for Children and Adolescents (INAU), which served child trafficking victims. Both institutions primarily catered to sex trafficking victims, as MTSS maintained responsibility for most labor trafficking victims identified through its inspections. In 2020, the Ministry of Social Development reported Inmujeres assisted 37 newly identified victims in 2020, compared with 83 victims in 2019 and 95 victims in 2018; it did not report the number of trafficking victims assisted by INAU. The 37 victims served by Inmujeres were all adult women; they were mostly Uruguayan, Dominican, or Cuban. The government did not report identifying any adult male, child, or LGBTQI+ trafficking victims in 2020; the government did not consider the 20 victims identified through Operation Ocean to be trafficking victims and provided them services through the Victim Protection Unit of the prosecutor’s office. An INAU program for child victims of sexual exploitation operating in Montevideo served 42 children during the reporting period, but it was not clear how many of these children were victims of trafficking, as opposed to other forms of exploitation. The government had a variety of victim protection protocols and written referral mechanisms on assisting victims, including an interagency response system; however, it did not have a lead agency or inter-institutional protocols to facilitate the proactive identification of trafficking victims by law enforcement or other officials. MIDES was the principal provider of services for victims of crimes; specialized services for victims of trafficking were very limited in Uruguay and, in practice, only available to adult female sex trafficking victims. Inmujeres coordinated with civil society to provide services for female sex trafficking victims at its centers in Montevideo and Cerro Largo, and INAU had a partial-service center for child sex trafficking victims in Paysandú. Inmujeres provided some services by phone or video call during the reporting period to limit disruption under pandemic-related restrictions, although not all services could be administered virtually, and these services were unavailable to victims for periods of time. The government adapted physical spaces to continue accommodating victims in-person where possible, including by installing barriers and screening for symptoms. The government primarily provided services to adult female victims of sex trafficking; it did not have shelters or 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. Some organizations expressed concern about the lack of formality in victim referral. The government and civil society continued to operate a 14-member mobile team of psychologists, social workers, and lawyers that responded to cases involving child victims in the interior of the country. The government offered limited trainings throughout the year, often virtually and with the support of international organizations, including a four-week course on child sexual exploitation for INAU staff and a training for medical professionals on identification and referral procedures for gender-based violence, including trafficking.
The government contracted with NGOs to provide victims services similar to those given to other vulnerable populations, such as the homeless, refugees, and citizens on welfare; there were no specialized services for trafficking victims. Although government officials had some facilities that could temporarily house victims, there were no 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 preferred to lodge victims in hotels and occasionally referred them to shelters or group homes serving other populations, such as victims of domestic violence. Civil society 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 shelters were overnight-only facilities; observers identified a need for daytime facilities and programming. Civil society reported government services focused mostly on psycho-social and legal assistance, while long-term services, such as housing, vocational support, and job placement, were insufficient. Inmujeres provided 11.37 million pesos ($269,770) to its NGO partners to fund provision of services and allocated 304,500 pesos ($7,230) to cover short-term hotel stays for victims. The government did not report other budget allocations or funding for victim assistance. Although the government had a protocol to provide security and protection measures to victims, observers reported the government could not ensure victims’ physical safety, and fear of retaliation prevented some victims from participating in trials against their traffickers. Victims could file civil suit to seek compensation from their traffickers, but the government did not report whether any victims did so in 2020. Foreign victims were entitled to work permits and permanent residency status and had 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 during the reporting period, and there was no record it had done so since the 2018 legislation establishing this entitlement.