Belgium is a destination, transit, and a limited source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Foreign victims originate in Eastern Europe, Africa, East Asia, as well as Brazil and India. Prominent source countries for victims exploited in Belgium include Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Nigeria, China, and Turkey. Male victims are subjected to forced labor in restaurants, bars, sweatshops, horticulture sites, fruit farms, construction sites, cleaning businesses, and retail shops. The main source countries for labor trafficking victims in Belgium include China, India, Brazil, and Bulgaria. Belgian underage girls, who are recruited by local pimps, and foreign children — including ethnic Roma — are subjected to sex trafficking within the country. Some Belgian women have been subjected to sex trafficking in Luxembourg. Forced begging within the Roma community in Belgium also occurs. Foreign workers continued to be subjected to forced domestic service, including in the diplomatic community assigned to Belgium. During the year, authorities reported the increased number of refugees from North Africa in the country were vulnerable to trafficking.
The Government of Belgium fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government pursued a multi-disciplinary, case-based approach to trafficking informed by the work of a quasi-governmental office that serves as the country’s de facto National Rapporteur on human trafficking. The government continued to engage more front-line responders in victim identification. The Belgian government remained a leader in the region for its efforts to investigate and prevent domestic servitude within the diplomatic community. Country experts reported the government offered different levels of protection to victims depending on the victim’s legal status in Belgium. Victims whose cases do not result in a conviction or who do not pursue criminal charges against their traffickers remained vulnerable to deportation.
Recommendations for Belgium: Follow through on plans to develop more practical tools for front-line responders to detect trafficking victims, including among potential trafficking victims in the legalized commercial sex sector; continue to examine ways to balance the rights of trafficking victims and their need for assistance with law enforcement priorities, including establishing adequate protection measures for victims who do not wish to pursue a case against their traffickers; develop the capacity to capture comprehensive law enforcement data to demonstrate vigorous prosecution of forced labor and sex trafficking offenders; in light of the expanded legal definition of trafficking in Belgium and in line with Article 2 of the 2011 European Union Directive on Human Trafficking, provide disaggregated prosecution and conviction data for those cases that involved force, fraud, or coercion to demonstrate that trafficking offenders are vigorously prosecuted in Belgium; ensure all trafficking victims are not punished for crimes committed as a result of their trafficking and have access to services regardless of participation in proceedings, success of prosecutions, or citizenship; and expand the government’s international leadership role to share Belgium’s best practices with other countries, including on its case-based approach and self-critical reporting, as well as efforts to investigate and prevent domestic servitude involving diplomats in Belgium.
The government continued to investigate and vigorously prosecute trafficking offenses; during the reporting period the government increased the number of trafficking offenders who received prison sentences of five years or more. Belgium prohibits all forms of trafficking through a 2005 amendment to its 1995 Act Containing Measures to Repress Trafficking in Persons. As amended, the law’s maximum prescribed penalty for all forms of trafficking—20 years’ imprisonment —is sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, Belgium follows a definition of trafficking that raises concerns of over-breadth. The failure of an employer to meet prevailing wage, hours, and working conditions can constitute “exploitation” under Belgium’s anti-trafficking law; these cases are included as trafficking offenses in the government’s prosecution data. The government considers coercion to be an aggravating factor under its trafficking law and does not require evidence of such in order to secure a trafficking conviction. A previous Rapporteur report noted that the law “takes greater account of the coercion component” involved in human trafficking crimes. The government reported it prosecuted 381 suspected human trafficking offenders in 2012, compared with 358 prosecutions in 2011; it prosecuted 190 (170 in 2011) offenders for sex trafficking offenses, 164 (165 in 2011) for labor trafficking or economic exploitation offenses, 18 (14 in 2011) for coerced criminality, 7 (8 in 2011) suspects in cases of forced begging and 2 suspects of organ removal. The government reported it convicted and sentenced at least 48 trafficking offenders in 2012, the most recent year for which data was available. The government reported 48 prison sentences in 2012, compared to 68 prison sentences for convicted traffickers in 2011. Sentences ranged from less than one year to five years’ imprisonment; three offenders were sentenced to less than one year, 18 were sentenced to between one and three years, 11 were sentenced to three to five years and 10 offenders were sentenced to five years or more.
In October 2012, a court of appeals in Liege sentenced an Albanian sex trafficking offender to eight years’ imprisonment for subjecting young Belarusian and Lithuanian women to forced prostitution. In 2012, the Government of Belgium continued its efforts to prosecute eight family members of the royal family of Abu Dhabi (UAE) for allegedly subjecting 17 girls to forced servitude while staying at a Brussels hotel in 2008. The government did not report any investigations or prosecutions of any Belgian government officials for trafficking-related complicity in 2012.
The government sustained its efforts to protect victims of trafficking in 2012. Federal and regional governments continued to fund three dedicated NGO-run shelters that provided specialized, comprehensive assistance to trafficking victims including psycho-social, medical, and legal care. These shelters assisted 185 new adult victims in 2012, compared to 150 new victims assisted the previous year. The government continued to employ systematic procedures to identify and refer victims for care based on a 2008 interagency directive for trafficking victims; an evaluation of this directive, however, determined that front-line responders needed more practical tools to identify victims. During the year, the government continued to develop multi-disciplinary methods to improve victim identification by involving more front-line responders other than police; for instance, through the distribution of a detailed leaflet for hospital staff on how to identify and refer potential trafficking victims.
Although the Belgian government reported it offered residency and protective services to most foreign trafficking victims, some protection was conditioned on burdensome requirements; victims are granted immunity from fines, detention, or deportation only if they assist in the prosecution of their trafficker. Furthermore, in order to qualify for victim status, victims must have broken off all contact with their traffickers and agree to counseling at a specialized trafficking shelter, conditions that are especially challenging for child trafficking victims. The Rapporteur report urged a more victim-centered approach, especially for victims who are reluctant to participate in court proceedings and recommended granting trafficking victims greater legal status immediately upon their identification. Non-EU citizen victims may obtain permanent residency in Belgium only after the successful prosecution and sentencing of their traffickers; residence permits for indefinite lengths of time may be available without conviction, if authorities establish a formal charge of trafficking. During the year, the government issued or renewed 620 residence permits to trafficking victims. The government was unable to provide how many were newly issued. Victim-witnesses were granted access to the Belgian labor market during legal proceedings; the government reported that an unspecified number of trafficking victims were provided with such access during the year.
The Government of Belgium sustained trafficking prevention efforts, and demonstrated transparency in these efforts, during the year. The Rapporteur’s office continued to publish an annual self-critical report on the government’s anti-trafficking activities, focused on the financial aspects of trafficking. The report of a Senate working group on human trafficking contained a critical analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the government’s anti-trafficking efforts and made a number of recommendations for improvement. In June 2012, the government approved its 2012-2014 National Action Plan on trafficking, which includes creation of legal status for the shelters, launches new awareness campaigns, and strengthens the prosecution of traffickers. The government continued to co-sponsor the nationwide campaign, “Stop Child Prostitution” in 2012 and continued to distribute a multilingual flyer on visas for potential trafficking victims. The government also continued outreach to domestic workers in diplomatic households to inform them of their rights and provide them with avenues to report abuse; among other measures, requiring domestic workers to appear in person annually to renew their identification cards. Belgian authorities identified child sex tourism as a serious problem among Belgian nationals, but reported no prosecutions of such activity. The government provided specific anti-trafficking training to Belgian troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions. There were no efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex acts.