Belgium is a destination, transit, and a limited source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Foreign victims primarily originate in Eastern Europe, Africa, South Asia, East Asia, and Latin America. Prominent source countries include Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Nigeria, Morocco, China, Turkey, Brazil, and India. Male victims are subjected to forced labor in restaurants, bars, sweatshops, horticulture sites, fruit farms, construction sites, cleaning businesses, and retail shops. Belgian 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.
The Government of Belgium fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Prosecutions and convictions increased from the previous reporting period, but sentences often were suspended. The government amended the law to allow judges to multiply fines by the number of victims. The Belgian definition of trafficking remained overly broad in comparison to the definition in the 2000 UN TIP Protocol and did not require demonstration of coercive means to prove a case of human trafficking, which risks diluting the effectiveness of Belgian prosecutions. Council of Europe experts expressed concern about Belgium’s identification and protection of child victims, particularly children in forced begging.
Recommendations for Belgium:
Enhance training of law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges to improve the conviction rates of traffickers; enhance training of relevant professionals to increase the number of trafficking victims identified, and improve assistance and protection services; enhance training of front-line staff to better identify and protect child victims; harmonize procedures for providing legal aid to minors subjected to human trafficking in an effort to limit the number of stakeholders in contact with them; establish a campaign to increase public knowledge of human trafficking, particularly child trafficking; provide repatriation assistance to victims from other EU countries; and, in light of the expanded legal definition of trafficking in Belgium and in line with Article 2 of the 2011 EU 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.
The government demonstrated increased law enforcement efforts. 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’s definition of trafficking in persons is broader than the definition in the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, which risks diluting the government’s efforts. The failure of an employer to meet prevailing wage, hours, and working conditions can constitute “exploitation” under Belgium’s anti-trafficking law, and these cases are included in the government’s prosecution data. Contrary to the definition of trafficking under international law, under Belgian law, coercion is considered an aggravating factor rather than an integral part of the base offense for adults. Belgian law also does not require evidence of any form of coercion in order to secure a trafficking conviction. Although the intent of this provision is reportedly to facilitate prosecutions, it may be counterproductive: the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) Report observed that the overbroad definition may lead to confusion between trafficking and other criminal offenses and possible difficulties in mutual legal assistance with foreign governments that use a definition more consistent with international law. In August 2013, the government broadened the purpose of exploitation in the trafficking definition to include sexual exploitation (rather than just prostitution) and begging; the amendment also makes it possible to multiply the fines traffickers receive by the number of victims.
The government reported it prosecuted 432 defendants in 2013, compared with 381 prosecuted in 2012; it prosecuted 196 (190 in 2012) defendants for sex trafficking offenses, 184 (164 in 2012) for labor trafficking or economic exploitation offenses, and did not report any prosecutions for coerced criminality or forced begging. The government reported it convicted and sentenced at least 70 trafficking offenders in 2013, along with 120 aggravating circumstances, compared with at least 48 trafficking offenders in 2012. The government reported sentencing 63 convicted offenders in 2013, including 28 suspended or partially suspended sentences, compared to 48 sentenced in 2012. Most sentences ranged from one year to five years’ imprisonment; nine offenders were sentenced to one year, 24 were sentenced to between one and three years, 17 were sentenced to three to five years, and 13 offenders were sentenced to five years or more. The government continued efforts to prosecute eight family members of the Abu Dhabi royal family for allegedly subjecting 17 girls to forced servitude while staying at a Brussels hotel in 2008. The Government of Belgium did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking. Twice per year the Belgian government offers refresher courses on specialized anti-trafficking topics for police investigators specializing in human trafficking; these trainings are also available to public prosecutors. The government also offered a basic module on trafficking for non-specialized law enforcement officers.
The Government of Belgium made substantial efforts to protect victims of trafficking, although prerequisites for the government to extend victim status and to provide extended care proved burdensome. Federal and regional governments continued to fund three dedicated NGO-run shelters—officially recognized by Royal Decree in May 2013—that provided specialized, comprehensive assistance to trafficking victims, including psycho-social, medical, and legal care. These shelters assisted at least 152 new adult victims in 2013, compared with 185 new victims assisted the previous year. Of these 152 new victims, 89 were victims of labor trafficking, 48 were victims of sex trafficking, and only 20 victims were referred to the shelters by NGOs. For the most part, victims were identified by local or federal police, judicial institutions, or welfare agencies. The shelters were open to all victims regardless of gender, status, or nationality. Adult victims could leave these shelters unchaperoned and at will. The government also funded three shelters for minors; these facilities were shared with victims of other crimes. Once recognized, the government granted trafficking victims a 45-day residence permit; victims who cooperated in the prosecution of their trafficker were given a three-month registration certificate that included residency, social benefits, and a work permit. In order to qualify for victim status, victims must have broken off all contact with their traffickers and agreed to counseling at a specialized trafficking shelter, conditions that are especially challenging for child trafficking victims. The government granted permanent residence to victims if the trafficker was convicted; residence permits for indefinite lengths of time may be available without conviction, if authorities establish a formal charge of trafficking. The international and non-governmental organizations handled repatriations; victims from other EU countries faced challenges obtaining repatriation assistance. The Belgian Rapporteur 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. The government continued to employ systematic procedures to identify and refer victims for care based on a 2008 interagency directive for trafficking victims; however, an evaluation of this directive determined that front-line responders needed more training to identify victims more effectively.
Victims were reportedly not detained, fined, or jailed for unlawful acts committed as a result of being trafficked. Judicial authorities continued to face challenges in identifying victims; to address this, Belgian authorities circulated administrative notices to prosecutors. Victims who assisted in the prosecution of trafficking were eligible for full protection status and a residency permit. During the year, the government issued or renewed 247 residence permits to trafficking victims.
The Government of Belgium continued efforts to prevent trafficking through awareness campaigns targeting potential victims, and first-line responders, and warning employers of the dangers of trafficking. The Inter-Department Coordination Unit spearheaded an awareness campaign featuring pamphlets and training sessions targeting first-line responders such as social workers and health care professionals to help them identify trafficking victims, particularly among women in Belgium’s legal sex trade. Flyers were also available to the public in the consular sections of Belgian embassies and consulates abroad, and military trainers, social inspectors, and magistrates received specialized anti-trafficking training. In July 2013, the government established a commission to mediate disputes between members of diplomatic posts and foreign domestic workers in their employ. Experts noted a lack of awareness among the public regarding child trafficking. The Rapporteur’s office continued to publish an annual self-critical report on the government’s anti-trafficking activities, focused on the importance of not punishing victims. The report noted that the government lacked a list of offenses typically linked to trafficking, whereby charges would be dropped immediately if the suspects of the infractions are actually victims.
The government continued to co-sponsor the nationwide campaign, “Stop Child Prostitution” in 2013 and continued to distribute a multilingual flyer describing available visas for potential trafficking victims. Belgian authorities identified child sex tourism as a serious problem among Belgian nationals in the previous reporting period, but reported no prosecutions of such activity in 2013. There were no efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex acts. The government provided specific anti-trafficking training to Belgian troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.