The Netherlands is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced prostitution and forced labor. A significant number of underage Dutch residents continued to be subjected to sex trafficking in the country. Identified trafficking victims primarily originated from within the Netherlands and from abroad, including from Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Guinea, Sierra Leone, China, the Philippines, and Vietnam in 2013; victims are also from other countries in Africa, Europe, and South and East Asia. Women and children are primarily subjected to sex trafficking, and men and boys are subjected to various forms of forced labor, including in the maritime sector, agriculture, horticulture, catering, food processing, and cleaning. Some victims were forced to commit crimes, including illegal narcotics trafficking. Domestic workers employed in the Netherlands remain vulnerable to forced labor, including by foreign diplomats posted there. Groups vulnerable to trafficking include unaccompanied children seeking asylum, women with dependent residence status obtained through fraudulent or forced marriages, women recruited in Africa and Eastern Europe, and East Asian women working in massage parlors.
The Government of the Netherlands fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government further institutionalized the role of its independent national anti-trafficking rapporteur and established a statutory basis for the position in Dutch law; it also continued to implement a multi-disciplinary approach to its trafficking problem through its national-level taskforce. It continued to mobilize a range of governmental, non-governmental, and private entities to proactively identify trafficking victims and increased its conviction rate on trafficking defendants. Trafficking experts reported deficiencies in the government’s identification and response to underage domestic trafficking victims, and victim advocates noted concerns about the government’s pilot project linking the reflection period with a viable investigation or prosecution, noting potential detrimental effects on victim protection.
Recommendations for the Netherlands:
Ensure convicted trafficking offenders receive sentences commensurate with the seriousness of the crime; examine ways to balance the rights of trafficking victims and their needs for assistance with law enforcement priorities, including empowering other front-line responders with the role of official victim identification separate from a criminal investigation and establishing adequate protection measures for victims who do not wish to pursue a case against their traffickers; ensure adequate funding to NGOs to enable them to play a continued role in victim identification and holistic care; ensure Dutch victims receive specialized shelter and assistance; continue to develop pragmatic approaches to victim outreach within illegal and legal labor sectors; continue to employ innovative methods to prevent and uncover forced labor; continue to mentor officials in the former Antilles, as well as in Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba (BES) to improve identification of victims and prosecution of traffickers in the Caribbean; and continue to share best practices and lessons learned with other countries, in particular methods to uncover and respond to local sex trafficking of domestic victims and the importance of employing a self-critical approach to improve anti-trafficking results.
The Dutch government improved its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The government convicted an increased number of trafficking offenders and imposed more stringent sentences on traffickers. The Netherlands prohibits all forms of trafficking through Article 273f of its criminal code. The government amended the law to increase the maximum prison sentence for a single offense of trafficking from eight to 12 years, and prescribed sentences for aggravated trafficking ranging from 18 years to life imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government also amended its anti-trafficking law to explicitly criminalize forced begging and forced criminal activities. In 2013, the government prosecuted 236 trafficking defendants and convicted 178, a continued increase from 140 convicted in 2012 and 108 in 2011. The government continued to take steps to enhance punishment of trafficking offenders by ensuring specialized judges heard all trafficking cases in 2013; the average sentence for traffickers in 2013 was 25.5 months; in 2012, the average was 25 months. The government did not disaggregate forced labor cases from sex trafficking cases, but one official estimated approximately 20 percent of all cases in 2013 involved labor trafficking. The government prosecuted complex trafficking cases in four specialized courts established in January 2013 to address cases involving multiple victims and links to organized crime.
The government continued to target sectors vulnerable to forced labor. In 2013 labor inspectors increased the number of cases referred for prosecution to 15, up from nine the previous year. A court sentenced four traffickers to jail for forcing homeless persons to sell newspapers; one defendant was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment and the court awarded compensation to the victims. The Government of the Netherlands did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking. The National Police requires anti-trafficking officers to pass examinations in a specialized training course focused on working with trafficking victims and policing the sex industry. Potential National Police officers also must sign a code of conduct before working in this sector. In January 2014, an appellate court ordered the public prosecutor to initiate an investigation of a former Ministry of Security and Justice official for rape, overturning an October 2012 finding by the Prosecutor’s Office that there was insufficient evidence to proceed. The decision was rendered in response to a motion to compel prosecution by court order filed by complainants who alleged sexual abuse when they were in their teens in the 1990s. Preliminary investigations into the allegations were conducted on three separate occasions.
The Netherlands continued its efforts to protect trafficking victims. In 2013, Comensha, the government-funded national victim registration center and assistance coordinator, registered 1,195 potential trafficking victims in the first 11 months of 2013, compared with 1,711 victims for all of 2012. The government continued to fund an extensive network of facilities providing a full range of trafficking-specialized services for children, women, and men; the government provided victims with legal, financial, and psychological assistance, shelter, medical care, social security benefits, and education financing. The government continued its pilot project that offered specialized assistance and shelter to male trafficking victims. Victims in government shelters were free to come and go at will. In November 2013, a shelter in Amsterdam opened the first of 10 halfway houses where trafficking survivors live independently while receiving psychosocial assistance and help. Some NGOs reported a decrease in anti-trafficking funding from the government in 2013. In a May 2013 report, stakeholders asserted the government did not sufficiently support underage trafficking victims, frequently victims of Dutch origin who are recruited on the internet in “loverboy” scams, citing the need for better care to address their unique needs. The National Rapporteur’s September 2013 report also called for improved identification, registration, and care, including specialized shelters, for domestic sex trafficking victims. To ensure full compliance with the 2011/36/EU directive on trafficking, the government drafted a blueprint for a National Referral Mechanism to provide a centralized framework for reporting and assisting all trafficking victims in the Netherlands.
For trafficking victims, Dutch authorities provided three-month “reflection” periods, during which time victims received immediate care and services while they considered whether to assist law enforcement. The government granted 257 three-month “reflection” periods in 2012, the most recent year data was available; this is a decrease from 390 in 2011. If victims decided to file a case against their trafficker, they received a B-8 residency permit (previously called B-9). The government granted 388 B-8 temporary residency permits in 2012, compared with 400 in 2011. The Netherlands grants victims permanent residency if their cases result in conviction of their traffickers and to victims who had held B-8 status for three or more years. Some anti-trafficking experts reported concerns about a perceived government emphasis on victims’ contribution to a prosecution during the reflection period, rather than allowing a victim time to recover. During the reporting period, the government continued a pilot project in which the reflection period provided to victims under the B-8 temporary residence permit ends as soon as a criminal investigation is discontinued. Country experts note that, under the pilot, since victims lose their B-8 status as soon as law enforcement determines a case will not be filed, government assistance could end after a few days or weeks, rather than after three months. NGOs reported this had a negative impact on victim protection in 2013.
The government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers; as of November 2013, 61 percent of victims in specialized anti-trafficking shelters pressed charges against their traffickers. Trafficking victims were often awarded with financial compensation as part of a criminal trial; compensation was awarded in 44 cases in 2012, the most recent year data was available. If perpetrators do not pay the court-ordered compensation after eight months, the government is required to pay the amount to the victim and assumes responsibility of forfeiting the money from the trafficker. NGOs assessed that trafficking victims can sometimes be inadvertently detained or punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as holding a fraudulent passport. The government continued to train law enforcement and prison staff to proactively identify trafficking victims and prevent the inadvertent punishment of victims in 2013.
The Dutch government improved its efforts to prevent trafficking in 2013. It continued to demonstrate anti-trafficking leadership by transparently reporting and publishing self-critical, public reports on its anti-trafficking efforts and continued to pursue innovative prevention efforts and campaigns. The National Rapporteur’s office’s mandate was previously broadened to include monitoring sexual violence against children. During the year, the office published three reports addressing human trafficking. In December, the Netherlands established a statutory basis for the position of the Rapporteur’s office. The government also continued a nationwide campaign to educate the larger public about all forms of trafficking in the Netherlands. In September 2013, the Ministry of Justice released a video as part of an education campaign for youth to raise awareness about local traffickers who seduce and then subject Dutch girls to sex trafficking. In July 2013, the national trafficking taskforce sent a letter to mayors throughout the country to notify them about legal businesses in their regions that may facilitate trafficking, including taxi firms and housing associations. The letter included policy recommendations on ways to address potential facilitation, either inadvertently or not, of trafficking by these companies. The labor inspectorate continued to distribute an information card in 14 languages to inform potential victims about their labor rights and signs of trafficking. To address demand for commercial sex, the government continued its campaign to educate clients of women in prostitution about trafficking and encouraged them to report signs of exploitation to authorities through a national anonymous crime reporting hotline; tips to this hotline increased in 2013. Further, the hotel association and national prosecutors’ office co-produced a training video in 2013 to inform hotel staff about sex trafficking and illegal prostitution that may occur in hotels. In the summer of 2013, the local government in Utrecht withdrew the licenses of all red-light window brothels after becoming aware of indications of trafficking. The foreign ministry continued to conduct outreach to foreign diplomats’ domestic workers, without their employers present, on how to report cases of abuse. The military provided training on the prevention of trafficking and additional training on recognizing trafficking victims for troops being deployed abroad on missions as international peacekeepers.
Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba (BES)
On October 10, 2010, the Kingdom of the Netherlands established a new constitutional structure under which the “Netherlands Antilles” ceased to exist as an entity within the Kingdom. As of that date, the BES islands became municipalities of the continental Netherlands. On September 27, 2010, the government adjusted the criminal code of the BES islands to reflect the new structure. The criminal code prohibits both sex and labor trafficking under Article 286f. The government reported this article is similar to the human trafficking article in the Netherlands’ criminal code, although prescribed penalties are lower, ranging from six to 15 years’ imprisonment. The BES islands are a transit and destination area for women and children subjected to trafficking, specifically forced prostitution, and for men and women in conditions of forced labor. Women in prostitution in both regulated and illegal commercial sex sectors in the BES islands are highly vulnerable to trafficking, as are unaccompanied children. Local authorities believe that men and women also have been subjected to involuntary domestic servitude and other forms of forced labor in the agricultural and construction sectors. Some migrants in restaurants and local businesses may be vulnerable to debt bondage.
On December 3, 2013, the Dutch Parliament unanimously adopted a motion to start an independent investigation into trafficking in persons and prostitution in the entire Dutch Caribbean. The government continued its cooperation with the BES islands via a working group on human trafficking, with a focus on victim care. Local authorities, in partnership with Dutch officials, reported the continued prosecution of Bonaire’s first trafficking case, involving Colombian women in forced prostitution, initiated in October 2012. Police reports registered potential human trafficking cases during the year in all BES islands; however, no victims were identified in BES. No trafficking prosecutions were initiated in Saba or St. Eustatius during the reporting period. There were no awareness campaigns specifically targeting potential clients of the sex trade in the BES islands to reduce demand for commercial sex acts.