Belgium

Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Report

BELGIUM: Tier 1

Belgium is a destination, transit, and limited source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Foreign victims primarily originate in Eastern Europe, Africa, East Asia, and South America, notably Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Nigeria, China, and India, as well as Brazil. Male victims are subjected to forced labor in restaurants, bars, sweatshops, horticulture sites, fruit farms, construction sites, cleaning businesses, and retail shops. Belgian girls, some of whom are recruited by local pimps, and foreign children—including Roma—are subjected to sex trafficking within the country. Some Belgian women have been subjected to sex trafficking in Luxembourg. Forced begging within the Romani community in Belgium also occurs. Foreign workers are subjected to forced domestic servitude, including in the diplomatic community assigned to Belgium.

The Government of Belgium fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to fund shelters providing specialized assistance to trafficking victims. The government continued to prosecute and convict traffickers, but sentences often were suspended, and most traffickers received no prison time. The Belgian definition of trafficking remained overly broad in comparison with the definition in the 2000 UN TIP Protocol and did not require demonstration of coercive means to prove a case of human trafficking, which risked diluting the effectiveness of trafficking prosecutions. Victim identification continued to be a challenge for the government.

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, including child victims; improve victim assistance and protection services; 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; provide repatriation assistance to victims from other EU countries; revise the definition of human trafficking under Belgian law to more closely align with the definition in the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; 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 traffickers are vigorously prosecuted.

PROSECUTION

The government decreased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Belgium prohibits all forms of trafficking through a 2005 amendment to the 1995 Act Containing Measures to Repress Trafficking in Persons. As amended, the law’s maximum prescribed penalty—20 years’ imprisonment—is sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Belgium’s definition of trafficking in persons is broader than the definition in the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. The failure of an employer to meet prevailing wage, hours, and working conditions can constitute “exploitation” under Belgian law, and these cases are included in the government’s prosecution data. Contrary to the definition of trafficking under international law, coercion is considered an aggravating factor under Belgian law rather than an integral part of the base offense for adults. Belgian law does not require evidence of any form of coercion to secure a trafficking conviction. Although these provisions reportedly were intended to facilitate prosecutions, GRETA reported 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 the UN TIP Protocol.

The government initiated prosecutions against 259 defendants in 2014, compared with 432 in 2013; it prosecuted 112 defendants for sex trafficking offenses and 115 for labor trafficking or economic exploitation offenses (196 and 184 in 2013, respectively). The government also prosecuted 16 defendants for coerced criminality and 14 for forced begging. Authorities convicted and sentenced at least 47 traffickers in 2014 with charges including 94 counts of aggravating circumstances, compared with 70 traffickers in 2013. Most convicted traffickers received no prison time or a partially or fully suspended prison sentence. The government sentenced 42 convicted traffickers to prison terms (of which 19 were suspended or partially suspended), compared with 63 prison sentences (28 of which were suspended or partially suspended) in 2013. Most prison sentences ranged from one to five years’ imprisonment; four offenders were sentenced to one year, 19 were sentenced to between one and three years, 12 were sentenced to three to five years, and seven 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 did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses.

PROTECTION

The government continued efforts to protect trafficking victims. 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 at least 162 new adult victims in 2014 (including 93 victims of labor trafficking and 43 victims of sex trafficking), compared with 152 new victims assisted in 2013. NGOs referred more than 20 victims to the shelters; most victims were identified by law enforcement, social workers, and medical professionals. The shelters were open to all victims regardless of gender, status, or nationality. The government also funded three shelters for minors; trafficking victims shared these facilities with victims of other crimes. The government continued to employ systematic procedures to identify and refer victims for care. The government reportedly did not penalize identified victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; however, victims who were not properly identified were vulnerable to such penalization. The most recent report of the government’s trafficking rapporteur noted that, despite the use of formal procedures, victim identification continued to be a challenge for authorities, particularly in cases of labor exploitation, where victims were often mistaken for undocumented migrants and in forced prostitution. It also noted the government lacked a list of offenses typically linked to trafficking, whereby charges would be dropped immediately if the suspects were actually victims. The government organized trainings and awareness campaigns for front-line professionals, such as law enforcement, hospital and social workers, military trainers, magistrates, and other stakeholders to improve identification efforts and circulated administrative notices to prosecutors. The government also funded specific training on child victims for chaperones working in institutions for unaccompanied minors.

The government granted most foreign trafficking victims residence and employment permits and protective services; many services were conditional on the victim assisting in the prosecution of his or her trafficker. To qualify for victim status, victims must have broken off all contact with traffickers and agreed to counseling at a specialized trafficking shelter. Victims who were not citizens of EU member states were only able to obtain permanent residency upon the successful prosecution and sentencing of traffickers, although residence permits for indefinite periods of time were available without conviction if authorities established a formal charge of trafficking. During the year, the government issued or renewed an unknown number of residence permits to trafficking victims.

PREVENTION

The government continued efforts to prevent trafficking. The Inter-Department Coordination Unit continued to lead an awareness campaign. Flyers were available in the consular sections of Belgian embassies and consulates abroad. The government’s previous anti-trafficking action plan expired in 2014, and the government was in the process of drafting a new plan at the end of the reporting period, for which it sought input from stakeholders, shelters, and NGOs. The government co-sponsored the “I Say Stop” campaign, launched in November 2014, to raise public awareness about child sex tourism and encourage reporting of possible cases to Belgian authorities. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel. The government co-hosted a conference with OSCE on trafficking prevention within the diplomatic community, with a focus on preventing trafficking for the purpose of domestic servitude in diplomatic households. There were no efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The government did not provide specific anti-trafficking training in 2014 to Belgian troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.