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, India, and 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. In 2015, approximately 35,000 people applied for asylum in Belgium, a dramatic increase over previous years; experts anticipate migrants whose asylum applications are denied are highly vulnerable to trafficking.

The Government of Belgium fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to prosecute and convict traffickers, fund NGO shelters providing specialized assistance to trafficking victims, provide extensive training to police officers on victim identification, and began implementation of a new four-year national action plan. The government took measures to identify and reduce potential trafficking-related exploitation at reception centers, in response to the dramatic increase in asylum-seekers during the reporting period. However, the government did not allocate a regular budget to NGO shelters, and sentences for convicted traffickers continued to be suspended, with most traffickers receiving little to no prison time.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BELGIUM:

Allocate regular funding for NGO-run shelters for trafficking victims; improve security at reception centers to prevent traffickers from recruiting asylum-seekers; increase awareness raising efforts among migrant populations, including asylum-seekers; enhance training of law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges to improve the conviction rates of traffickers and ensure sufficiently stringent sentences; enhance training of relevant professionals to increase the number of trafficking victims identified, including child victims; revise the definition of human trafficking under Belgian law to more closely align with the definition in the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; and provide disaggregated prosecution and conviction data for cases involving force, fraud, or coercion.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained strong 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. 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. In its most recent assessment, 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 299 defendants in 2015, compared with 259 in 2014; it prosecuted 151 defendants for sex trafficking offenses and 124 for labor trafficking or economic exploitation offenses (112 and 115 in 2014, respectively). The government prosecuted 14 defendants for coerced criminality and 10 for forced begging. Authorities convicted and sentenced at least 93 traffickers in 2015 with charges including 195 counts of aggravating circumstances, compared with 47 traffickers in 2014. Most convicted traffickers received no prison time or a partially or fully suspended prison sentence. The government sentenced 88 convicted traffickers to prison terms (of which 52 were suspended or partially suspended), compared with 42 prison sentences (19 of which were suspended or partially suspended) in 2014. Most prison sentences ranged from one to five years’ imprisonment; 12 offenders were sentenced to one year, 46 were sentenced to between one and three years, 21 were sentenced to three to five years, and nine were sentenced to five years or more. The government continued efforts to prosecute eight 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 conducted two investigations related to the attempted recruitment of asylum-seekers waiting in reception centers, potentially for trafficking purposes; the investigations were ongoing at the close of the reporting period. The government provided basic training to all local and federal police officers, as well as advanced training for officers specializing in cases of labor and sexual exploitation. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses.

PROTECTION

The government maintained strong efforts to protect trafficking victims. Federal and regional governments continued to fund three dedicated NGO-run shelters providing specialized, comprehensive assistance to trafficking victims, including psycho-social, medical, and legal care. These shelters assisted at least 152 new adult victims in 2015 (including 93 victims of labor trafficking and 43 victims of sex trafficking), compared with 162 new victims assisted in 2014. While 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, immigration status, or nationality. Despite complete reliance on these three shelters for the majority of victims’ services, the government provided ad hoc rather than dedicated funding. The government 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, particularly child sex trafficking victims, were vulnerable to such penalization. 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 granted most identified 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 could only 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 552 residence permits to trafficking victims. Although government-supported NGOs provided some legal representation to victims, such support was limited due to a lack of steady funding.

PREVENTION

The government maintained strong efforts to prevent trafficking. The government continued to lead awareness campaigns focused on victim identification. Flyers were also available in the consular sections of Belgian embassies and consulates abroad. The inter-departmental coordination unit, in consultation with NGOs and other non-governmental stakeholders, developed and began implementation of a new national action plan for 2015-2019. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts during the year; however, the government continued to implement programs to reduce the demand for forced labor, such as a widely used program that subsidizes the wages of maids and domestic assistants. In response to the dramatic increase in asylum-seekers in the country, authorities took measures to identify and reduce exploitation at reception centers, including training for reception center staff and awareness-raising among the migrant population; however, authorities and the national rapporteur identified vulnerabilities in securing these centers during the reporting period. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.