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. The Netherlands, Hungary, Nigeria, Romania, Bulgaria, Sierra Leone, and Poland are the top seven countries of origin for identified victims of forced prostitution in 2012; victims are also from Africa, China, and other parts of Asia. Men and boys are subjected to forced prostitution and various forms of forced labor, including in the maritime sector, agriculture, horticulture, catering, food processing, cleaning, construction, and illegal narcotics trafficking. Male victims originate primarily from Romania, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Angola, China, Ghana, and Guinea, but are also from India, Bulgaria, Egypt, Hungary, the Netherlands, and the Philippines. Domestic workers employed in the Netherlands remain vulnerable to forced labor, including by foreign diplomats posted in the Netherlands. 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. Local recruitment of domestic trafficking victims over the internet continued to increase.
The Government of the Netherlands fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to employ a multidisciplinary, whole-of-government approach to its anti-trafficking efforts and maintained an effective and independent national anti-trafficking rapporteur. It used creative methods to detect and proactively identify both foreign and domestic trafficking victims in the country and mobilized a range of governmental, non-governmental, and private entities in this endeavor. In 2012, the government continued to investigate and prosecute sex trafficking and forced labor cases vigorously; police and investigators referred the highest number of trafficking cases to date for prosecution during the reporting period. While the average sentences for convicted traffickers increased, courts in the Netherlands continued to hand down lenient sentences for these perpetrators. The government increased its international anti-trafficking cooperation during the year, sharing best practices and lessons learned with source countries, EU partners, and other countries.
Recommendations for the Netherlands: Ensure convicted trafficking offenders receive sentences commensurate with the seriousness of the crime; continue to develop pragmatic approaches to victim outreach within illegal and legal labor sectors, including potential victims inadvertently held in detention centers; ensure sufficient shelter capacity for the delivery of comprehensive and specialized services for trafficking victims; continue to employ innovative methods to prevent and uncover forced labor; continue to mentor officials in the former Antilles as well as 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, the development of a multi-disciplinary approach and practices on victim protection, and the importance of employing a self-critical approach to improve anti-trafficking results.
The Dutch government continued to pursue innovative approaches to addressing human trafficking through law enforcement. During the year, it convicted an increased number of trafficking offenders and increased the average sentence for trafficking offenders. The Netherlands prohibits all forms of trafficking through Article 273 of its criminal code, which prescribes sentences ranging from eight to 18 years’ imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In 2012, the government prosecuted and convicted 141 trafficking offenders, an increase from 108 in 2011. The average sentence for convicted trafficking offenders was approximately 25 months in 2011, the most recent year this data was available, an increase from 21 months in 2010. The government did not disaggregate forced labor cases from sex trafficking cases, but one official estimated approximately one-quarter of all cases involved labor trafficking. One official noted judges consistently handed down more severe penalties for rape than for sex trafficking. Local police reported that low sentences for traffickers continued to result in the reappearance of the same offenders and thus the continued exploitation of trafficking victims within the regulated commercial sex sector. In October 2012, the Administrative Office of the Courts announced the appointment of specialized anti-trafficking judges after the rapporteur reported that disparities in the way judges across the country interpret Article 273 were resulting in widely varying verdicts and sentences for trafficking offenders. In addition, in January 2013, the Administrative Office of the Courts designated four courts to specialize in complex human trafficking cases.
In a landmark verdict in July 2012, a court in Leeuwarden sentenced a sex trafficker to six years’ imprisonment for subjecting a woman to forced prostitution for seven years. The court also awarded the victim the equivalent of approximately $1.3 million in restitution as part of its verdict. During the reporting period, local authorities, including specialized social workers, interpreters, and lawyers, conducted two major operations to investigate human trafficking in red-light districts in Eindhoven and Alkmaar based on the successful model utilized in The Hague’s red-light district in 2011 that uncovered useful information about the sex trade, the persons operating in it, potential victims, and suspected perpetrators.
The government increasingly focused its law enforcement efforts on sectors vulnerable to forced labor in 2012. In December 2012, a court in Zwolle sentenced two co-directors of a temporary agency to respective sentences of four and eight years’ imprisonment for forced labor involving Polish workers. The court found the offenders guilty of coercing and exploiting one male and six female workers in a meat-processing facility, in addition to other charges; one suspect was also found guilty of raping three of the victims. The court found that the victims were completely dependent on the suspects for work, housing, and transportation. In November 2012, the national police service published the results of a two-year study on human trafficking in Chinese restaurants, massage parlors, and nail salons. The study revealed trafficking victims in these sectors and found they were reluctant to leave these situations out of fear of deportation, loyalty to their community, or fear of reprisal by their traffickers against their families in China. There were no reported official cases of trafficking-related complicity in 2012; however, Amsterdam police believe that police assigned to anti-prostitution law enforcement efforts carry inherent temptations for corruption. The force therefore requires anti-trafficking officers in Amsterdam to pass three examinations in a specialized, 256-hour training course focused on working with trafficking victims and policing the sex industry. Potential officers also must sign a code of conduct before they are eligible to work in this sector. During the reporting period, the government re-opened an investigation into allegations that a former Ministry of Justice official had engaged in child sex tourism in the 1990s after an alleged victim presented a deposition. The investigation, the third in the case, ended in October 2012 when the Prosecutor’s Office concluded that there was insufficient evidence on which to proceed. An appeal to compel prosecution by court order was thereafter filed by the complainants and alleged victims; the appeal remained pending at the end of the reporting period.
The Netherlands demonstrated appreciable progress in its efforts to protect trafficking victims during the reporting period. In 2012, Comensha, the government-funded national victim registration center and assistance coordinator, registered 1,024 potential trafficking victims in the first 11 months of 2012, compared with 1,222 victims in 2011. The government continued to operate 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. Victims in government shelters were not detained involuntarily. The government reported that single underage asylum seekers suspected to be trafficking victims were provided intensive counseling in secure shelters to protect them from traffickers. Comensha continued to report a shortage of accommodation for trafficking victims requiring shelter in 2012. Dutch authorities provided temporary residence permits to allow foreign trafficking victims to stay in the Netherlands for a three-month reflection period, during which victims received immediate care and services while they considered whether to assist law enforcement. The government provided updated comprehensive data regarding temporary and permanent residency permits reported last year. In 2011, the government reported it granted 390 three-month reflection periods, 400 B-9 temporary residency permits, and 70 permanent residency permits to trafficking victims. The government did not provide preliminary figures for 2012, though it confirmed that the number of permits issued during the first four months of the year were on par with residency permits issued in 2011. Victims with B-9 status are permitted access to the labor market. Permanent residency is granted to victims if their case results in conviction of their trafficker and to victims who had held B-9 status for three or more years.
The government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers, although it lacked figures on the percentage of trafficking victims who filed charges against their traffickers during 2012. The National Prosecutor’s office reported that many victims did not file complaints, fearing retaliation by traffickers or deportation by officials. The government, however, continued to seek ways to increase incentives for victims to cooperate with law enforcement. In 2012, the government granted a two-year extension to a successful 2012 pilot project that demonstrated dedicated shelters for trafficking victims facilitated recovery and led to higher rates of cooperation in criminal investigations. The government also decided to extend until 2015 a pilot project in which male trafficking victims are offered shelter. There were no reports that any victims were punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. However, one NGO expressed concern that some unidentified trafficking victims may have been mistakenly detained by law enforcement officials who may have missed signs of trafficking. In 2012, the government initiated training for staff working with asylum seekers on ways to identify trafficking victims among this population. To facilitate safe and voluntary repatriation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has developed a system to evaluate victims’ safety in five countries of return.
The government continued to pursue innovative approaches to prevent trafficking and address demand for commercial sex acts and forced labor; its multi-agency human trafficking taskforce continued to coordinate the country’s anti-trafficking response in 2012. In June 2012, the government renewed a previously successful campaign to educate clients of women in prostitution about trafficking and encouraged them to anonymously report signs of exploitation to authorities through the national anti-trafficking hotline. Local police in Amsterdam conducted and publicized a sting operation at three hotels in 2012 to ensure compliance with a ban on illegal prostitution on their premises; in response the Dutch hotel association announced an industry policy favoring the dismissal of hotel managers who fail to prevent illegal prostitution in their hotels. In 2012, the government implemented a number of measures targeting local pimps who seduce young women and then coerce them into sex trafficking and forced prostitution in the Netherlands, including through an awareness campaign for students co-created by a former domestic trafficking victim. In January 2012, the Social Affairs Ministry launched a campaign against fraudulent temporary employment agencies prompted by concerns that temporary agencies may exploit laborers, mostly in agriculture and horticulture, and thus disrupt the competitive market. The ministry compiled a list of the 100 agencies most susceptible to fraud for increased scrutiny by the labor inspectorate. During the reporting period, the foreign ministry continued to conduct outreach with foreign diplomats’ domestic staff members, without their employers present, on how to report cases of abuse.
The government pursued formal cooperation with source countries and established mentoring relationships via a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Dutch experts and their counterparts in the Caribbean islands of Curacao, Aruba, and St. Maarten during the year. In April 2012, the ministry initiated a pilot program to train foreign consulates from common source countries in the Netherlands on how to identify and report potential trafficking victims. The Dutch government continued to demonstrate anti-trafficking leadership by transparently reporting and publishing self-critical, public reports on its anti-trafficking efforts. The National Rapporteur’s office published six reports on human trafficking in 2012. 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. In October 2012, the government, in partnership with NGOs and private sector travel agencies, launched an awareness campaign to address child sex tourism by distributing a flyer to all travelers flying internationally from the Netherlands to encourage them to report suspicious activity.
Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba
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.
In 2012, the Netherlands, also representing BES, continued to implement its June 2011 MOU with Aruba, Curacao, and St. Maarten to increase cooperation on anti-trafficking to improve victim identification and prosecution of traffickers on the islands. Part of the MOU includes establishment of a mentoring or “twinning” system for officials from the four countries of the Kingdom and the BES to provide each other with technical support to develop anti-trafficking investigations and prosecutions, as well as shelter and information campaigns. In October 2012, local authorities, in partnership with Dutch officials, reported investigating the first trafficking case in Bonaire, involving Colombian women in forced prostitution. No victims were identified in Saba or St. Eustatius. No trafficking prosecutions or convictions were initiated on these islands during the reporting period. The central government continued to provide in-kind support for human trafficking hotlines in St. Maarten and Bonaire, though there were no awareness campaigns specifically targeting potential clients of the sex trade in the BES islands to reduce demand for commercial sex acts.