BELGIUM: Tier 1
The Government of Belgium fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period; therefore, Belgium remained on Tier 1. The government demonstrated serious and sustained efforts by prosecuting and convicting more traffickers and training police, lawyers, and judges on advanced techniques for investigating trafficking cases and collecting and preserving evidence. The government developed new training programs to assist financial institutions in identifying transactions related to trafficking, and maintained strong prevention efforts. The government trained staff at asylum centers on identifying and assisting trafficking victims in migrant populations and circulated administrative notices on referral procedures to prosecutors, police, health care workers, migration staff, and other stakeholders. Although the government meets the minimum standards, it did not allocate a regular budget to NGO-run shelters despite complete reliance on these shelters for the majority of victims’ services. 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; enhance training of law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges to improve the conviction rates of traffickers and ensure dissuasive sentences; increase awareness-raising efforts among migrant populations, including asylum-seekers; enhance training of relevant professionals to increase the number of trafficking victims identified, including child victims; continue to improve security at reception centers to prevent traffickers from recruiting asylum-seekers; increase efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor and international child sex tourism by Belgian nationals travelling abroad; 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.
The government increased 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 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. 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 prosecuted 324 defendants, compared to 299 in 2015, including 184 defendants for sex trafficking offenses, 126 for labor trafficking, and 14 for forced criminality (151 for sex trafficking and 124 for forced labor in 2015). Authorities convicted and sentenced 125 individuals under the trafficking statute, including 231 counts of aggravating circumstances, compared with 93 in 2015. Most who were convicted received no prison time or a partially or fully suspended prison sentence. The government sentenced 113 convicted under the trafficking statute to prison terms (of which 79 were suspended or partially suspended), compared to 88 prison sentences (52 of which were suspended or partially suspended) in 2015. Prison sentences ranged from one to five years imprisonment; 11 offenders were sentenced to one year, 55 were sentenced to one to three years, 33 were sentenced to three to five years, and 14 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 trained police, lawyers, and judges who handled trafficking cases on advanced investigations and collection and preservation of evidence. 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. In 2016, the government cooperated on three extraditions requests, including the extradition and conviction of a Belgian citizen for offenses related to child sex tourism in Cambodia.
The government maintained efforts to protect victims. The government identified and assisted 144 victims (including 69 victims of labor trafficking, 56 victims of sex trafficking, seven victims of forced criminality, and 12 victims of other forms of exploitation), compared to 152 victims in 2015 (93 victims of sex trafficking and 43 labor trafficking). First responders followed formal written procedures on proactive victim identification; however, observers reported challenges in accurately identifying victims. The government trained staff at asylum centers on identifying and assisting trafficking victims in migrant populations. The government circulated administrative notices on referral procedures to prosecutors, police, health care workers, migration staff, and other stakeholders and updated regulations to improve referral procedures for Belgian trafficking victims and victims of forced begging. While NGOs referred many victims to the shelters, most victims were identified by law enforcement, social workers, and medical professionals. To qualify for victim status, victims must have broken off all contact with traffickers and agreed to counseling at a specialized trafficking shelter.
The government allocated approximately €430,000 ($453,109) to each of the three specialized NGO-run shelters. NGO-run shelters also received various amounts of funding from regional governments. Despite complete reliance on these three NGO-run shelters for the majority of victims’ services, the government provided ad hoc rather than dedicated funding. NGO-run shelters carried the administrative burden of requesting funding each year from different levels of government (region, community, federal). NGO-run shelters provided specialized, comprehensive assistance to trafficking victims, including psycho-social, medical, and legal care. The shelters were open to all victims regardless of gender, immigration status, or nationality. The government also funded two shelters for children; child trafficking victims shared these facilities with victims of other crimes. Adult victims could leave the shelter unchaperoned. 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 granted most identified foreign victims residence and employment permits and protective services; however, full protection status and the residence permit were conditional on the victim assisting in the prosecution of their trafficker. 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 216 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. Victims can claim compensation through the same mechanism that allows any victim of crime to claim compensation at local courts; however, observers reported victims faced expensive legal fees.
The government maintained strong efforts to prevent trafficking. The Inter-Departmental Coordination Unit (ICU) continued to coordinate government-wide anti-trafficking efforts and monitored the implementation of national action plan for 2015-2019. The government continued awareness campaigns targeting businesses and vulnerable populations. The government developed new training programs to assist financial institutions in identifying transactions related to trafficking and coordinated with the Netherlands and Luxembourg to produce common awareness-raising materials. ICU integrated trafficking awareness trainings into programs in schools and juvenile justice institutions. Awareness-raising flyers were available in the consular sections of Belgian embassies and consulates abroad. The national rapporteur produced its own report on Belgian trafficking efforts. 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. Belgian law permits the prosecution of Belgian citizens who sexually abuse children outside of Belgium. The government convicted offenders under this law; however, observers reported Belgium nationals engaging in child sex tourism in many countries, including Guinea-Bissau, Cambodia, Brazil, and Romania. 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 trained diplomatic personnel on trafficking issues and disseminated trafficking pamphlets to staff at Belgian diplomatic posts.
As reported over the past five years, Belgium is a destination, transit, and limited source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Foreign victims come primarily from countries in Eastern Europe, North and sub-Saharan Africa, among them Romania, Morocco, India, Nigeria, Albania, Hungary, and Thailand. 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. 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 and 2016, approximately 63,000 people applied for asylum in Belgium, a dramatic increase over previous years. Experts anticipate migrants whose asylum applications are denied will be highly vulnerable to trafficking, but very few such migrants were confirmed trafficking victims during the reporting period. Individuals pose as family visitors to recruit asylum-seekers waiting in reception centers for low-paid work and prostitution and potentially subjected to trafficking.