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 strengthening the national referral protocol for child trafficking victims and victims of domestic servitude, and by mandating trafficking trainings for judicial officials who were on the career track to become magistrates and judges. Although the government meets the minimum standards, its appropriation mechanism for NGO-run shelters caused severe delays in disbursing funding. The government provided limited legal representation for victims, and sentences for convicted traffickers were often suspended. Law enforcement required more training on victim identification and freezing suspected traffickers’ assets.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BELGIUM
Allocate regular and timely funding for NGO-run shelters for trafficking victims; vigorously investigate, prosecute, convict, and sentence traffickers with imprisonment; increase resources to assist unaccompanied child victims; increase seizure of traffickers’ assets in order to compensate victims and further penalize the perpetrators; enhance training of relevant professionals to increase the number of trafficking victims identified, including child victims; increase legal representation for victims; increase efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor and international child sex tourism by Belgian nationals traveling 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 maintained law enforcement efforts. Belgium criminalized sex and labor trafficking through a 2005 amendment to the 1995 Act Containing Measures to Repress Trafficking in Persons. The prescribed penalties ranged from one to 20 years imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Belgium’s definition of trafficking in persons was 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 were 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 did 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 used a definition more consistent with the UN TIP Protocol.
In 2017, the government prosecuted 328 defendants, compared to 324 in 2016, including 176 defendants for sex trafficking offenses, 116 for labor trafficking, 18 for forced criminality, and 18 for forced begging (184 for sex trafficking, 126 for forced labor, and 14 for forced criminality in 2016). Authorities convicted and sentenced 105 individuals under the trafficking statute, including 223 counts of aggravating circumstances, compared with 125 in 2016. The majority convicted received no prison time or a partially or fully suspended prison sentence. The government sentenced 84 convicted under the trafficking statute to prison terms (of which 41 were suspended or partially suspended), compared to 113 prison sentences (79 of which were suspended or partially suspended) in 2016; seven offenders were sentenced to one year, 43 were sentenced to one to three years, 19 were sentenced to three to five years, and 15 were sentenced to five years or more. GRETA reported the police gave lower priority to trafficking cases; resources were prioritized toward counterterrorism, and a judicial district reform reduced the numbers of federal police and prosecutors specialized in trafficking within each district. In 2017, the government convicted eight members of the Emirati royal family for human trafficking and degrading treatment of their domestic workers and sentenced each to 15 months in prison (fully suspended) and a €165,000 ($198,080) fine (half of the sum suspended). The government trained police, lawyers, and judges who handled trafficking cases on advanced investigations and collection and preservation of evidence. Each judicial district appointed a magistrate to specialize in trafficking who stood available as a resource to their district. The government’s national training center provided basic trafficking training to federal police officers, as well as advanced training for officers specializing in cases of labor and sexual exploitation. A government official noted police who trained at provincial-level centers, rather than at the national training center, did not likely receive trafficking training. One NGO posited judges needed increased training. The government mandated trafficking trainings for judicial officials who were on the career track to become magistrates and who may eventually become judges. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses. The government participated in international investigations and cooperated with extradition requests during the reporting period.
The government increased efforts to protect victims. In 2017, the government identified and assisted 137 victims (including 61 victims of labor trafficking, 59 victims of sex trafficking, and 17 victims of other forms of exploitation), compared to 144 victims in 2016 (including 69 victims of labor trafficking, 56 victims of sex trafficking, seven victims of forced criminality, and 12 victims of other forms of exploitation). First responders followed formal written procedures on proactive victim identification; however, government officials and GRETA reported challenges in accurately identifying child victims. NGOs reported a need for greater training among general police officers on understanding the indicators of trafficking and identifying victims. The government trained staff at asylum centers on identifying and assisting trafficking victims in migrant populations. The government published a revised victim identification and national referral protocol, which contained new guidance on identifying victims of domestic servitude in diplomatic households and child trafficking victims. While NGOs referred many victims to the shelters, most victims were identified by law enforcement, social workers, and medical professionals. Conditions existed in order 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’s victim protection infrastructure was based on three specialized NGO-run shelters, which were allocated approximately €428,000 ($513,810) each in 2017, compared with €430,000 ($516,210) in 2016. The NGO-run shelters also received unspecified amounts of funding from regional governments. NGO-run shelters provided psycho-social, medical, and legal care and were open to all victims regardless of gender, immigration status, or nationality. Despite the government’s complete reliance on these three NGO-run shelters for the majority of victims’ services, NGO-run shelters carried the perennial administrative burden of requesting funding each year from different levels of government (region, community, federal), often with severe delays in receiving the appropriation. The government also funded two shelters for children; child trafficking victims shared these facilities with victims of other crimes. GRETA reported the government’s child safety services lacked sufficient capacity to accommodate unaccompanied child victims. 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; suspected trafficking victims could receive a reflection period, which granted them 45 days to receive services while they decided whether to work with law enforcement. If they decided to make a formal complaint, they could receive a three-month residence permit that provided them the right to work. If a public prosecutor confirmed the individuals were trafficking victims, they could receive a six-month residence and work permit, renewable until the end of criminal case. Victims who were not citizens of EU member states could obtain permanent residency only upon the successful prosecution and sentencing of traffickers. During the year, the government issued or renewed 235 residence permits to trafficking victims, compared with 216 in 2016. Although government-supported NGOs provided some legal representation to victims, such support was reduced due to a lack of steady funding. Government-appointed pro bono lawyers could be provided to victims who had a monthly income less than €1,200 ($1,440). GRETA reported the high costs of legal representation discouraged victim cooperation in criminal proceedings. Civil society reported difficulty in obtaining damages for victims, usually because perpetrators made themselves insolvent ahead of trials; NGOs recommended investigators receive more training on freezing assets in the pre-trial stage. Belgium maintained a fund for victims of violence, but victims of labor trafficking reportedly found it difficult to access this fund.
The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The Inter-Departmental Coordination Platform (ICP), chaired by the Minister of Justice, continued to coordinate government-wide anti-trafficking efforts and monitored the implementation of the national action plan for 2015-2019. Representatives of the three government shelters were also included in the ICP. The Federal Migration Center (Myria), an independent public body, served as the secretariat for the ICP as well as the independent rapporteur and produced its own annual report on governmental anti-trafficking efforts. Myria assessed government-reported trafficking data as not standardized, making it difficult to analyze efforts and policy. The government continued awareness campaigns targeting businesses, hospitals, schools, and vulnerable populations, but had not conducted any large-scale public awareness campaigns in recent years. Awareness-raising flyers were available in the consular sections of Belgian embassies and consulates abroad. 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 subsidized the wages of maids and domestic assistants. The government maintained a system to prevent the exploitation of domestic employees of foreign diplomats. Each of the three government-funded shelters operated a 24/7 victim hotline.
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 Eastern Europe and North and Sub-Saharan Africa, among them Romania, Morocco, India, and Nigeria. Male victims are subjected to forced labor in restaurants, bars, sweatshops, horticulture, fruit farms, construction, 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.