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. These efforts included publishing a child trafficking addendum to the national action plan, identifying more victims, and increasing training and awareness across the healthcare sector. Although the government meets the minimum standards, authorities failed to follow protocol to immediately refer all children to child protective services, its appropriation mechanism continued to cause funding uncertainty and undue administrative burden for NGO-run shelters, and it did not report complete law enforcement data.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS

Train first responders on child victim referral protocol. • Allocate regular and timely funding for NGO-run shelters for trafficking victims. • Coordinate and centralize the collection of timely trafficking data across the government in order to effectively analyze efforts. • Officially recognize a child shelter to improve the national victim referral protocol, as recommended by the national rapporteur. • Increase resources to assist unaccompanied child victims. • Sentence convicted traffickers to significant prison sentences and ensure convicted traffickers serve those sentences in practice. • Increase legal representation for victims. • Permit courts to implement victim-friendly procedures during trial proceedings to minimize the risk of re-traumatization. • Revise the definition of human trafficking under Belgian law to more closely align with the definition in the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

PROSECUTION

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 the prevailing wage and working conditions can constitute “exploitation” under Belgian law, and the government included these cases in its 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 overly broad definition could 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.

The government did not report any investigation data and unlike previous years, did not report complete data on prosecutions, convictions and sentencing, making it difficult to assess its law enforcement efforts. Despite pressing recommendations from GRETA in both of its evaluation reports, the government continued to lack a coherent system to collect law enforcement and victim data for trafficking cases. In the first six months of 2018, the government prosecuted 339 defendants (328 in the full calendar year 2017), including 174 defendants for sex trafficking-related offenses, 148 for labor exploitation, 11 for forced criminality, and six for forced begging. In the first six months of 2018, authorities convicted and sentenced 71 individuals under the trafficking statute (93 in the full calendar year of 2017). Some convicted traffickers received no prison time or a partially or fully suspended prison sentence. Of the 71 individuals convicted in the first six months of 2018, the government sentenced 67 to prison terms (of which 28 were fully or partially suspended), compared to 84 prison sentences (41 of which were fully or partially suspended) in the full calendar year of 2017; one offender was sentenced to one year, 10 were sentenced to one to three years, 14 were sentenced to three to five years, and 13 were sentenced to five years or more. The government trained about 60 police, lawyers, and judges who handled trafficking cases on advanced investigations and collection and preservation of evidence. Social security inspectors and social and housing inspectors in Brussels received trafficking training. 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. 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, including a joint investigation team on forced criminality with Portugal, and cooperated with extradition requests during the reporting period.

PROTECTION

The government maintained efforts to protect victims. In 2018, the government identified and assisted 139 victims (including 80 victims of labor exploitation, 38 victims of sexual exploitation, and 21 victims of other forms of exploitation), compared to 137 victims in 2017 (including 61 victims of labor exploitation, 59 victims of sex exploitation, and 17 victims of other forms of exploitation). First responders followed a national victim referral protocol and the government distributed victim identification guidelines to relevant stakeholders across the government and NGO community. The government established a pool of tutors available to train authorities on victim identification; however, the national rapporteur on trafficking reported challenges in accurately identifying child victims. Specifically, in some cases authorities failed to follow the protocol and did not properly notify child protective services when they identified an unaccompanied child victim. The government continued to train staff at asylum centers on identifying and assisting trafficking victims in migrant populations. 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, for which the government allocated approximately €426,000 ($488,530) each in 2018, compared with €428,000 ($490,830) in 2017. The NGO-run shelters also received unspecified amounts of funding from regional governments. While NGOs referred many victims to the shelters, law enforcement, social workers, and medical professionals identified most victims. 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 continued to carry 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 national rapporteur recommended the government officially recognize one child shelter to solidify its position within the national victim referral protocol, mitigating the risk of incorrect child victim referral. The government reportedly did not penalize identified victims for unlawful acts their traffickers coerced them to commit; however, child sex trafficking victims were vulnerable to such penalization.

The government granted identified foreign victims temporary 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 the criminal case. Victims who were not citizens of EU member states could obtain permanent residency only upon the successful prosecution and sentencing of traffickers. Few child victims received residency permits and GRETA expressed concern that residency permits for non-EU child victims were contingent upon cooperation with law enforcement instead of factors relating to the best interest of the child. The government issued or renewed 248 residency permits to trafficking victims, compared with 235 in 2017. Some victims obtained restitution from traffickers in criminal and civil court during the reporting period. Belgium maintained a compensation fund for victims of violence, but victims of labor trafficking reportedly found it difficult to access this fund. Government-appointed pro bono lawyers could be provided to victims who had a monthly income of less than €1,200 ($1,380). The high costs of legal representation discouraged victim cooperation in criminal and civil proceedings. During criminal proceedings, witness protection laws provided only those victims under the physical threat of violence or living abroad options to testify via video. Child victims had a specific provision that allowed courts to permit video testimony.

PREVENTION

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. The government published an addendum to its national action plan that set priorities to improve the detection, identification, referral, and protection of all child victims of trafficking. 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 national rapporteur, and produced its own annual report on governmental anti-trafficking efforts. Myria reported the government lacked a coherent system of trafficking data, making it difficult to analyze efforts and policy. The government conducted several awareness campaigns during the reporting period. A large-scale campaign for the medical sector reached 150 hospitals. Other awareness campaigns targeted the banking sector, businesses schools, and vulnerable populations. 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; 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 workers. 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.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, sex and labor traffickers exploit foreign and domestic victims in Belgium. Foreign victims come primarily from Asia, Eastern Europe, North and Sub-Saharan Africa, among them Thailand, India, Romania, Morocco, and Nigeria. Labor traffickers exploit male victims in restaurants, bars, sweatshops, horticulture, fruit farms, construction, cleaning businesses, and retail shops. Sex traffickers exploit Belgian girls, some of whom are recruited by local pimps, and foreign children, including Roma. Forced begging within the Romani community in Belgium also occurs. Labor traffickers exploit foreign workers in forced domestic servitude. Asylum seekers that had their applications for legal status denied and migrants transiting through Belgium to the United Kingdom are highly vulnerable to trafficking.

2019 Trafficking in Persons Report: Belgium
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