Last Updated: Friday, 19 September 2014, 13:55 GMT

2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Belgium

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 19 June 2012
Cite as United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Belgium, 19 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe30ce2c.html [accessed 20 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

BELGIUM (Tier 1)

Belgium is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Victims originate in Eastern Europe, Africa, East Asia, as well as Brazil and India. Prominent source countries for victims exploited in Belgium include Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Nigeria, China, and Turkey. Male victims are subjected to forced labor in restaurants, bars, sweatshops, horticulture sites, fruit farms, construction sites, cleaning businesses, and retail shops. The main source countries for labor trafficking include China, India, Brazil, and Bulgaria. Belgian underage girls are recruited by local pimps and then subjected to sex trafficking within the country, and foreign children, including ethnic Roma, are subjected to sex trafficking. Forced begging within the Roma community in Belgium also occurs. Foreign workers continued to be subjected to forced domestic service, some involving members of the international diplomatic community assigned to Belgium.

The Government of Belgium fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to pursue a multi-disciplinary, case-based approach to trafficking during the reporting period. The government aggressively investigated alleged forced labor involving the diplomatic community, despite immunity challenges posed by these specific offenders. The government continued to issue residency permits for trafficking victims and provide them with comprehensive care. Despite reports of a significant number of children in prostitution in the country, the government failed to identify many child trafficking victims.

Recommendations for Belgium: Demonstrate vigorous prosecution of forced labor and forced prostitution offenders; pursue criminal sentences of imprisonment for convicted trafficking offenders; continue efforts to engage more front-line responders in victim identification to increase detection of trafficking victims in Belgium; continue to examine ways to balance human rights of trafficking victims and their need for assistance with law enforcement priorities; tighten the statutory regime to more clearly track with international definitions of trafficking, with coercion as a core component; and ensure more intensive outreach to unaccompanied minors who are potential victims of trafficking in Belgium.

Prosecution

The government continued to investigate and vigorously prosecute trafficking offenders during the reporting period. Belgium prohibits all forms of trafficking through a 2005 amendment to its 1995 Act Containing Measures to Repress Trafficking in Persons. As amended, the law's maximum prescribed penalty for all forms of trafficking – 30 years' imprisonment – is sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government's 2010 de facto rapporteur's report noted that some anti-trafficking reformers in Belgium acknowledge that the current definition of trafficking under Belgium law "leads to ideological dilution of the concept of trafficking in human beings," and requested that the law "take greater account of the coercion component" involved in human trafficking crimes. The failure of an employer to meet prevailing wage, hours, and working conditions can constitute "exploitation" under Belgium's anti-trafficking law; these cases are included as trafficking offenses in the government's prosecution data. The government reported it prosecuted 358 suspected human trafficking offenders in 2011; it prosecuted 170 offenders for sex trafficking offenses, 165 for labor trafficking or economic exploitation offenses, 14 for coerced criminality, and eight suspects in cases of forced begging. The government provided preliminary conviction and sentencing data for 2010, the most recent year for which data was available and for which approximately 80 percent of the data for 2010 had been analyzed. The 2010 data was the first time the government reported trafficking convictions as separate from smuggling cases. The preliminary 2010 data demonstrate that the government secured convictions for at least 64 trafficking offenders in 2010, involving 107 instances of aggravated circumstances. The most common aggravating circumstance (34 instances) was the abuse of a particularly vulnerable situation, followed by the repetitiveness of the trafficking (20 cases) and the use of fraudulent maneuvers in the conduct of trafficking (19 cases). In 16 cases, the aggravating circumstance was that the victim was a child. In 2009, aggregate trafficking and smuggling convictions totaled 132. There were no cases involving government officers or civil servants in 2010.

The 60 prison sentences for convicted traffickers in 2010 ranged from less than one year to five years' imprisonment; nine were sentenced to less than one year, 30 were sentenced to between one and three years, 18 were sentenced to three to five years and three were sentenced to five years or more. Thirty-two of the 60 sentenced traffickers received suspended sentences; in most cases these were partially, not entirely suspended sentences. During the reporting period, Belgium filed a request for extradition for two trafficking offenders. Both were represented by their legal advisors and were sentenced to seven and five years of prison and fines. However, the country in question had not ratified the UN Treaty on Organized Crime and the 2000 UN TIP Protocol and the bilateral extradition treaty did not include trafficking, so the extradition was denied.

In September 2011, a labor court in Liege convicted four members of a Romanian family for the enslavement of a Romanian child in domestic service. The offenders were sentenced to three to five and a half years' imprisonment; the court suspended half of all four sentences. In June 2011, the government initiated a criminal investigation into a Sierra Leonean diplomat posted in Belgium for subjecting his three domestic workers to forced labor and torture while posted in the country; the government suspended the recruitment of new staff members at the Sierra Leonean mission. Even though a trafficking perpetrator enjoying diplomatic immunity could not be subject to criminal prosecution, the government reported that launching a criminal investigation serves several purposes; first, it will render the victims eligible for government protection; second, the victims can still file a civil court claim for compensation for damages; finally, the Protocol Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can use the investigation as a basis for action to prevent future cases. The government reported that it prosecuted some trafficking offenders who subjected women to forced prostitution in the legalized commercial sex industry in the country. During the year, the government continued to train police officers on how to identify labor trafficking. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, convictions, or sentences of any Belgian government employees for trafficking-related complicity in 2011.

Protection

The government sustained its efforts to protect victims of trafficking in 2011. During the year, the government issued or renewed 614 residence permits to trafficking victims; some of these permits issued were for an indefinite length of time. According to a 2011 government report, 2010 marked an increase in the number of trafficking victims who obtained victim status in Belgium. The government continued to fully fund three NGOs that provided shelter and comprehensive assistance to trafficking victims. These shelters assisted 150 new victims in 2011. The majority were victims of labor trafficking or economic exploitation, the second largest group were victims of sex trafficking or sexual exploitation. Child victims are not allowed in these adult centers and are redirected to centers dedicated to children – not only victims of trafficking, but all unaccompanied minors. The government used systematic procedures to proactively identify and refer victims for care based on a 2008 interagency directive on coordination and assistance to trafficking victims; the government conducted an evaluation of the effectiveness of this directive in 2011. Key stakeholders from the Ministry of Justice, the police, social institutions, shelters, the Foreigners Office and Office of Social Inspection participated in the evaluation, which noted good cooperation between actors, but added that it could be improved. The evaluation's main recommendation was to expand awareness of the directive through training and information sessions. The evaluation praised the focus on the trafficking of diplomats' domestic personnel, but recommended that the procedures be accelerated because diplomats are often gone by the time an investigation starts. The evaluation noted the use of a victim translation assistance questionnaire from UNODC and a pilot project in Liege to sensitize the medical sector about trafficking and encourage referral of potential trafficking victims as best practices in victim identification. During the year, the government identified and provided assistance to at least three Sierra Leonean victims subjected to forced labor by diplomatic staff. According to the government, front-line responders other than police, including social workers and hospital staff, increasingly referred victims to specialized NGO trafficking shelters during the reporting period. In order to qualify for victim status, victims must fulfill three conditions: they must have broken off all contact with their traffickers; they must agree to counseling at a specialized trafficking shelter; and they must agree to cooperate with authorities in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers. A 2009 ECPAT report noted that these conditions for victim assistance are too high for child victims to meet. Children who were victims of trafficking reportedly were granted three months in which to decide whether to testify against their traffickers. According to the government, if children do not qualify for victim status, they may still qualify for protection under the government's rules for unaccompanied minors. According to the government, victims are granted immunity from fines, detention, or deportation only if they assist in the prosecution of their trafficker. The government acknowledged that the level of protection afforded to victims was dependent on the legal status of the victim's right to be in Belgium. Victims' whose cases do not result in a conviction or who do not pursue criminal charges against their traffickers remained vulnerable to deportation or criminalization. Victim-witnesses were granted access to the Belgian labor market during legal proceedings. Victims may obtain permanent residency in Belgium after the sentencing of their traffickers, and victims may be eligible for residence permits for indefinite lengths of time without the conviction of their traffickers, provided that authorities first establish a formal charge of trafficking. However, in some cases, if a trafficking offender is not convicted, a victim may have to return to his or her country of origin.

Prevention

The Government of Belgium continued its efforts to prevent trafficking in 2011. The government's de facto rapporteur's office continued to publish an annual self-critical report on the government's anti-trafficking activities. The government continued to co-sponsor the nationwide campaign, "Stop Child Prostitution" in 2011 and continued to distribute a multilingual flyer on visas for potential trafficking victims from common source countries of trafficking victims in Belgium. The government continued its proactive outreach to domestic employees to inform them of their rights and provide them with avenues to report abuse. Among other measures, the government required domestic workers to appear in person once a year to renew their identification cards. Furthermore, the government has expelled foreign diplomats found to be engaged in trafficking or exploitation and, despite pressure from foreign diplomatic interlocutors, remained committed to this course of action. The government's inter-departmental coordination unit on trafficking, chaired by the Justice Minister, met twice during the year; this coordination unit created an awareness leaflet to assist hospital staff in identifying trafficking victims during the reporting period. During the reporting period, Belgian authorities developed a campaign tailored to identify and assist Brazilian nationals vulnerable to labor trafficking in the country. Belgian authorities identified child sex tourism as a serious problem among Belgian nationals, but reported no prosecutions of such activity. The government provided specific anti-trafficking training to Belgian troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.

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