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Trafficking in Persons 2011 Belgium

Country Narrative: Belgium

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. Some victims are smuggled through Belgium to other European countries, where they are subsequently subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Male victims are subjected to forced labor in restaurants, bars, sweatshops, horticulture sites, fruit farms, construction sites, and retail shops. Belgian girls are seduced by local pimps and then subjected to sex trafficking within the country. Furthermore, the government reported that foreign children, including ethnic Roma, are subjected to sex trafficking within more hidden forms of prostitution. 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 proactively investigated and prosecuted sex trafficking offenders during the reporting period; however, the government reported that it did not vigorously pursue forced labor cases. The government funded three NGOs providing comprehensive protection and assistance to victims, but identified very few child trafficking victims, despite reports of a significant number of children in prostitution in the country. The Belgian government continued to serve as a leader in the region for its efforts to monitor and prevent domestic servitude within Belgium’s diplomatic community. The government’s Centre for Equal Opportunity and Opposition to Racism served as a de facto rapporteur and continued to publish a comprehensive self-critical annual report to improve the government’s anti-trafficking efforts in 2010.

Recommendations for Belgium: Demonstrate vigorous prosecution and punishment of forced labor and forced prostitution offenders; pursue criminal sentences of imprisonment for convicted human trafficking offenders; improve collection of victim assistance statistics to demonstrate proactive identification of victims and ensure that victims are provided with access to services; improve outreach to children who are engaged in sex trafficking and forced begging; consider consolidating current multi-agency directives on identification and protection into formal standard operating procedures for all front-line responders in Belgium as means of avoiding inadvertent deportation of trafficking victims; and implement a nation-wide comprehensive demand campaign to educate clients of Belgium’s commercial sex industry about forced prostitution within the legal and illegal sectors, as well as consumers of the products made and services provide through forced labor.

Prosecution

The government sustained strong law enforcement efforts against sex trafficking offenses but made only modest efforts to address forced labor 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 reported it conducted 341 trafficking investigations in 2009, the most recent year full data were available. During this same time period, it convicted 132 trafficking offenders; sentences for 10 convicted traffickers were over five years’ imprisonment, 93 offenders received one to five years’ imprisonment, and 12 offenders received less than one year in jail. Seventeen convicted traffickers received no jail time. Other data showed courts used fines and community service in lieu of criminal penalties, although it is unclear if these punishments were for crimes of sexual and economic exploitation rather than trafficking. The government did not disaggregate these statistics to demonstrate how many convictions involved forced labor. Additionally, a recent government report noted that prosecutors in Belgium handle few cases involving forced labor. In May 2010, however, a court of appeals increased the sentence of an Antwerp lawyer who subjected a Moroccan child to domestic servitude, including sexual abuse, from five to eight years’ imprisonment; the court added that contradictions in the victim’s statements did not diminish her credibility. The government reported it prosecuted some traffickers who subjected women to forced prostitution in the legalized commercial sex industry in the country. The government reported that the employers’ intention to exploit their workers was considered of paramount importance to prove a crime of trafficking. The failure of an employer to meet wage, hours, and working conditions in accordance with prevailing labor legislation and collective bargaining agreements can constitute “exploitation” under Belgium’s anti-trafficking law; these cases may be included as trafficking offenses in the government’s data. An EU Schengen evaluation report issued in December 2009, stated that anti-trafficking prosecutors in Belgium report difficulty distinguishing between sexual exploitation as such and sexual exploitation related to trafficking; this report also noted prosecutor’s difficulty in separating a victim of trafficking for economic exploitation from one of illegal employment.

In November 2010, judicial authorities reported their decision to formally prosecute eight family members of the royal family of Abu Dhabi (UAE) of abuse and sequestration for subjecting 17 girls to forced servitude while staying at a Brussels hotel in 2008. The convicted sheikha and seven other family members have not returned to Belgium. The government did not vigorously investigate, prosecute or convict any Belgian officials for trafficking-related complicity in 2010.

Protection

The government continued its efforts to protect victims of trafficking in 2010. According to the government, 141 new trafficking victims were identified and referred to service providers during the first half of the year. The government continued to fund three NGOs that provided shelter and comprehensive assistance to these trafficking victims. The government reportedly used proactive procedures to identify victims of trafficking based on a 2008 interagency directive on coordination and assistance to trafficking victims; according to a recent NGO report, standard operating procedures for all front-line responders are lacking. The government reported it issued 52 unlimited residence permits and 108 temporary permits to trafficking victims in 2010. Children who were victims of trafficking reportedly were granted three months in which to decide whether to testify against their traffickers. According to a 2009 ECPAT report, Belgian officials will only officially recognize a person as a victim of trafficking if that person has broken off all contact with their traffickers, agrees to counseling at a specialized reception center, and officially files a complaint against the traffickers; the report noted that these conditions for victim assistance are too high for child victims to meet. According to the government, if a child did not qualify for victim status, they may still have qualified for protection under the government’s rules for unaccompanied minors. Victim witnesses were entitled to seek legal employment during the relevant legal proceedings. Identified victims were not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.

The Ministry of Justice reported it finalized a cooperation project with hospitals in Belgium to improve detection of potential trafficking victims who seek medical care in 2010. Further, Surya, one of the three government-funded NGOs, continued a pilot project to improve detection of trafficking victims at the Liege University Hospital, to assess both the feasibility and the efficiency of using medical staff to improve victim identification. Preliminary findings from the pilot project verified that trafficking victims are more willing to talk to medical staff than police; the government reported it continued to review the project before expanding it to the national level.

Prevention

The Government of Belgium sustained progress to prevent trafficking in 2010. A 2011 OSCE Report cited Belgium as a country with best practices in its 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. Further, the government has expelled foreign diplomats found to be engaged in exploitation, despite pressure from foreign diplomatic interlocutors. The government transparently reported on its anti-trafficking efforts in 2010; the Center for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism served as a de facto anti-trafficking national rapporteur for the government and published an independent annual report on human trafficking and smuggling. This report highlighted both good and bad practices in the government’s anti-trafficking efforts and made recommendations for improvement. The 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 before they were deployed on international peacekeeping missions.