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2017-2021 ARCHIVED CONTENT

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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 investigating, prosecuting, and convicting traffickers; identifying significantly more victims; approving a new shelter for child sex trafficking victims; cooperating with foreign governments to prosecute suspected traffickers; and drafting a new national action plan. Although the government meets the minimum standards, authorities did not always follow the referral protocol for child victims, and identifying child victims remained a persistent weakness. The government continued to report inconsistent law enforcement data.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

Train first responders on the child victim identification and referral protocol.Continue to approve and fund the creation of new dedicated shelters for child trafficking victims.Allocate regular and timely funding for NGO-run shelters for trafficking victims and increase resources to assist unaccompanied child victims.Investigate and prosecute traffickers, sentence convicted traffickers to significant prison terms, and ensure convicted traffickers serve those terms in practice.Implement trauma-informed and victim-centered procedures during trial proceedings to minimize the risk of re-traumatization and ensure all victims, not just those under threat of physical violence, have access to witness protection services.Separate participation in the criminal justice process from receipt of victim services.Coordinate and centralize the collection of timely trafficking data across the government to effectively analyze efforts.Increase legal representation for victims and expand access to victim compensation to include those victims exploited by means other than physical violence.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, which prescribed penalties of one to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of €500 to €50,000 ($560 to $56,180) for offenses involving adult victims, and 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of €1,000 to €100,000 ($1,120 to $112,360) for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Belgium’s definition of trafficking in persons was broader than the definition in the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law established the use of force, fraud, or coercion as aggravating factors, rather than essential elements of the crime. Additionally, 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. 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 law enforcement data consistently from year to year, making it difficult to assess its law enforcement efforts. Authorities investigated 374 cases in 2019, compared to 309 cases in 2018 and 326 in 2017. The government prosecuted an unknown number of defendants in 73 cases in 2019; it prosecuted 339 defendants in an unknown number of cases in the first six months of 2018. Authorities reported 126 convictions in 2018, the most recent year for which data was available, compared with 93 in 2017. The government reported it sentenced 118 convicted traffickers to prison terms ranging from one to 10 years in 2018; of these, 53 were suspended or partially suspended sentences. Of the prison sentences issued, including those that were suspended or partially suspended, 13 were for less than one year, 58 were for one to three years, 30 were for three to five years, and 17 were for five to 10 years. Despite recommendations from GRETA in both of its evaluation reports, in 2013 and 2017, the government continued to lack a coherent system to collect law enforcement and victim data for trafficking cases, which hindered its ability to track and evaluate law enforcement and victim protection efforts. Each judicial district appointed a magistrate to specialize in trafficking and serve as a resource to the 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. Social security inspectors and social and housing inspectors in Brussels received trafficking training. The government participated in international investigations, including a joint investigation with Romanian and Dutch authorities that led to the arrest of two traffickers (one in Belgium and one in Romania) for exploiting women in sex trafficking in the Netherlands. Authorities also cooperated with Swiss authorities to extradite a suspected sex trafficker from Switzerland to Belgium. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses.

PROTECTION

The government increased efforts to protect victims. In 2019, the government identified and assisted 265 victims (including 143 victims of labor exploitation, 92 victims of sexual exploitation, and 30 victims of other forms of exploitation), a significant increase compared to 139 victims in 2018 (including 80 victims of labor exploitation, 38 victims of sex exploitation, and 21 victims of other forms of exploitation). Due to the broad definition of labor exploitation under Belgium’s anti-trafficking law, data on the identification of labor trafficking victims may have included cases that do not constitute trafficking crimes under international law. First responders followed a national victim referral protocol to identify victims and refer them to care, and the government distributed victim identification guidelines to relevant stakeholders across the government and NGO community. Law enforcement identified the majority of victims during inspections, although social workers, immigration officials, and NGOs also referred victims to government-funded shelters for assistance. The national rapporteur, however, reported persistent challenges in accurately identifying child victims. Many authorities who did not specialize in trafficking cases reportedly could not recognize trafficking indicators and confused child trafficking with other crimes such as smuggling and child abuse. Authorities sometimes failed to follow the victim referral protocol and did not properly notify child protective services when they identified an unaccompanied child victim. In one case, police informed local authorities in Brussels about a possible case of child sex trafficking; however, despite knowing the location of the victim, several months passed before they arrested the traffickers and protected the victims. The government did not report providing training to authorities on victim identification.

The government funded three specialized NGO-run shelters and allocated approximately €427,000 ($479,780) for each shelter in 2019, compared with €426,000 ($478,650) in 2018; the shelters also received funding from regional and local governments. NGO-run shelters provided psycho-social, medical, and legal care, and were open to all adult victims regardless of gender, immigration status, or nationality. The independent Federal Migration Centre (Myria), in its capacity as the national rapporteur, provided oversight and coordination for the shelters. Authorities placed child trafficking victims in government-funded shelters for unaccompanied minors or in facilities with victims of other crimes. In December 2019, the government announced it had approved an NGO proposal to open a shelter specifically for female child sex trafficking victims, which the organization expected would open in 2021. GRETA reported the government’s child safety services lacked sufficient capacity to accommodate unaccompanied child victims. Shelters for unaccompanied minors reported many children went missing from the shelters each year, some of whom may have been victims of trafficking; in 2019, the agency responsible for these shelters reported 1,072 children as missing.

The government conditioned its victim assistance services on three criteria: victims had to break off all contact with their trafficker, agree to counseling at a specialized shelter, and assist in the prosecution of their trafficker. 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. Identified victims were eligible for a 45-day reflection period during which they could decide whether to assist law enforcement; foreign victims who did not agree to these conditions must return to their country of origin. The government granted foreign victims who participated in investigations and prosecutions three-month residence and employment permits and protective services. 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. Observers noted the conditions the government attached to victim assistance were difficult for many victims to meet, especially in the case of child victims. Few child victims received residence permits, and GRETA expressed concern that residency for non-EU child victims was contingent upon cooperation with law enforcement instead of factors relating to the best interest of the child. The government did not report how many residence permits it issued or renewed for trafficking victims in 2019, compared with 248 in 2018 and 235 in 2017. Victims could claim compensation at local courts, but many victims found it difficult to prove their case involved the required intentional act of physical violence. The high costs of legal representation discouraged victim cooperation in criminal and civil proceedings. There were no reports the government penalized victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; however, gaps in identification efforts, such as with child victims, made these victims vulnerable to such penalization. Additionally, foreign victims were only granted relief from deportation or other penalties if they assisted in the prosecution of their trafficker.

PREVENTION

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The Interdepartmental Coordination Unit coordinated government-wide anti-trafficking efforts and monitored the implementation of the national action plan for 2015-2019. The Ministry of Justice chaired the unit, which included key government ministries and agencies, as well as representatives of the three government-funded shelters and Myria. Myria served as the secretariat for the unit and as the independent national rapporteur, and it produced its own annual report on governmental anti-trafficking efforts. The government drafted a new national action plan, but the caretaker government lacked the authority to release it by the end of the reporting period. The government conducted several awareness campaigns aimed at front-line professionals such as hospital staff and social workers and participated in international awareness campaigns organized by regional and international organizations. The government continued a widely used program that subsidized the wages of maids and domestic workers and criminalized exploitative practices such as the confiscation of passports and contract switching. The government maintained a system to prevent the exploitation of domestic employees of foreign diplomats. 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; the government made efforts to reduce the demand for participation in international sex tourism by its citizens, including by prosecuting its citizens for participating in child sex tourism.

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 (including China, India, and Thailand), Eastern Europe (especially Albania, Hungary, Romania, and Ukraine), and North and Sub-Saharan Africa (primarily Morocco and Nigeria). Sex traffickers exploit Belgian girls, some of whom are recruited by local traffickers, and foreign children including Roma and Nigerian girls, who are recruited through extensive trafficking networks in Nigeria. Traffickers recruit girls from Eastern Europe on social media by posing as potential romantic partners. Belgian citizens participate in international child sex tourism. Labor traffickers exploit male victims in restaurants, bars, sweatshops, horticulture, fruit farms, construction, cleaning businesses, and retail shops; they exploit men and women in domestic service, including in the diplomatic community. Within the Romani community, traffickers exploit Roma children in forced begging and forced criminality. Asylum-seekers who have their applications for legal status denied and migrants transiting through Belgium to the United Kingdom are highly vulnerable to trafficking.

U.S. Department of State

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