[ Country-by-Country Reports ]

BELGIUM (TIER 1)   [Extracted from U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2009]

Belgium is a destination and transit country for men, women, and girls trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Women and girls are trafficked to Belgium for sexual exploitation primarily from Nigeria, Russia, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and through Belgium to other European countries, such as the United Kingdom. Male victims are trafficked to Belgium for labor exploitation in restaurants, bars, sweatshops, horticulture, fruit farms, and construction sites. According to Belgian immigration, the number of foreign unaccompanied minors entering the country increased by 14 percent in 2007 compared to 2006. The government determined that 9 of these minors were victims of trafficking, compared to 14 of 1752 unaccompanied minors who entered in 2006. The government and NGOs reported two new trends in 2008: an increase in the number of forced labor cases, and sex trafficking increasingly disguised by businesses including massage parlors, escort services, and the Internet. The trafficking of workers for domestic servitude and trafficking for sexual exploitation continued to be committed by some members of the international diplomatic community posted in Belgium. The Belgian government has conducted campaigns to reduce this problem and investigates such cases.

The Government of Belgium fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government developed a directive to improve the identification and referral of trafficking victims and financed NGOs to provide comprehensive victim assistance. The government financed victim shelters providing the full spectrum of services and protections to victims. The government and royal foundation funded several NGOs that conducted prevention campaigns.

Recommendations for Belgium: Improve the collection of comprehensive anti-trafficking law enforcement data, including numbers of prosecutions and convictions for forced labor and trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation, along with corresponding sentencing data, and numbers of government-assisted repatriations; consider training for officials who may encounter trafficking victims that focuses on the needs of victims.

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 sentence for all forms of trafficking -- 30 years’ imprisonment -- is sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for rape. In 2007, the most recent year for which data were available, the government reported 1,204 trafficking investigations. Authorities reported prosecuting and obtaining the convictions of 223 trafficking offenders, compared to 238 prosecuted and convicted in 2006. In 2007, the government reported that seventy percent of convicted traffickers received prison sentences ranging from one year to more than 10 year’s jail time. It is unclear how many of these cases involved forced labor and how many involved trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation.

In July 2008, Belgian authorities opened investigations of seven members of the royal family of Abu Dhabi (UAE) for trafficking 17 girls reportedly from Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, India, Iraq, Morocco and the Philippines for domestic servitude while staying at a Brussels hotel; 11 of these victims were subsequently granted victim status by Belgian authorities. However, the implicated sheikha and seven other family members have since left the country. The investigation remains ongoing. In January 2009, Belgian authorities arrested and charged nine suspects involved in the trafficking of 17 Thai women in massage parlors; one of the arrestees was an employee of the Ministry of Justice. NGOs reported blatant exploitation of undocumented Bulgarian women by human trafficking networks in Brussels and also claimed that some officials abused their positions to obtain sexual services from possible victims. One NGO indicated that judges and other officials could benefit from increased anti-trafficking trafficking training.

The government improved its capacity to identify and protect trafficking victims during the reporting period. In September 2008, the government issued an interagency directive on coordination and assistance to trafficking victims, which included procedures on identification of victims and their referral to shelters. The government continued to fund three NGOs that sheltered and provided comprehensive assistance to trafficking victims in 2008. During the reporting period, 495 adults were referred to the three specialized shelter centers, compared to a total of 619 persons registered the previous year. Of those 495 people, 202 were identified as potential trafficking victims. Forty-seven victims qualified for full victim status in 2008, compared to 62 qualifying in 2007. In 2008, an additional 122 victims received permanent residency permits, even though they did not receive final victim status. Belgian law allows the provision of extendable temporary residence status and permanent residence status to victims who participated in trafficking investigations and prosecutions. Residence can be granted before an investigation is completed at judicial discretion; residency can also be granted even without a successful prosecution. Children who were victims of trafficking reportedly were granted three months in which to decide whether to testify against their traffickers. If they did not qualify for victim status, they may still have qualified for protection under the government’s rules for unaccompanied minors. Victims who served as witnesses in court were entitled to seek legal employment during the trial process. Identified victims were not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.

In 2008, the Belgian government demonstrated progress in its anti-trafficking prevention efforts. The Belgian government funds all domestic NGOs involved in combating human trafficking in Belgium. Demand reduction and prevention are two main objectives of the 2008-2011 Belgian National Anti-Trafficking Plan. The government funds websites and conducts campaigns to reduce demand. “Stop Child Prostitution” is a particularly noteworthy ongoing campaign sponsored by the government-funded NGOs Child Focus, ECPAT, FIT, the Federal Police, and the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs. The Royal King Baudouin Foundation has funded campaigns aimed at the situation of diplomatic household personnel. The Center to Combat Racism and Discrimination and the three trafficking victim shelters participated in the European Anti-Trafficking Day awareness campaign. Belgian law allows for the prosecution of Belgian nationals for child abuse crimes committed abroad. The government provided specific anti-trafficking training to Belgian troops before they were deployed on international peacekeeping missions.