General information: situation on trafficking in human beings
Belgium is mainly a transit and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of economic and sexual exploitation.
Trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation affects mostly nationals of Nigeria, Thailand and Eastern European countries. It involves organised networks (for Nigerian, Asian prostitution and some Eastern European prostitution) as well as individual exploiters. Nigerian prostitution rings are operated by international and large scale criminal networks, using exchange programmes of victims in various European countries. An increasing trend is the trafficking for sexual exploitation of Belgian girls by the so called “lover-boys”.
There is a decrease in visible prostitution, and an increase in dissimulated forms such as private housing, escort services, massage salons. Internet is used to recruit new sex-workers, to diverse sex-services, to make publicity and to dispatch victims over different countries.
Trafficking for the purpose of economic exploitation occurs in various economic sectors: agriculture and horticulture, construction, restaurants and cafes, cleaning industry, carwash, night and phone shops, horse riding schools, domestic work and others.
As regards trafficking for the purpose of domestic servitude, cases of exploitation in private households of diplomats accredited in Belgium have been brought to the attention of the authorities.
Trafficking of children remains a challenge in Belgium as very few are identified.
Belgium has implemented a comprehensive and integrated approach of human trafficking with specialised actors (police officers, labour inspectors, prosecutors, specialised shelters for victims, Immigration office).
Institutional, legal and policy framework
In 1995 Belgium adopted the Law of 13 April 1995 concerning the fight against trafficking in human beings. This law has been amended in 2005, 2013 and 2016.
Also a specific scheme for providing aid and assistance to victims of trafficking in human beings was in the nineties introduced in Belgium.
The following years, trafficking in human beings remained a priority for Belgium and different legislative instruments and tools were developed.
On 10 August 2005 a new law on trafficking in human beings was adopted (law of 10 August 2005 amending various provisions with a view to reinforcing the fight against human trafficking and against the practices of slumlords). In doing so, Belgium adapted its national legislation to the new international and European instruments that have been adopted in recent years.
This law makes a clear distinction between trafficking in human beings, on the one hand, and smuggling in human beings, on the other hand, and defines the crimes respectively in the Criminal Code (new article 433) and in the law of 15 December 1980 concerning access to the territory, stay, residence and the removal of foreigners (article 77).
In Belgium, trafficking in human beings is defined by the action and the purpose of exploitation. The means (coercion, violence, abuse of vulnerability, etc.) are aggravating circumstances. Five purposes of exploitation are explicitly mentioned: sexual exploitation, labour exploitation (described as a work performed in conditions contrary to human dignity), exploitation of begging, removal of organs, to be forced to commit an offence.
Trafficking in human beings are punishable with a prison sentence of one to five years and a fine of 500 to 50 000 Euro.
The fines are applied in function of the number of victims. The high fines are proportional to the huge profits traffickers in human beings make.
The law does not provide a specific definition of “trafficking in children”. However, the minority of the victim of trafficking or smuggling in human beings constitutes an aggravating circumstance and therefore appeals for a harsher sentence.
Coordination of anti-trafficking actions at national level
In order to coordinate the various initiatives taken within the framework of the fight against trafficking and smuggling in human beings, an Interdepartmental Coordination Platform for the Fight against Trafficking and Smuggling in human beings (ICP) has been set up. This Platform exists since 1995 but it has been given a new boost by the Royal Decree of 16 May 2004 concerning the fight against trafficking and smuggling in human beings. The chairmanship of the Interdepartmental Coordination Platform is held by the Minister of Justice.
The Interdepartmental Coordination Platform is made up of all the federal players, both operational and political and federal entities actively involved in the fight against the aforementioned phenomena. It includes representatives of the Prime Minister, the Ministers of Justice, the Interior, Employment, Social Security etc. and their administrations, next to representatives of the Board of Prosecutors General, the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office, Child Focus and the Federal Migration Centre (Independent National Rapporteur).
The 1 September 2014 a Royal Decree of 21 July 2014 amending the Royal Decree of 16 May 2004 concerning the fight against smuggling and trafficking in human beings entered into force. This Decree led to different changes in regard to the composition of the ICP and its Bureau.
The specialised reception centres attended regularly certain meetings of the Bureau however they were not until now official member of the ICP. Since the new Royal Decree they are formally included in the mechanism.
Moreover, in order to emphasise the focus on the financial aspect of Trafficking in Human Beings it seemed relevant to appoint a representative of the Financial Intelligence Processing Unit in the coordination mechanism.
In addition, a representative of the regions and the communities was added to the ICP. The communities are responsible for the formation and assistance to persons, which includes the youth assistance, the reception and integration of persons. Finally it was decided that a representative of the Board of Prosecutors-General should be added as an observant member of the Bureau.
At an operational level, the fight against trafficking in human beings is a priority for the Federal Office of the Public Prosecutor. It is responsible for public legal action at the national level, as well as for facilitating the flow and exchange of information between the different Public Prosecution Authorities, investigation magistrates and police services.
The Board of the General Prosecutors also has an important role to play in the fight against trafficking in Belgium. It has established an expertise network to promote the flow of information between specialised prosecutors and assist the Board of General Prosecutors.
National Rapporteur or equivalent mechanism
Different services fulfilled the role of the national rapporteur or equivalent mechanism already before the adoption of the Directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims.
Although the requirements of the Directive could be considered as already fulfilled, it became formally the case with the Royal Decree of 21th of July 2014 amending the Royal Decree of 16th of May 2004 concerning the fight against smuggling and trafficking in human beings.
Therefore the national rapporteur or equivalent mechanism has been organised by the Royal Decree in the form of a mechanism. This mechanism consist of:
- The Interdepartmental Coordination Platform for the fight against trafficking and smuggling in human beings as coordination body and the rapporteur of the State within the International Compliance Program, from the the Federal Public Service Justice, president of the Bureau, is responsible for the draft of the biannual report of the government.
- The Federal Migration Centre (Myria) as independent rapporteur
However, the main task of the ICP remains of course coordinating, presenting and implementing policy.
Federal Migration Centre - Myria
The Federal centre for the analysis of migration flows, the protection of the fundamental rights of foreign people and the fight against trafficking in human beings (better known as Federal Migration Centre or Myria) which is the successor of the Centre for Equal Opportunities and the Opposition to Racism, is an autonomous public service. It must legally fulfil its duties in all independence. Since 1996 they are in charge of the stimulation of the fight against human trafficking and publish yearly an independent and public evaluation report about the evolutions and the results of the fight against trafficking in human beings in Belgium.
Interdepartmental Coordination Platform
In addition, the Interdepartmental Coordination Platform also has the legal mission to carry out critical evaluations and recommendations. It executes this duty especially in the framework of the elaboration of an Action Plan or specific evaluations. Moreover, in accordance with the Law of 13 April 1995, the government must submit to the parliament a biennial report on the enforcement of measures to combat trafficking in human beings in Belgium. This report is drafted by the federal public service (FPS) of Justice.
Protection of the victims and access to rights
As early as in 1993, a specific scheme for providing aid and assistance to victims of trafficking in human beings was introduced in Belgium. The integral scheme was embedded in successive ministerial circulars.
The legal basis of the scheme has been provided by the Law of 15 September 2006 amending the Aliens Law of 15 December 1980 (art. 61/2 to 61/15). It is the result of the implementation of a number of European directives into Belgian law, among which the Directive of 29 April 2004 concerning the issue of temporary residence permits to victims of trafficking in human beings, who cooperate with the competent authorities.
At the end of 2008, the integral victim protection scheme was integrated into aministerial circular of 26 September 2008 concerning the introduction of a multi-disciplinary cooperation as regards the victims of trafficking in human beings and/or of certain more serious kinds of smuggling in human beings.
A revised version of the circular was adopted in December 2016 and was published on 10 March 2017. The main goal of this circular is defining the procedures for the identification, referral, reception and assistance of potential victims of trafficking in human beings and/or of certain more serious kinds of smuggling in human beings. The circular also stipulates the conditions that must be met in view of obtaining the victim status.
In order to efficiently organise the actions, a multi-disciplinary cooperation between the services involved, has been set up. The cooperation involves police and inspection services, the Immigration Office, the recognized and specialised reception centres for victims of trafficking in human beings and the reference magistrates for trafficking in human beings on the level of the public prosecutor and on the level of the auditor.
In view of achieving the above mentioned goals, each of the listed services involved is instructed on its role in the various stages of the process and the frontline actors are made aware of the actions they are expected to take.
The current system is designed to meet two different requirements: on the one hand, offer the victims a series of aid and assistance measures; on the other hand, combat persons and networks involved in trafficking in human beings. In order to achieve the latter, it is essential for the victim to cooperate.
It must be emphasized that the victim protection scheme covers all forms of exploitation of trafficking in human beings as described before. The victim protection scheme can also apply to victims of certain serious kinds of smuggling in human beings.
The status of victim
The status of victim of trafficking in human beings can be granted either to third-country nationals or to nationals of EU countries. The status of victim of smuggling in human beings under aggravating circumstances can exclusively be granted to third-country nationals.
A number of additional provisions concern specific categories of victims such as private domestic staff of members of diplomatic missions and foreign unaccompanied minors. Children who are victims of trafficking are granted a three month residence permit, during which time they have to decide whether to testify against their traffickers. The competent authorities must consider the best interests of the minor as long as the procedure runs. The minor will also be placed under guardianship. Foreign child victims are received in special centres for unaccompanied minors, which cooperate with the other three specialised reception centres for victims of trafficking
If they do not qualify for victim status, they may still qualify for protection under the government’s rules for unaccompanied minors.
In most cases, police and social inspection services identify victims of trafficking in human beings. As frontline services, the latter play a key role in the correct implementation of the procedure. They use indicators of trafficking and smuggling in human beings. They allow ascertaining whether a certain case is related to trafficking in human beings or not.
The said services must inform the victims on the existence of the victim protection scheme, e.g. by means of a multilingual information leaflet. Each presumed victim must be referred into one of the three recognised and specialised reception centres for victims of trafficking in human beings.
Foreign potential victims of trafficking are granted a reflection period of 45 days during which they can decide either to file a complaint or make a statement of return to his/her country of origin. During that period, the victim has access to social assistance. After that period of time, any victim who decides to file a complaint or make a statement is granted the special status of victim of human trafficking, and thus has access to the various forms of aid provided for within this framework. This assistance includes accommodation, psycho-social help and legal aid. It is worth noting that, under the Belgian system, testimony in court proceedings is not a condition for a victim to be granted the status of victim of trafficking in human beings. During this period, the victim is granted a temporary residence permit, which can be renewed until the end of the criminal procedure against the traffickers.
The victim may obtain permanent residency after their traffickers have been sentenced. The victim can also obtain an unlimited residence permit without the conviction of the trafficker(s), provided that the public prosecutor or the labour auditor has established in his/her charges the offence of trafficking in human beings.
Specialised reception centres for victims of trafficking and smuggling in human beings
Since 1995, three specialised centres have been given recognition as reception centres for providing shelter and assistance to victims of trafficking and smuggling in human beings. These three reception centres are
- PAG-ASA (located in Brussels),
- Sürya (located in Liège, in the Walloon Region)
- Payoke (located in Antwerp, in the Flemish Region)
On 1 June 2013, a legal basis was created via the Royal Decree of 18 April 2013 with regard to the recognition of the centres specialised in the reception of and assistance to victims of trafficking in human beings and of certain aggravated forms of trafficking in human beings and with regard to the authorisation to start legal actions.
These three recognized specialised reception centres for victims of trafficking in human beings provide shelter, care, psychological and medical assistance as well as legal assistance. The centres also have a shelter at a secret location. These centres are the only centres competent for requesting residence permits or their renewal with the Immigration Office. They also can start legal actions on behalf of victims of trafficking and smuggling in human beings.
These centres work with multidisciplinary teams made up of educators, social workers, criminologists and others. In consultation, they draw up the assistance scheme for the victim.
Unaccompanied minors victims of trafficking in human beings
For unaccompanied minor victims of trafficking in human beings, a series of special measures have been developed. The structures of the above mentioned centres are not adapted to them. They will in principle be accommodated in centres for unaccompanied foreign minors victims of trafficking such as Esperanto in Wallonia or Minor-Ndako in Brussels and Flanders.
In addition, since 2002, a system of guardianship has been put in place. A guardian is thus appointed to each unaccompanied foreign minor. The guardian is responsible for protecting the minor and ensuring that his or her best interests are met. The system has also been extended to European foreign minors that are potential victims of trafficking. In 2017 the Guardianship Service created a pool for unaccompanied foreign minors victims of Trafficking in Human Beings. These guardians have received specific training with case studies in order to raise their awareness of child trafficking, to better understand the realities of trafficking, particularly in the context of migration, and to have an overview of the legislative framework and the existing procedures.
Prosecution of traffickers and perpetrators
The main tool with respect to investigation and prosecution of trafficking in human beings is the Directive of the Minister of Justice and the Board of Prosecutors General, which is designed to develop a coherent investigation and prosecution policy concerning trafficking (2015) in human beings. The Directive provides a coordination structure involving all the Belgian prosecution bodies, namely the offices of the Public Prosecution at various levels (federal, first Instance, labour attorneys general and labour attorneys). These coordination meetings guarantee an efficient flow of information between relevant actors.
It is also worth noting that there are specialised magistrates who are appointed in each legal district. Trainings are regularly organised as well as for specialised prosecutors as for other magistrates. Police services and labour inspector services have also specialists, who are regularly trained in order to detect and investigate trafficking cases.
Raising the awareness of the medical sector
The Bureau of the Intensive Care Units, in cooperation with the Federal Public Service Public Health, has developed an awareness campaign on human trafficking for the medical sector. This campaign was run in 2012, 2014 and 2018. It consisted of posters for the hospitals and a brochure to inform the (medical) staff of hospitals.
The brochure ‘Human Trafficking... What can you do?’ describes the problem, explains the situation of the victims and says what to do if a staff member comes into contact with a (potential) victim of human trafficking. In this way, they can refer victims to specialised reception centres that provide them with psychological, administrative and legal assistance.
The brochure is mainly intended for emergency services, gynaecologists and social assistants of the hospital sector. These services can play an important role in the fight against human trafficking as they are most often confronted with (potential) victims of human trafficking.
Campaign for raising awareness of applicants for international protection seeking employment
In cooperation with various NGOs, trade unions, and others, the Bureau has drawn up a brochure for applicants for international protection (subsequently: “the applicant”).
The aim of the brochure is to inform the applicants of the minimum labour law standards in force in Belgium and of the risks of exploitation.
The brochure is also available to the staff of the Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (FEDASIL), the Immigration Department and the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (GVS), so that all parties concerned are aware of the standards and associations that can help in a possible case of exploitation.
Further, since the beginning of 2016, the Foreigner’s Office initiated a series of trainings for staff of reception centres of asylum seekers, aiming at informing participants about the identification of victims of trafficking in human beings and the procedures for referral of possible victims.
Training centres at the local police level, which provide basic training for police inspectors, operate autonomously. They offer basic knowledge of trafficking in human beings and identification of possible cases in the course of different police assignments. Training required for a promotion to chief inspector includes a thematic module on trafficking in human beings, with an emphasis on discovering trafficking cases on the basis of indicators, identification of possible victims and the referral of victims to specialised centres for assistance. Police officers specialising in combating trafficking in human beings take part in an information session and a one-day follow-up organised every year.
Raising the awareness of the banking sector
In 2018, an information brochure was distributed in order to inform the banking sector in Belgium on how to detect financial transactions possibly related to criminal activities of human traffickers. This can facilitate reporting such situations to the Belgian Financial Information Processing Unit.
The brochure lists various indicators that can help in detecting suspicious transactions. In this way, a more accurate picture can also be given of the types of fraudulent transactions that may result from human trafficking or smuggling.
National Action Plan
Since 2008, four National Action Plans on combating trafficking in human beings have been drawn up. The last Action Plan 2021-2025 was adopted in 2021.
These action plans aim to further develop the integrated approach by aligning the four Ps (Prevention, Prosecution, Protection and Partnership). For example, a stricter prosecution policy for perpetrators of human trafficking, awareness-raising campaigns, and the recognition of the specialised centres for the reception of victims have been specific focus areas. Other initiatives include improving the key points of the current policy (national referral mechanism, criminalisation, training of specialist actors, identification of child victims, recognition of reception centres, etc.) and initiatives regarding non-specialised actors.
In 2018, a document addition - Minor victims of trafficking in human beings, was added to the National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings 2015-2019 (Dutch version and French version). This document addition aims to improve the detection, referral and protection of child victims of trafficking in human beings. It includes measures to improve cooperation with youth welfare sector and actors.
Cross-border cooperation to address trafficking in human beings
Cooperation with EU countries
On the level of the Benelux a working group was established concerning Trafficking in Human Beings. In 2016 the Benelux countries published a brochure on national referral mechanisms and the bodies and authorities that can be contacted in the course of specific case management.
This brochure aims to facilitate transnational co-operation as regards identification and referral for assistance of victims of trafficking and seeks to assist frontline actors who come across victims of trafficking in their daily work. It includes essential information concerning the elements of trafficking offence in the legislation of three Benelux countries, the law enforcement and other national authorities with primary responsibility for action against trafficking. This brochure was adapted in 2021 (Dutch version and French version).
Cooperation with non-EU countries
Belgium’s efforts to combat human trafficking internationally have mainly focused on information campaigns conducted within countries of origin. The purpose of these campaigns is to inform people of these regions, mostly women and children, about the risks they might potentially incur.
Moreover, the Belgian Action Plan against Trafficking in Human Beings contains actions to be undertaken at the international level. These actions include active representation of Belgium in bilateral and multilateral negotiations in the field of anti-trafficking. The Belgian Police includes anti-trafficking initiatives in initiated police cooperation agreements with EU and third countries.
Belgium also contributes financially to various projects developed by international organisations such as the International Organisation for Migration or the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Myria (the Federal Migration Centre) publishes every year an Independent and public evaluation report on the evolution and the results of the fight against human trafficking in Belgium. These reports also focus every year on a specific issue (for example: internet and social media, begging, loverboys, and other issues).
Relevant links to national authorities, institutions websites and other relevant contacts
Independent National Rapporteur
MYRIA - Federal Migration Centre
Contact person: Patricia Le Cocq
Address: Rue Royale/Koningstraat 138, 1000 Brussels
Telephone: + 32 (0)2 212 31 19
National Coordination/Governmental reporting
Federal Public Service of Justice
National Coordination: Chairmanship of the Bureau of the Interdepartmental Coordination Platform for the Fight against Trafficking and Smuggling in human beings (ICP)
Service of Criminal Policy: Directorate-General for Legislation and Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, Federal Public Service (FPS) of Justice
Contact person: Jean-François Minet
Address: Boulevard de Waterloo/Waterloolaan 115, 1000 Brussels
Telephone: + 32 (0)2 542 79 28
Website: http://www.dsb-spc.be (in Dutch and French)
Government agencies or institutional stakeholders
Federal Judicial Police, Directorate for Combating Serious and Organised Crime (DJSOC), Federal Public Service Interior
Contact email: email@example.com
Immigration Department, Federal Public Service Home Affairs
Address: Boulevard Pachéco 44/Pachecolaan 44, 1000 Brussels
Telephone: +32 2 793 89 25
Fax: +32 (0)2 274 66 95
Website: http://www.dofi.fgov.be (in Dutch and French)
National Social Security Office, Front Office
Address: Place Victor Horta 11 – P2/04 /Victor Hortaplein 11 – P2/04, 1060 Brussels
Telephone: General: +32 (0)2 509 59 59
Fax: +32 (0)2 219 28 30 (French)
Federal Public Service Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue
Address: Rue Ernest Blerot/Ernest Blerotstraat 1, 1070 Brussels
Telephone: +32 (0)2 233 41 11
Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs
Contact person: Peter Booms
Address: Rue des Carmélites/Karmelietenstraat 15, 1000 Brussels
Telephone: + 32 (0)2 501 47 41
Contact person: Liesbeth Claesen
Telephone: +32 (0)2 501 87 40
Network of experts on “trafficking in human beings” at the Board of Prosecutors General
Secretariat of the board of Prosecutors General
Address: Boulevard de Waterloo/Waterloolaan 76, 1000 Brussels
Telephone: +32 (0) 2 557.42.00
Specialised reception centres for victims of trafficking in human beings
Address: Cellebroersstraat / Rue des Alexiens 16B, 1000 Brussels
Telephone: +32 (0)2 511 64 64
Fax: +32 (0)2 511 58 68
Address: Leguit 4, 2000 Antwerpen
Telephone: +32 (0)3 201 16 90
Fax: +32 (0)3 233 23 24
Address: Rue Rouveroy 2, 4000 Liège
Telephone: +32 (0)4 232 40 30
Fax: +32 (0)4 232 40 39
Address: Rue Joseph II/Joseph II-straat 20, 1000 Brussels
Telephone: + 32 (0)478 60 12 33
Child Focus – Foundation for missing and exploited children
Address: Avenue Houba - de Strooper/Houba de Stroperlaan 292, 1020 Brussels
Telephone: + 32 (0)2 475 44 11
Address: Place des barricades/Barricadenplein 1, 1000 Brusells
Telephone: + 32 (0)2 733 00 94