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    The issue of trafficking in human beings came into the public eye in 1991, when a case of trafficking in women was prosecuted and hence served as a legal test case in that field. Consequently, a Parliamentary Enquiry Commission was established in 1992 in order to analyse the phenomenon of human trafficking and to elaborate a comprehensive policy on this topic. The Commission identified various policy gaps related, for instance, to the issuance of residency permits to non-nationals, court follow up on trafficking charges, and leniency towards pimps and traffickers. Belgium confirmed its determination to fight against that; modern form of slavery; by adopting the Law of 13 April 1995 concerning the fight against trafficking in human beings. An active policy on this matter has been pursued ever since. The fight against trafficking in human beings was highlighted as a priority in the Framework Document on Integral Security which was as adopted by the Council of Ministers of 30 March 2004.

    Belgium is mainly a transit and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of economic and sexual exploitation. Women and girls are trafficked to Belgium primarily from Nigeria, Russia, Eastern Europe and China.

    Men are trafficked to Belgium especially for the purpose of labour exploitation, for example in restaurants, bars and construction sites. In 2008, the Belgian government and several non-governmental organisations reported an increase in the amount of cases of economic exploitation and hidden forms of sexual exploitation (i.e. sexual exploitation that is disguised as massage salons and/or escort services).

    Main trends on sexual exploitation:

    • Main trends: offender groups from Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Nigeria and Brazil. There is a decrease in visible prostitution (red light district, bars,…) and an increase in dissimulated forms such as private housing, escort services, massage salons.
    • Trends:  Upon suspicion of the traffickers that a victims’ name occurred in an investigation, the victim will be transported for exploitation to neighboring countries, in which the network is also operating.
    • In Nigerian prostitution rings, operated by international and large scale criminal networks, we noted so called “exchange programmes” of victims among exploiters in Norway, Spain, Sweden and Belgium.
    • In some districts prostitutes receive a significant part of the profits made (a so called win-win situation); therefore they are reluctant to make statements regarding the activities of their pimps.
    • Increasing use of Internet to recruit new sex-workers, to diverse sex-services, to make publicity and to dispatch victims over different countries.

    Main trends on labour exploitation:

    • Main trends: Bulgarian, Romanian, Brazilian, Moroccan, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, and Belgian offender groups.
    • Occurs in almost all economic sectors: agriculture and horticulture (India, Morocco, Romania, Poland, Turkey); construction and renovation (Brazilians, Bulgaria, Romania); restaurants and cafés (Brazil, Bulgaria, Nepal, Morocco, China); (building) cleaning industry (Brazil, Morocco); meat industry (Morocco, Bulgaria) textile & garment ateliers and markets (India, Pakistani); night- and phone shops and carwash with India & Pakistan, flower selling with India.
    • Main trends:  in the construction sector: presumed “self-employed” workers especially with new EU-residents (East Europe);  pseudo-legal immigration for example persons who enter Belgium legally as a student but then disappear. We also noted that networks use different types of pseudo-legal forms of immigration like marriages of compliance, falsified student or labour contracts, etc. In a next phase these persons become victims of economic exploitation.

    A recent final decision of 25 of January 2013 convicted a man who exploited in Belgium disabled persons of Slovakia. In this case the man was convicted for THB - exploitation of begging. The persons recruited were obliged to beg on shops car parks. They had to sleep in a car. At night the perpetrator counted the money and kept most of it.  The court highlighted the fact that the situation was particularly degrading for the exploited persons.

    In another file, a well-known catering-restaurant chain systematically exploited, as the principal contractor and through a system of subcontractors, victims working in the restroom facilities on the highway. As principal contractor and organiser, the chain developed a system of exploitation in stages, which could be adapted and refined after each police visit or inspection. They made use of posted workers and bogus self-employed workers. The principal contractor and the subcontractors were convicted (Criminal Court, Gent, 5th November 2012).

    In a Nigerian case of sexual exploitation (Tongeren Criminal Court, 3 May 2012,...) in Tongeren, on the boarder with the Netherlands, one of the victims was intercepted in the Netherlands and risked being repatriated to Nigeria. The Belgian Prosecutor then contacted the Immigration Office (IO) to transfer the victim to Belgium and to place her under the official status of victim in Belgium. After telephonic conversations, the police found that one of the victims was in administrative detention with an inmate in the Netherlands. Via EPICC (the Euregional Police Information Cooperation Centre) the two persons were able to be identified and the closed detention centre in the Netherlands where the victim was being held could be located. On two occasions, Belgium sent an inquiry commission to the Netherlands to interview the victim. According to the police, during these meetings, the victim appeared overcome with ‘an incredible anxiety about the impact of the voodoo spells that had been cast on her future. With the help of the staff of a specialised support centre and discussions with them, the victim was eventually convinced to go to Belgium and claim the official status of victim.

    Various authorities had to be engaged to arrange this in administrative terms. The IO acted as an intermediary to transfer the victim to Belgium. The Human Trafficking unit of the IO confirmed that the victim met all the conditions for access to the official status of victim of human trafficking. The Dublin office of the IO in turn contacted the Dutch authorities and it was confirmed that the victim would be granted legal residence in Belgium. Agreements were also made concerning the practical implementation of the recovery and further assistance to the victim. The ‘Repatriation and Departure Service’ of the Dutch Ministry of Justice finally notified the Belgian police that the victim would cooperate unconditionally as long as she could be placed in Belgium in a shelter run by a specialised support centre. Thereupon, the Dutch police brought the victim to the Belgian-Dutch border to hand her over to the Belgian police, who in turn transferred her to the shelter run by a specialised support centre in Antwerp.

    For more information on trends, see phenomenon analysis (CEOOR reports:

    A summary of this text is available in the official language of the country.




    All forms of trafficking in human beings are prohibited. Both offences of smuggling and trafficking in human beings have been punishable in Belgium since 1995. However, no distinction existed between these two specific offences. Consequently, the 1995 Belgian legislation was replaced by the Law of 10 August 2005 which aims to strengthen the fight against trafficking and smuggling in human beings. The new legal framework established a clear distinction between trafficking in human beings and smuggling in human beings. Subsequently, trafficking in human beings became an autonomous offence in the Belgian Criminal Code while smuggling remained an offence in the Aliens Act.

    The Belgian system does not draw a distinction between trafficking in human beings and trafficking in children. However, if the victim is a child this constitutes an aggravated circumstance that results in increased penalty. The penalty amounts to a jail sentence from one to five years and a fine from 500 to 50,000 Euros. The Law provides for three levels of aggravating circumstances resulting in heavier penalties. The maximum legal sentence for all forms of trafficking is 20 years of imprisonment.

    The Aliens Act of 15 December 1980 (amended by the law of 15 September 2006) describes the measures to be taken for the issuance of temporary (and in certain cases permanent) residence permits for victims of trafficking and/or aggravated cases of smuggling in human beings. In order to enjoy the protection provided by this legal framework, the victim must fulfil three conditions:

    • Break off contact with suspected offenders
    • Compulsory guidance by a specialised centre for victims of trafficking in human beings
    • Cooperate with judicial authorities as to the investigation against and the prosecution of offenders.


    National Strategy / National Action Plan

    The Belgian government adopted a National Anti-Trafficking Plan in 2008 for the period 2008-2011. The Belgian approach towards trafficking in human beings is focused on the “Four Ps”: Prevention of trafficking in human beings; Prosecution of the criminals; Protection of the victims; and Partnership with actors that are also confronted with trafficking in human beings.

    Coordination of anti-trafficking actions at national level

    The body responsible for formulating policy on human trafficking is the Interdepartmental Unit for Coordinating the Fight against Trafficking and Smuggling in Human Beings, which was established in 1995. It was reinforced by the Royal Decree on the fight against trafficking of May 16, 2004. Besides its coordination task, the Interdepartmental Unit also submits the implementation of anti trafficking policies to a critical assessment.

    The Interdepartmental Unit is under the chairmanship of the Belgian minister of Justice and includes all the federal (operational as well, as political) actors actively involved in the fight against trafficking in human beings. As the Interdepartmental Unit only meets once or twice a year, its daily tasks are carried out by a Bureau. It writes proposal to the Interdepartmental Unit and implements decisions taken by the Unit.

    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 “specialized” prosecutors and assist the Board of General Prosecutors.

    The Trafficking in Human Beings network gathers all prosecutors and experts, including the Federal Police, the Immigration Office and the Service of Criminal Policy, dealing specifically with investigation and prosecution of trafficking in human beings.

    The Board of Prosecutors General also publishes relevant case law on the intranet of the Public Prosecution for the benefit of specialized prosecutors.


    National Rapporteur or equivalent mechanism

    The Belgian Government has not officially appointed a National Rapporteur.

    However, the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism (Le Centre pour l’Egalité des chances et la lutte contre le racisme),an autonomous public service established in 1993, has been issuing independent annual evaluation reports on trafficking in human beings since 1996, in accordance with a Royal Decree, and is defactoexercising the role of National Rapporteur or equivalent mechanism. The reports draw the authorities’ attention to the most important issues and simultaneously propose measures to be taken to improve anti-trafficking activities and to enhance victim support.

    Moreover, in accordance with the Act of April 13 1995, the government must submit to the parliament a biennial report on the enforcement of measures to combat trafficking in human beings in Belgium. The report is drafted by the Department of Criminal Policy, which has an autonomous status within the Ministry of Justice.The same Department is also in charge of evaluating anti-trafficking policies for the Board of General Prosecutors.

    The most important challenges you face at national level

    Collection of comparable and standardised data to ba shared among different actors.



    • In 2009 a project of ‘flyers’ has been developed by the Belgian Interdepartmental Coordination Unit for the Fight against Trafficking and Smuggling in Human Beings. The ‘flyer’ is to be inserted in visas which are delivered by Belgian embassies in countries whose population is highly represented among victims of trafficking in Belgium. The idea is to inform migrants about the risk of being exploited in the country of destination. This flyer has been sended to the most concerned diplomatic posts (China, India, Ecuador, Philippines). This year it has been extended to Brazil and Morocco;
    • Another proposal is to develop a newsletter of trafficking in human beings which will be distributed in the hospitals. The purpose is to sensitize the medical sector to the problem and to help them if necessary to give advise to the potential victim;
    • For years now, the Brazilians have constituted one of the main groups of victims of trafficking in human beings in Belgium. The Brazilian nationals in Belgium are particularly affected by labour exploitation, a phenomenon that grew very significantly between 2000 and 2008. Most of the Brazilians identified as victims of trafficking are indeed exploited in the construction industry (men), in industrial cleaning (men and women) or in domestic work (women).

    At the end of 2009, IOM, with the support of the Belgian Immigration Office, launched an information campaign for the Brazilians in Belgium. The campaign informed them on their rights and obligations, and principally focused on the protection mechanisms existing in Belgium for victims of trafficking and of exploitation as well as on the Legal opportunities for Brazilians residing in an irregular situation in Belgium.

    Following the campaign, the Belgian and Brazilian authorities set up at the beginning of 2010 the cooperation framework in view of defining modalities of future cooperation, including the implementation of an information campaign in Brazil on the risks of irregular migration to Belgium. A wide range of Belgian and Brazilian institutions were involved in this process at different levels. Immigration and intelligence services, Police, Ministries of Labour and Justice, consulates, trade unions, religious groups and NGO’s were part of the discussion and offered their support in view of future cooperation and of the campaign. These initial contacts set the ground for future direct cooperation at the operational level between the Belgian and Brazilian representatives, initiating the creasing of direct channels of communication and information exchange as basis for future cooperation and communication.

    In the first half of July 2011, a Belgian delegation went to Brazil to discuss concrete joint actions concerning exchange of information, collaboration, migration issues, and especially prevention of economic and sexual exploitation.

    The conclusions of this meeting will be soon incorporated into a report which will be signed by both parties. In the beginning of October 2011, there will be a return visit to Belgium during which the conclusions will be translated into concrete initiatives.

    The 2009 annual report of the CEOOR (in a haze of legality) has been published in English and is available on the website:

    Anti-trafficking week October 2010 – Belgian presidency

    On the 18th and 19th of October 2010 Belgium organized during his European presidency an international conference concerning trafficking in human beings ”Towards a multidisciplinary approach to prevention of trafficking in human beings, prosecution of traffickers and protection of victims”. The conclusions of this conference can be found here. Another national conference on labour exploitation was organized by Foundation Samilia (association of private sector).

    Assistance and support provided to victims

    The system of assistance and support provided to victims of trafficking was primarily established by the Aliens Act of 1980 (as amended by the Law of 15 September 2006 related to the issuance of residence permits to victims of trafficking in human beings).

    In order to better implement that legislation and to provide a unified system of protection of victimes, on the basis of a proposal from the Interdepartmental Coordination Unit for the fight against trafficking and smuggling in human beings, the Belgian government issued in 2008 an inter-agency directive on coordination and assistance to victims of trafficking. The Directive deals with the identification of victims and their referral to specialized centres. It also explains the different steps of the procedure that the victim needs to follow in order to benefit from the protection.

    In 1995, three specialised reception centres in Belgium were officially authorised to provide assistance and protection to victims of trafficking - one in Antwerp (Payoke), one in Brussels (Pag-asa), and one in Liège (Sürya). Pag-asa and Sürya were created in 1995 while Payoke has existed since 1987. The centres are accredited and provided with public funding.

    Victims detected by relevant actors (e.g. the Police, the Social Inspection services, etc.) must be referred to the centres and correctly informed about the protection status to which they are entitled.  The centres, which are not law enforcement bodies, have authorisation to request residence permits for victims and assist them through the judicial procedure. The Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism coordinates cooperation between the three centres.

    • In 2008 a directive of the reference mechanism concerning the identification and protection of victims was published.  An evaluation of this directive should lead to the adaptation of existing tools.
    • The federal police has introduced in all police stations the instrument “Victim-Translation-Assistance – VITA” of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for the identification of victims. It concerns a questionnaire on CD-rom. The questionnaire is composed of closed questions and is translated to different languages. This tool has as purpose to communicate with the victims just after the intervention and to find out which language the victim speaks. By this way the police can also inform what the “elementary” needs of the victim are. There is also subtitling foreseen so that the police services can follow what the victim says.

    Residence permits

    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 'victims 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”.

    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. Nevertheless, if the trafficker is not convicted, the victim may in some cases have to return to his/her country of origin, after review by the immigration authorities.

    In 2007 and 2008, 179 and 196 new victims have been received by the centres.

    Special protective measures for children

    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. If they do not qualify for victim status, they may still qualify for protection under the government’s rules for unaccompanied minors.

    Foreign child victims are received in special centres for unaccompanied minors, which cooperate with the other three specialised reception centres for victims of trafficking.

    The Belgian government identifies child sex tourismas a significant problem and has an extraterritorial law that allows for the prosecution of its nationals for child abuse crimes committed abroad.

    Investigation and prosecution

    The main tool with respect to investigation and prosecution of trafficking in Human beings is the Directive Col 01/2007 of the Board of Prosecutors General, which is designed to develop a coherent investigation and prosecution policy concerning trafficking 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 in addition to a specialised police unit within the Federal Police.

    The police service is structured at the local level and the national level.  Since 1993, a central anti-trafficking unit has been established at the national level. That central unit works in close cooperation with 29 decentralised anti-trafficking teams of the federal police and with anti-trafficking teams of the local police which have been set up in the most important Belgian cities.

    Number of prosecutions

    According to the 2010 United States Trafficking in Persons Report, the Belgian government reported prosecuting 387 trafficking suspects in 2009: and convicting 151 trafficking offenders in 2008. The sentences for 146 convicted traffickers ranged from less than one year to 10 years in prison.

    Latest initiatives/activities related to anti-trafficking policy

    A specialized training course meant for magistrates has been organized by the Board of General Prosecutors and the Judicial training Institute. The training course focused on the financial investigations.

    - The Interdepartmental Unit is currently working on sensitization tools meant for social workers in Asylum Seekers Centers to help them to identify unaccompanied minors potentially victims of THB. The Unit also works on reviewing the interdepartmental mechanism to include the specialized reception centers for victims of trafficking in human beings in its regular meetings. 

    National Referral Mechanism

    Already since 1993 a specific scheme for providing aid and assistance to victims of trafficking in human beings was introduced in Belgium. At the end of 2008, the integral victim protection scheme was integrated into a new ministerial 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.
    The main goal of the aforementioned 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 organize the actions, a multi-disciplinary cooperation between the services involved, has been set up. The cooperation involves police and inspection services, the Immigration Service, the recognized and specialized reception centers 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 abovementioned goals, each of the aforementioned 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 of trafficking in human beings can be granted either to third-country nationals or to nationals of the Member States of the European Union. 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.
    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 recognized and specialized reception centers for victims of trafficking in human beings.
    These three recognized and specialized reception centers provide accommodation, assistance, psychological and medical assistance as well as legal assistance. These centers are exclusively competent for applying for residence permits or the renewal thereof with the Immigration Service.
    When the police or inspection service identifies a person as a victim of trafficking in human beings, it simultaneously takes the following steps:

    • Inform the magistrate to the public prosecutor’s office;
    • Contact one of the specialized reception centers;
    • Inform the Immigration Service (Office des Etrangers).

    In the circular it is mentioned that the circular has to be the subject of an assessment by the Interdepartmental Coordination Unit combating smuggling and trafficking in human beings two years after the start of his application.
    A first part of the evaluation of the circular, namely of the general application of the circular was ended in 2011. A second part, the evaluation of the application of the circular towards the unaccompanied minors will be finished in 2012.
    One of the main challenges will be the improvement of the communication between the different actors for example concerning the decision of the ending of the procedure for the victim.
    Other recommendations that were mentioned are the importance of further training of the actors concerned and to sensitize certain sectors like the hospitals, schools, etc.
    Also the insecure position of a victim, exploited in another member state then Belgium should be examined. It has to be examined in which country the victim should be looked after.


    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 Organization for Migration or the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

    Future plans in terms of implementation of the directive 2011/36/EU

    At this moment, the parliament discusses the revision of the THB incrimination. In the current state of discussions, the new provision extends the definition of THB for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The previous provision was limited to the exploitation of prostitution and child sexual abuse which was insufficiently in compliance with the directive and other international instruments. Therefore, the new provision explicitly includes the wording “the others forms of sexual exploitation”.

    Moreover, the notion of “services provided in conditions contrary to human dignity” will be added to the concept of “working in conditions contrary to human dignity”. This change enlarge the scope in which the definition of THB for economical purpose can be applied to others situations than only “working situations”.

    Others changes and topics regarding THB are currently discussed by the assemblies.


    In July 2008, Belgian authorities opened an investigation into seven members of the royal family from the United Arab Emirates for trafficking 17 girls from Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, India, Iraq, Morocco and the Philippines for domestic servitude while staying at a Brussels hotel. Subsequently, a majority of these victims were granted victim status by Belgian authorities. The royal family members have since left the country.

    In 2007, two Dutch nationals, resident in China, were convicted by a Belgian Criminal Court of trafficking in human beings for the purpose of economic exploitation.  The convicted persons had been employing numerous native Chinese in inhuman conditions for several years. Their employees were forced to work 10/12 hours per day in the restaurant of the convicted persons. Moreover, they were deprived of their identification documents and they could not leave the restaurant. In addition to imprisonment and fine, the Criminal Court ruled that a significant amount of 1 million Euros would be confiscated from the convicted persons.  In appeal, the court decided that this important amount of money should primarily be used for the benefit of the victims and to finance the damages that had been pronounced by the judge. 

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