Human trafficking

01 Definition

Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery. A person exploiting another person for a benefit. Traffickers commit this heinous crime, depriving the liberty and dignity of another human being for their own personal enrichment.

It is a complex phenomenon which also impacts upon the fundamental rights of victims. Every year, millions of women, men and children are victims. Human trafficking is often an international phenomenon because many victims are transported from one country to another. But it is important to remember that people can be victims in their own country, even Belgians in Belgium!

Human trafficking is a very lucrative business. From the sale and exploitation of the victims, the networks can then finance various criminal activities. But not all victims are entrapped by a criminal network: a perpetrator can also act alone for their own personal gain (such as in the case of loverboys) or even have no connection with criminality (such as a family that exploits a domestic worker).

In Belgium, the Criminal Code defines human trafficking as requiring two constituent elements: 

  • 1. An action 

    The act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, accommodating or the receipt of a person, and taking or transferring the control of another.

  • 2. A purpose

    For the purpose of exploitation (that is to say to make a profit, or to partly or entirely withhold wages).

This is a simplified explanation, the precise definition can be found in the relevant Belgian and international legislative frameworks. See here for more information.

02 Types of human trafficking

Human trafficking is a multifaceted/complex phenomenon which is often accompanied by physical and/or psychological violence. The most common types of human trafficking are as follows:

  • Sexual exploitation

    Sexual exploitation

    Often when we talk of human trafficking, we think of forced prostitution. It is in effect the type of exploitation that is the most well-known and widely reported, but it is important to note that not all persons working in prostitution are victims of human trafficking. In addition, there are also victims of sexual exploitation in the pornography industry, massage parlours, champagne bars or in so-called ‘loverboy’ relationships.

  • Labour exploitation

    Labour exploitation

    Victims are forced to work in conditions contrary to human dignity, either without a salary or with very low wages. The economic sectors where the risk is highest are construction, agriculture, hospitality and domestic work. But victims can be found anywhere: clothes recycling warehouses, (hand) carwashes, football clubs, horse stables, hairdressers, nail salons, bakeries, and many more. No economic sector is immune to this phenomenon.

  • Exploitation of begging

    Exploitation of begging

    The victims are forced to beg and give all (or nearly all) of the proceeds to their exploiters. Often this is a family member, or a member of their clan, which can often make it difficult for victims to escape their grip, because there are bonds of love, blood or loyalty.

  • Illegal removal of organs and organ trafficking

    Illegal removal of organs and organ trafficking

    This form of trafficking involves the removal of a victim’s body part, generally the liver or kidneys, in order to sell them on the black market. Often the exploiters promise the victims large amounts of money, and victims agree in the hope of providing a better future for themselves and their families.

  • Forced criminal activity

    Forced criminal activity

    Victims are forced to commit criminal activities against their will, for example drug trafficking, cannabis farming or armed robbery.

03 Human smuggling (is not human trafficking)

Be careful not to confuse human TRAFFICKING and human SMUGGLING. They are two very different things.

Human smuggling (is not human trafficking)

Human smuggling facilitates the movement of a person from one country to another for a fee. It refers to the act of helping people illegally cross international borders in exchange for money. (Conversely, human trafficking does not require cross-border movement and always involves exploitation or the intention to exploit).

But sometimes the act of human smuggling can become human trafficking… Even though migrants may consent at the beginning of the journey, they may not be aware of the real cost they will have to pay upon arrival. Irregular migration provides an environment prone to the exploitation of vulnerable persons.

04 Who are the victims?

All victims share the same dreams of a better future…. And then have the misfortune of meeting an unscrupulous person who wants to take advantage of this dream!

Human trafficking can affect anyone. Regardless of age, gender, level of education, country of origin or even socio-economic background, anybody can become a victim. The scale of human trafficking is difficult to precisely quantify because of its hidden nature:

  • The International Labour Organization estimates that there are more than 24 million victims worldwide.
  • In Belgium, the Global Slavery Index estimates there are some 23,000 victims!

Since its establishment in 1994, PAG-ASA has supported more than 1,500 victims who have experienced exploitation here in Belgium:

  • 950 Women
  • 700 Men
  • 1,400 Adults
  • 250 Children
  • 650 Victims of sexual exploitation
    Victims of sexual exploitation
  • 700 Victims  of labour exploitation
    Victims of labour exploitation
  • 300 Victims of other forms of exploitation
    Victims of other forms of exploitation
  • 100 Different nationalities
    Different nationalities

05 Victim detection

Early detection is crucial, not only in order to rapidly help, support and protect victims, but also in order to apprehend and convict the perpetrators.

However, only a small number of victims are detected. Others remain hidden in different parts of our society.

Victim detection

Are you a professional and would like to register for training that will help you to better detect victims?

More information !

Several indicators can help us to recognise a potential case of human trafficking. The indicators are warning signs: where several of them coexist/are present, it is possible that we are confronted with a situation of human trafficking.

  • No freedom of movement
  • Little or no social contact
  • Confiscation of identity documents
  • Fear of talking about their situation
  • Fear of people around them
  • Lack of trust in the authorities
  • Extremely bad working conditions
  • On-site accommodation
  • No (or almost no) remuneration
  • Obligation to pay off a significant debt
  • Signs of physical or mental violence

It is important to note that whilst these represent a selection of the most common indicators, it is not an exhaustive list and others can also exist. 

If you have met someone in a situation that appears to correspond with several of these indicators, do not hesitate to contact us to discuss this further.

Si la victime est en situation de danger immédiat contactez la police

If the situation is one of immediate danger,
contact the police : 112

06 The impact on the victims

Human trafficking, exploitation and the associated acts of violence have severe physical, psychological and social consequences on the health of the victims. Furthermore, for child victims, these consequences threaten their physical, psychological, and social development, even as an adult.

The most immediate danger is physical violence by victims’ exploiter(s). Many victims state that they have been punched, burnt by cigarettes or raped for refusing to work. The physical side-affects are numerous: internal and external injuries, fractures and others.

Psychological violence, threats and constant fear are less visible but no less painful. The side-effects can include, among other symptoms: loss of self-esteem and self-confidence, lack of trust in others, feelings of shame and guilt and a lack of self-respect. Some victims have nightmares, trouble sleeping and suffer from panic attacks and depression. Some seek refuge in alcohol and drugs in order to forget what they have experienced.

Many victims of sexual exploitation encounter the health risks associated with sexually transmitted diseases as they are often not in a position to use condoms, or have never been informed of the importance of using contraception. In the case of pregnancy, the risk of forced and/or unsafe abortions is high, which can lead to serious physical and psychological injuries.

Finally, the social impact of human trafficking is enormous. When a victim has been manifestly deprived of their dignity, it can be difficult to integrate into society and to forge meaningful and trusting relationships with others.

The impact on the victims

07 Victim support system in Belgium

In Belgium, there is a protection and assistance system for victims of human trafficking. Three centres (PAG-ASA in Brussels, Payoke in Antwerp, Sürya in Liège) are mandated by the federal authorities to provide victim support under this framework.

Individuals receive holistic, tailored support, which lasts several years. Our objective is to support them to rebuild their lives. In addition, they receive specialised support in all administrative and legal matters, which can often be extremely complicated. To find out more about the support we provide: victims support

Victim support system in Belgium

To be able to receive support, individuals must respect/meet three conditions: 

-	To break all contact with the presumed perpetrator(s)

- To break all contact with the presumed perpetrator(s)

To cooperate with the police and criminal justice system (in practice, this means to provide all necessary information in order to make a statement or press charges)

To cooperate with the police and criminal justice system (in practice, this means to provide all necessary information in order to make a statement or press charges)

To accept the support of a specialised centre

To accept the support of a specialised centre

08 A multi-stakeholder fight led by different actors

For the fight against human trafficking to be effective, collaboration between all the relevant actors is essential.

From the police officer who meets a potential victim to the prosecutor who looks at the evidences and pursues the investigation…. From the labour inspector who discovers a situation of severe labour exploitation to the immigration official who issues the residency permit…..From the social worker at a specialised centre who supports the victims to the judge who convicts the criminals……

All of these actors are partners in a so-called multi-disciplinary approach. Each partner has a specific role that is complementary to that of the other partners. Their roles span the length of the different stages in the process: detection, identification, protection, support, investigation, arrest, prosecution, conviction and remedy. In practice, this approach has the principal objective of protecting the victims and convicting the perpetrators.


A multi-stakeholder fight led by different actors

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