BELGIUM: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography

Below is a short summary of some of the key issues from the report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, on Belgium and the Netherlands. Read the full text. Please note that this is not an official UN summary.


At the invitation of the respective Governments, the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography visited Belgium and the Netherlands, from 30 November to 4 December 1998, to study the issue of commercial sexual exploitation of children. The Special Rapporteur chose to visit Belgium and the Netherlands following the high-profile arrest in Belgium in 1996 of a man allegedly responsible for the kidnap, rape and murder of several children. Two years later, in 1998, attention was again focused on the region when a predominantly European paedophile network called 'W0nderland' operating over the Internet was uncovered by British-led police 'Operation Cathedral'. These events did much to raise international public awareness that the abuse of children through organized paedophilia can no longer be assumed to be a problem primarily faced by the countries of south-east Asia, or to have a direct correlation with situations of extreme poverty.

The sale of children in Belgium is closely linked to the disturbing profusion of trafficking of persons into and through Belgium. A large percentage of such victims are girls and young women from eastern Europe, trafficked for the purposes of prostitution, often under the guise of being refugees. The Special Rapporteur was also informed about an apparently new basis for trafficking - that of boys being brought from African countries for the purposes of professional sport, namely football. No further details concerning the trafficking of football players were available to the Special Rapporteur. The Special Rapporteur concludes that this is a largely unknown and perhaps very new violation of child rights and she would urge Governments and non-governmental organizations working for the protection of children and migrants to examine whether this phenomenon exists in other countries and if so, what measures are being taken to combat it.

The Special Rapporteur received information on four different aspects of child prostitution. (1) With respect to prostitution of refugee children, the Special Rapporteur met with the General Commissioner for Refugees, who confirmed that the trafficking of women and children for prostitution, under the guise of their being refugees, is a serious problem in Belgium. (2) With respect to prostitution of immigrant children, she noted that immigrant children are not necessarily at greater risk of entering prostitution than Belgian children, since they are to a certain extent protected by the usually strong family links in the immigrant communities. However, these children face particular problems stemming from discrimination and marginalization. They also have to deal with the difficulties of growing up in two very different and sometimes opposing cultural environments. In some cases, the children cannot reconcile their dual lifestyles, and the ensuing disputes cause them to run away from home. Such children, alone and feeling rejected, in need of money and a place to sleep, are particularly vulnerable to networks of local recruiters. (3) With respect to prostitution of Belgian children, for those who become involved with some degree of 'voluntariness', the causes include suffering violence and sexual abuse, or emotional neglect and indifference, in the home from a young age. The Special Rapporteur even received reports of children having been given by their parents to other members of the family or friends for the purpose of sexual abuse. It is particularly difficult to assess the extent of child prostitution involving young children. Much of this type of abuse is hidden, taking place behind closed doors while the child is still living with his or her family, and most children feel too much guilt and shame to try to seek help. (4) With respect to child sex tourism involving Belgians, the Special Rapporteur appreciated that Belgium has responded to allegations that its nationals are involved in child sex tourism abroad and that in 1995, Belgium enacted extra-territorial legislation to make it possible for Belgian nationals to be tried in Belgium for sex crimes committed abroad.

The Special Rapporteur concluded that the situation of commercial sexual exploitation of children in Belgium follows a similar pattern to that observed in other developed countries, but is very different to the pattern observed in the developing world. Children do not enter prostitution as a result of dire poverty and as a last resort for survival, but as an escape from violence, abuse and neglect in their homes. Of particular concern is the extent to which the system of protection for refugees is being abused, with the result that children are being trafficked into Belgium for prostitution and other purposes. The monitoring of children involved in prostitution and/or pornography is extremely difficult given that these activities are rarely conducted in brothels, bars or from the streets, but behind closed doors. Children are unlikely to seek help or make complaints to the authorities because they usually consider that they are in the trade of their own volition and they are often plagued by guilt in this respect. The Special Rapporteur is very disturbed by the indications that one or several dangerous networks of paedophiles are operating in northern Europe, kidnapping, raping and sometimes murdering children. Even children from the most secure and protective families could potentially be at risk. The Special Rapporteur would strongly urge greater vigilance by all sectors of society in this regard. The Special Rapporteur also made eleven recommendations to the Government of Belgium towards curtailing the problem of curtailing trafficking in persons.



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