Human trafficking is occurring in practically every area of the globe. To think otherwise would be naive. Human trafficking is not only occurring in places like India or Pakistan, where more stories of victims have come to light. It occurs in what the world considers to be “well developed” or “moral” countries. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), hundreds of thousands of women and girls are trafficked to and from European countries year to work as virtual slaves in the sex industry. The country of my focus, Belgium, is such a country.
Belgium is involved in European-type culture, which means that nudity and sex are not as taboo as they are in some countries. Some experts believe that a heightened sense of morality, an increase in rules about sexuality and purity, or high religious affiliation in large geographic areas may result in an increase in sex trafficking. The idea is that the more devout a culture is, the more that young men are encouraged to look outside their relationships with actual partners and participate in prostitution. This increases the demand for human trafficking and the amount of culture and social acceptance of sex slavery and prostitution in a country. It should be pointed out, however, that this is only a theory.
While Belgium does not experience these cultural consequences, it does have a problem with human trafficking which lies mainly in the law. In fact, the area is accused of having a high amount of tolerance to prostitution.
According to the United States Department of State’s 2014 Trafficking Report, “Belgium is a destination, transit, and a limited source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.” The report also states, however, that the government of Belgium completely complies with the minimum standards for reducing human trafficking. Although, this calls into question what the minimum standards are, and if they are high enough.
Expactica.com states that, “Last year it was estimated there were 30,000 prostitutes working in Belgium, half of which came from Eastern Europe, although the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights confirms statistics on sex trafficking are impossible to obtain.”
Prostitution is not a crime in Belgium; however, the exploitation of another person is deemed prosecutable by law. This allows prostitution to hide away (somewhat) from the law. On the other side of the coin, though, is the notion that both the European and Belgian work against human trafficking is, by global standards, progressive. In general, according to Expactica, clubs or businesses that make a lot of money from their goings on are considered to be exploiting. But for obvious reasons, this is a very thin and foggy line, and more could definitely be done to reduce human trafficking and sex slavery in Belgium.
In Born Free, Sarah E. Mendelson addresses the faults of previous U.S policy and former Sustainable Development Goals. She brings to light the fact that human trafficking was not expressly mentioned in any of the goals or documentation from the previous Outcome Document and Sustainable Development Goals from 2000. Without the express mention of terminating human trafficking and sex slavery, many non-government organizations were able to have a hands-off approach on the issue. Many NGOs that the government enlisted for help on the Sustainable Development Goals backed away from the issue of human trafficking, stating that they had no interest in it or it was not one of their main focuses.
However, the new Sustainable Development Goals which go (or already have gone) into effect in 2016, are supposed to be more effective than their predecessor. While they do not expressly mention intentions to try to eradicate of human trafficking as a practice in the U.S., the document sets out some goals which have to do with the issue. Goal five states that gender equality and the empowerment of women will be worked on, while goal eight aims to promote decent work and economic environments for all people.
I believe that this “dancing around the issue,” while it may be getting better in some countries, is a worldwide attitude about sex slavery, prostitution, and human trafficking. From the United States to Belgium, governments are afraid to take decisive stances against the issue. In Belgium, more must be done to increase awareness and increase the influence of government in stopping human trafficking. In the United States, more must be done. In every country across the globe, more must be done.