The Situation in Belgium

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Prostitutes, Pimps, Clients: defining the Sex Industry

To legalise prostitution is to deny civil and human rights

Failure to legalise prostitution is to deny civil and human rights

New Technologies and the Sex Industry

How Many Sex Workers?

Where do Europe's Sex workers come from?

What is Trafficking for the Purposes of Sexual Exploitation?

Can Legalising Prostitution bring an end to Trafficking for the Purposes of Sexual Exploitation?

Articles, Documents, Legal instruments, Pressure groups ...

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The information below is compiled from The European Parliment report Trafficking in Women, the World Sex Guide, Donna Hughes' Factbook on Sexual Exploitation,  and NGOs.




10 million

Number of prostitutes:

12,000 - 30,000

Of which migrant:

5,500 - 10,000


De Jure


No crime of prostitution per se, but "the exploitation of another person's immoral activity can be prosecuted (irrespective of consent)"


1-15 year sentence if found ‘guilty of traffic in women’

Age of (female) consent:


The law of 13 April 1995 contains penal provisions relating to the punishment of trafficking in human beings, child pornography and sexual abuse of minors. In particular a specific offence of trafficking in human beings is introduced:

Article 380b of the Penal Code is amended to introduce the exploitation of prostitution as an aggravating circumstance permitting harsher penalties for offenders (Articles 2a to 4); the courts are given the power to order the closure of premises and the confiscation of goods (Article 5); it is made illegal to advertise 'sex tourism' or to publish advertisements that operate as a smokescreen for trafficking in women and children


De Facto

Every large city in Belgium has a red light quarter or an avenue full of prostitutes' bars. However, local attitudes differ markedly: the nature of the systematic controls practised (at the levels of the police, the administration, the social services and the tax authorities) varies greatly between regions.

Until the fifties, there was an official prostitution policy with registration and health checks etc. That was abolished, but certain cities have re-implemented this policy unofficially.

The high degree of tolerance attached to the exploitation of prostitution in Belgium has been fully taken advantage of by eastern European traffickers. No coherent policy of controls exists as regards asylum requests. In both the Brussels region and Antwerp, the problem of the abuse of asylum procedures for trafficking in human beings and exploitation of prostitution is such as to require urgent action.

In Antwerp, checks are carried out by the city police ('police communale'), while the 'gendarmerie' is responsible for legal cases relating to trafficking and the 'police judiciaire' deals with the financial aspects of cases. Despite this division of labour, the leniency of the legal authorities continues to work to the benefit of the pimps and 'window' owners, who can draw on the resources of a highly developed organisation

According to the report on the IOM's STOP programme102, in 1997 49 cases of trafficking were investigated, none of which reached the courts; in 1998 there were 57 such investigations, of which only one resulted in the conviction of the traffickers.


"The owners of brothels play an active role in the exploitation of prostitution. In Liège, Antwerp or Ostend each 'window' is worth several million BEF to its owner. In Brussels, the hotel brothels in rue d'Aerschot, behind the Gare du Nord in the borough of Schaerbeek, generate an annual turnover estimated at BEF 1 bn".

Belgian policy on trafficking in persons can be considered a positive example: considerable progress has been achieved by comparison with other EU Member States. However, much still remains to be done. The laws have to be adapted to changing trends in society: the number of victims appears to be greater every year. For example, 1998 was marked by the further growth of organised crime in the Antwerp area, where most of the victims brought in are exploited as prostitutes"

European Parliament 2000 (pdf)


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