USDOS – US Department of State (Autor)
The Government of the Netherlands fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore the Netherlands remained on Tier 1. These efforts included doubling the number of trafficking victims it identified, passing legislation to criminalize knowingly soliciting a sex trafficking victim, more than doubling its funding for NGO-managed shelters for trafficking victims, and increasing efforts to combat labor trafficking. Moreover, authorities in Bonaire conducted two trafficking investigations, and identified and offered services to two victims, the first time in several years that the islands of Bonaire, Sint Eustasius, and Saba (BES islands) investigated a trafficking case or identified a victim. Although the government meets the minimum standards, it convicted fewer traffickers for the third consecutive year and anti-trafficking efforts on the Dutch Caribbean islands remained weak. The government did not provide support services for foreign victims who did not cooperate with law enforcement investigations and revoked these victims’ residence permits. Children remained vulnerable to trafficking in the protection system, and the government did not report complete victim statistics for the reporting period.
Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, and sentence traffickers to significant prison terms. • Provide all potential trafficking victims with care services, regardless of their ability to cooperate with an investigation. • Strengthen the child protection system to protect against vulnerability to trafficking. • Improve data collection quality for law enforcement and ensure the timely release of victim identification data for policy evaluation. • Incorporate measurable goals into the national action plan. • Increase outreach to potential victims in labor sectors and identify victims of forced labor. • Improve coordination and information-sharing with anti-trafficking counterparts across the Kingdom of the Netherlands, including in Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten. • Implement results-based training and mentoring of officials in the BES islands to increase identification of victims and prosecution of traffickers. • Expand the rapporteur’s mandate or assign another independent body to evaluate anti-trafficking efforts and assess trafficking prevalence in the BES islands.
The government maintained mixed law enforcement efforts. Article 273f of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed punishments of up to 12 years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to €87,000 ($106,750) for trafficking offenses involving an adult victim and up to 15 years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to €87,000 ($106,750) for those offenses in which the victim was a child. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.
Police referred 187 trafficking suspects to the prosecutor’s office for further investigation, compared with 145 in 2019. The government prosecuted 120 alleged traffickers, compared with 101 in 2019. Courts convicted 53 traffickers, compared with 84 in 2019. The government did not report complete sentencing data but noted that the average prison sentence for convicted traffickers was two years; seven traffickers received sentences in excess of three years. The government closed the courts between March 2020 and May 2020 due to the pandemic, and observers reported pandemic-related restrictions in the first half of 2020 limited law enforcement’s ability to conduct investigations.
Regional police units maintained specialized teams with trained anti-trafficking detectives and experts, and the national police had dedicated anti-trafficking officers. Specialized anti-trafficking prosecutors and judges tried and heard cases. Observers reported the police did not allocate sufficient resources to anti-trafficking efforts, as the government shifted funding to counterterrorism and organized crime investigations. Law enforcement efforts remained weak in the BES islands. The Dutch Caribbean Police Corps, which operated exclusively in Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba, conducted two trafficking investigations in Bonaire; the investigations were ongoing at the end of the reporting period. For the third consecutive year, authorities in Sint Eustatius and Saba did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any traffickers. Authorities in Bonaire maintained a trafficking database, which served as a repository for future leads on trafficking cases.
The government continued to participate in international investigations and led joint investigation teams with other EU nations, including Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, and Romania. The government led EUROPOL’s European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT) program on human trafficking. The Ministry of Justice and Security (MJS) posted new police liaison officers in Croatia, Italy, and Poland to monitor migrants vulnerable to trafficking. The government provided police and prosecutorial assistance and training overseas, and it funded anti-trafficking programs in victim source countries; the government supported law enforcement capacity-building projects that included combating trafficking in Nigeria, Egypt, Mali, Niger, Ghana, Zambia, Morocco, and Côte d’Ivoire. Dutch authorities trained customs and coast guard officials in the BES islands and seconded Dutch law enforcement staff to the BES islands and Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten; observers reported many law enforcement officials were unfamiliar with the seconding system, and the countries did not take full advantage of this program. The government maintained a 2016 memorandum of understanding on law enforcement cooperation, including anti-trafficking cooperation, with Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten, and the United States. The government continued to deliver anti-trafficking training to law enforcement; training remained institutionalized as part of the standard professional curriculum across agencies. Anti-trafficking police officers were required to pass examinations in a training course focused on policing commercial sex. Judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys continued to receive specialized training in applying the anti-trafficking law and trauma-informed care for victims. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses. The government frequently did not charge child sex traffickers under the trafficking law but under a sexual abuse law (article 248b), which carried lesser penalties. However, the government passed legislation in March 2021 to criminalize knowingly soliciting a sex trafficking victim with penalties of up to four years’ imprisonment and a fine; the approved legislation was awaiting final approval by the head of state at the end of the reporting period. The government increased the budget for the Aliens Police, Identification, and People Trafficking Department by €10 million ($12.27 million) for anti-trafficking efforts; a third of the funding was allocated for alien registration to bolster non-EU victim identification.
The government increased efforts to protect victims. In 2019, the most recent year for which official data was available, the government-funded national victim registration center and assistance coordinator registered 1,334 possible trafficking victims, compared with 668 in 2018. Of these, 849 were victims of sex trafficking, 424 of labor trafficking, including 196 subjected to forced criminality, and 61 of uncategorized trafficking. Children comprised 108 of the victims, compared with 62 in 2018. In 2019, the top five countries of origin of victims were: Nigeria (512), the Netherlands (244), Uganda (91), Poland (83), and The Gambia (49). The police reported identifying 952 victims (530 in 2018); regional health care organizations 252 (91 in 2018); labor inspectors 46 (75 in 2018); border security 10 (12 in 2018); and other organizations identified the remaining victims. Observers stated the increase in the number of identified victims was due to government training efforts, an increased willingness of international victims to self-identify as victims during the asylum process, and improved understanding of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the context of victim identification. Authorities in Bonaire identified two victims in 2020; the government offered services to both victims and granted one special residency status.
During the reporting period, observers reported the GDPR, which required non-law enforcement organizations to obtain consent from the victim before official registration unless a “justified interest” existed, continued to deter some victims from registering. Nevertheless, experts agreed it was not the GDPR itself that caused victims to fear stigmatization as a trafficking victim and withdraw from the victim process, but rather the strict interpretation of the regulation by many non-law-enforcement organizations out of fear of being non-compliant with EU privacy regulations. Experts stated the GDPR considered providing care to trafficking victims a “justified interest,” and, therefore, the government could provide social services without victim consent. Observers stated many stakeholders began to provide relevant information for victims who required immediate assistance, including medical treatment, and arranged consent with the victim afterward. In November 2020, the MJS published a manual with guidance to stakeholders on the GDPR and reporting potential victims. Additionally, some observers reported an increase in self-identification among asylum-seekers, especially among individuals from Nigeria. An NGO noted, however, that many non-EU third country nationals seeking asylum had difficulty in accessing victim care services. MJS provided awareness training to the Immigration and Naturalization Services to identify potential trafficking indicators among asylum-seekers.
The government funded an extensive network of care facilities for both foreign and domestic victims. The government fully funded three NGO-managed shelters that provided dedicated services for child and adult trafficking victims; the shelters could house 58 shelter victims, including 14 spaces designated for male victims. The government provided €1.44 million ($1.77 million) to the shelters, compared with €600,000 ($736,200) in 2019. All shelters provided medical and psychological care, schooling, language and skills training, and legal assistance; some also provided self-defense classes, and most had facilities accessible to individuals with disabilities. Local governments also funded shelters for domestic violence victims, which had dedicated space for trafficking victims. The government funded specialized care for up to 36 people in six shelters for trafficking victims who also had a psychological disorder, developmental limitations, or “substance abuse disease.” The government allocated €2 million ($2.45 million) to services for victims requiring specialized care.
Children remained vulnerable in the protection system; civil society reported care workers were not sufficiently trained to identify child trafficking victims. Observers noted children leaving Dutch asylum centers to unknown destinations was a Europe-wide problem that needed to be tackled at the European level. The national rapporteur and civil society agreed the government was actively engaged in addressing this issue, including through law enforcement cooperation via the EMPACT project.
While holding the presidency of the Benelux Union in 2020, the government worked with Belgium and Luxembourg to improve cooperation on victim protection, including by publishing an updated brochure to raise awareness among the public and potential victims about anti-trafficking laws and referral and assistance programs in each of the three countries. Together with Belgium and Hungary, the government continued to administer a project to provide resources for social workers, legal experts, and law enforcement authorities, among others, to increase knowledge of victim referral and assistance mechanisms, particularly for Hungarian victims in the Netherlands and Belgium. In 2019, the government provided funding to Aruba and Curaçao to support the response to arriving Venezuelan migrants, a group vulnerable to trafficking. The governments of Aruba and Curaçao allocated a subset of this funding to anti-trafficking efforts in 2019 and 2020, including awareness campaigns and victim services. However, funding for anti-trafficking efforts in Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten remained sporadic and insufficient.
By the end of the reporting period, 33 of the country’s 35 health care regions had a trafficking victim coordinator, and the government funded an NGO to assist the two regions without a coordinator. The government continued funding a website to provide victim identification and referral information to first responders and other professionals who may encounter a victim, and it supported an initiative by victim care organizations to develop best practices for prevention and protection of male victims of sexual exploitation. Although victims could request physical separation from a suspect during court proceedings, observers expressed concern that frequently lengthy trials re-traumatized victims. Judges often awarded restitution to victims, and if the perpetrator did not pay the court-ordered amount within eight months, the government assumed responsibility for collecting the payment from the perpetrator. Authorities reported courts ordered higher restitution awards than was typical in a number of cases in 2020, highlighting a case in which a judge awarded €310,000 ($380,370) to two victims.
The government permitted potential victims to stay in shelter care for a three-month reflection period to begin recovery and decide whether to assist law enforcement. During the reflection period, non-EU victims had access to specialized shelters but could not work. After the reflection period, victims who agreed to assist police could continue to stay in shelters. Non-EU victims willing to press charges were eligible for a short-term residence permit (B-8 permit), valid for a maximum of five years; the B-8 permit allowed non-EU victims to seek employment. If authorities decided to prosecute the suspected trafficker, the victim was eligible to receive permanent B-8 legal residency. The government did not report how many foreign victims applied for the permanent B-8 permit (333 applied in 2018, the most recent year data was available). According to civil society, foreign victims who ceased cooperation with authorities lost their residence permits and consequently all government-sponsored support services. Moreover, some NGOs noted law enforcement could quickly drop a case if it did not immediately find sufficient potential evidence for a successful prosecution, leading to victims potentially being excluded from services. A victim could apply for asylum if their case closed without a conviction or they declined to assist in an investigation. The government did not report the number of potential victims who applied for asylum. A procedure also existed to grant victims residency, separate from B-8 eligibility, in cases where they were seriously threatened or had serious medical or psychological conditions. Authorities worked with civil society to repatriate foreign victims unable to acquire residence permits; an international organization assisted in repatriating approximately 10 victims in 2020. The government continued a policy of transferring Dublin asylum claimants to their original country of asylum registration, including claimants who had potentially been subjected to trafficking in another EU country. Civil society observed this policy led to the deportation of many victims who were in need of support. Authorities noted that when a Dublin asylum claimant was returned to a Dublin country of origin, Dutch law enforcement shared all investigation data with their counterparts in the country of origin to facilitate investigation and prosecution of a case. The government extended immigration relief to victims facing deportation or repatriation to countries with a high rate of COVID-19 infections and to victims who could not return to their home countries due to travel restrictions; the government allowed identified victims to stay two to six weeks beyond the three-month reflection period in specialized shelters for trafficking victims or in asylum centers.
The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The Human Trafficking Task Force, chaired by the chief national prosecutor and composed of local and national government authorities, the private sector, and NGO representatives, set long-term anti-trafficking policies, while MJS led the implementation and coordination of anti-trafficking efforts. The government continued implementing the 2018 national action plan (NAP), focused on improving information sharing among stakeholders, identifying more victims, strengthening local governments’ anti-trafficking programs, and increasing efforts against labor trafficking. Survivors provided input to the NAP through mostly virtual regional trafficking “expert” sessions held throughout the reporting period; these meetings bolstered information sharing between localities and with the national government. Several NGOs criticized the NAP for its lack of measurable goals and monitoring tools, although the government issued a report in November 2020 on its progress implementing the NAP. The national rapporteur, tasked with monitoring policy implementation, gathering and reporting statistics, and making recommendations to the government, published two reports during the reporting period that analyzed victim statistics from 2015-2019 and trafficking crimes from 2015-2019. The government continued multiple awareness campaigns, some of which were conducted by local governments or through NGOs. The government continued trainings for medical professionals and social service providers and developed two toolkits to educate teachers and students to identify trafficking indicators at schools. Additionally, the government supported two “innovation field labs” in cooperation with a United States university to bring together stakeholders to develop new methods to counter trafficking within the commercial sex industry and to fight labor trafficking, including criminal exploitation. Teams of police, labor inspectors, and health care personnel continued conducting inspections of commercial sex establishments, which included screening for trafficking indicators, but reported the pandemic hampered inspection efforts in 2020; the government did not report the number of inspections conducted nor if it identified any trafficking victims as a result of these inspections. Observers noted the government’s increased focus on labor trafficking, in particular the government’s attention to the living situation and labor conditions of migrant laborers during the pandemic. The labor inspectorate continued to focus on sectors with an elevated risk of exploitation, such as agriculture and agro-processing. The government established a Labor Migrants Protections Taskforce that made several proposals to address labor exploitation. Two more market sectors (wind energy and agriculture/horticulture) were in the process of joining the government’s Covenant on Reducing Human Rights Violations in Supply Chains at the end of the reporting period. The government compiled a set of measures aimed at discouraging demand for commercial sex with children. The government continued to implement a national plan against child sex tourism, screened for potential child sex tourists at airports in cooperation with foreign governments, and posted police liaisons to the Dutch embassies in Cambodia and Thailand. Authorities trained immigration, hotel, aviation, customs, and labor inspection staff in methods to identify victims and child sex tourists. The government organized international trainings and conferences, awarded funding for initiatives in source countries, and funded anti-trafficking projects in foreign countries via its embassies. The government collaborated with Liechtenstein, Australia, and the UN to explore methods to detect and disrupt financial flows associated with trafficking. The foreign ministry continued to conduct outreach to domestic workers associated with foreign diplomats, without their employers present, on how to report cases of abuse. A government-funded NGO maintained a victim assistance hotline during regular business hours. The hotline received 3,782 calls in 2019, the most recent year for which data was available; 194 calls were requests for shelter.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in the Netherlands. Most identified victims are young women enticed by young male traffickers who coerce them into sexual exploitation. Labor traffickers exploit adults from Eastern Europe, Africa, and South and East Asia in industries such as inland shipping, leisure river cruises, agriculture, horticulture, hospitality, domestic servitude, and forced criminal activity. There has been a notable increase in victims from Africa, particularly Nigeria and Uganda. For the first time in several years, Dutch nationals were not the leading nationality of victims in 2019. Refugees and asylum-seekers, including unaccompanied children, are vulnerable to labor trafficking. Criminal groups force Romani children into pickpocketing and shoplifting rings. Over the last five years, more than 1,600 foreign children have left refugee centers to unknown destinations and remain highly vulnerable to exploitation. The Netherlands is a source country for child sex tourists. Refugees and asylum-seekers, including children in government-run asylum centers, are vulnerable to sex trafficking. Traffickers are overwhelmingly male, and almost half of trafficking suspects are Dutch; the average trafficker is younger than 35 years old.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit foreign victims in the BES islands. Increasingly, traffickers exploit Venezuelan women in sex trafficking on the BES islands. Local authorities believe labor traffickers also exploit adults in domestic servitude and in the agricultural, retail, and construction sectors. Women in commercial sex and unaccompanied children are highly vulnerable to trafficking on the islands, and some migrants in restaurants and local businesses may be vulnerable to debt bondage.
The BES criminal code criminalizes sex and labor trafficking under article 286f, prescribing penalties ranging from six to 15 years’ imprisonment. Bonaire prosecuted its first trafficking case in 2012; the case was dismissed in 2019 due to lack of victim testimony. The mandate of the Netherlands’ national rapporteur does not extend to the BES islands; therefore, the office cannot conduct local research. Local governments on the BES islands run multidisciplinary anti-trafficking teams, which cooperate with each other and with Dutch counterparts; however, there has been little evidence of their effectiveness. Victims of violence, including trafficking, are eligible for compensation from the Violent Offenses Compensation Fund.
‡ The Netherlands, along with the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten form the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Although semi-autonomous entities, Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten rely on the Kingdom for certain authorities. The Kingdom is an important contributor to these islands’ anti-trafficking efforts. The BES islands are special municipalities of the Netherlands and are fully under the authority of the Dutch government.