Updated on February 23, 2023


By Shana Devleschoudere
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This is the story of an awareness, a commitment that reflects an urgency. With an annual profit of more than 150 billion dollars, human trafficking is the most profitable traffic after arms and drugs. For 16 years, the Samilia Foundation has been fighting against this contemporary form of slavery that affects 48 million people, from the depths of Africa to the doors of our homes.    

In 2007, faced with the alarming increase in human trafficking and the decrease in the means available to frontline actors, the Samilia Foundation was created on the initiative of Sophie Jekeler and other key people determined to act in the long term against this intolerable violation of human rights. The name SAMILIA is inspired by the heroine of the book "The Death of King Tsongor" by Laurent Gaudé, whose story echoes the victims of human trafficking who are thrown on the road to exile. The Samilia Foundation was recognized as a public utility by a royal decree of August 17, 2007.

A lawyer and human rights activist, Sophie Jekeler had already devoted twelve years to meeting and accompanying women and children who are victims of exploitation in prostitution, through her involvement in the non-profit organization "Le Nid".

The last fight of King Baudouin

The fight against human trafficking for sexual purposes was the last fight of King Baudouin who wished to create a commission of inquiry in the Senate on this crime, after having been challenged by the tragedy of hundreds of young Thai women forced into prostitution, revealed by the journalist Chris De Stoop in his book "Ze zijn zo lief Mijnheer". When in 1995 a specific law against human trafficking was enacted on the basis of the work of this commission of inquiry , making Belgium a pioneer in the fight against this criminal phenomenon, Sophie Jekeler was solicited in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe for her expertise which, combined with her knowledge of the field, contributed to the implementation of this new Belgian legislation as well as of various laws relating to sexual exploitation in Europe. For this, King Albert granted her the title of baroness in 2003.

In order to reinforce the work of frontline actors through awareness and sensitization actions, representatives from the judicial, academic, medical and private sectors are mobilizing with the Samilia Foundation to activate the fight against human trafficking, which constitutes one of the most serious violations of Human Rights and is part of transnational organized crime.

A high value added crime

Considered the most profitable trade after arms and drugs, with an annual profit for traffickers estimated at more than $150 billion in 2018 according to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), human trafficking is a complex criminal phenomenon that covers disparate purposes: human trafficking ranges from the exploitation of prostitution to the use of children for the production of pornographic material, forced begging, organ trafficking, exploitation through forced labor in various economic sectors such as agriculture, HORECA, textiles or jewelry, or in the sports environment exercised for profit...

Unlike trafficking in migrants, human trafficking has a specific dimension related to the exploitation of the human person through the use of force or another form of coercion, such as deception, psychological and emotional manipulation or the abuse of a vulnerable situation. It does not necessarily involve the crossing of a border, as is the case with human trafficking. 48 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking, including 5.5 million children. Trafficking occurs not only in poor countries, but also in industrialized countries, and threatens the values on which our democracies are based.

Prevention and awareness

The priority objective of the Samilia Foundation is to work on prevention upstream in the countries of origin of the victims, in order to avoid that an exponential number of women, men and children become prisoners and victims of these human trafficking networks, and always with a measurable impact.

Downstream, the Samilia Foundation informs and sensitizes in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe, the general public, the socio-economic actors, the political leaders and the media, in order to reduce the demand for goods or services involving human trafficking and to improve the legislative measures.

Recently, the Samilia Foundation has set up a non-profit organization of the same name, in order to intervene in Belgium also with victims and potential victims.

Indeed, the successive confinements of 2020 and 2021, and the correlative increase of the time spent online by teenagers, gave pimps a privileged access to many potential targets. Since then, many Belgian school administrations, faced with the cases of students who are probably victims of trafficking networks, call upon Samilia.

Let's remember that according to international conventions, the exploitation of the prostitution of minors (under 18 years old) is considered as human trafficking.

At the same time, these confinements as well as the measures taken to combat Covid-19 have made prostitution invisible, and victims of human trafficking even more difficult to detect.

This probably explains the reason why a significant increase of potential victims are now calling on Samilia.

In this perspective, the Samilia Foundation declines its mission under different coordinated axes of intervention.

  • Develop prevention actions and tools in the victims' countries of origin, implemented in collaboration with local partners
  • Intervene in schools in Belgium with the aim of prevention and with specific tools
  • Raise awareness of the general public, social and economic actors and the private sector about the realities of human trafficking
  • Provide legal assistance to victims of human trafficking
  • Informing policy makers in a rigorous manner
  • To alert about new phenomena related to human trafficking through conferences, workshops in companies and awareness raising actions
  • Educate youth to behave responsibly
  • Include Create employment opportunities for victims of human trafficking and potential victims

Concretely, the Samilia Foundation targets its prevention and social inclusion projects in the Balkans, in West Africa, and in Belgium; and its awareness and information projects in Belgium and in Europe:

Open your eyes

Raising awareness among the general public, which is the second axis of the Samilia Foundation's intervention, is done through large thematic campaigns, such as the campaign "Tatiana: a penny for your thoughts" campaign conducted in 2017 targeting sexual exploitation, the "Bet4life" campaign of 2018 which illustrated different forms of human trafficking present in sporting events such as the Football World Cup or, more recently, the "Bitter Taste of Chocolate" campaign of 2019 which denounced the exploitation of children in the production of cocoa beans, or the campaign to raise awareness about exploitation in the cleaning sector in 2022 . Convincing, relentlessly, is an essential mission of the Samilia Foundation, which calls upon citizens to become aware of the potential presence of victims of human trafficking in their environment, to encourage them to act responsibly, especially with regard to the consumption choices they make: each person can, in fact, act in his or her own sphere to contribute to the elimination of human trafficking in the production chains of the products he or she buys or the services he or she requests.

Samilia's mission is also to rigorously inform political leaders, as well as representatives of the judiciary, and to alert them to the appearance of new phenomena related to human trafficking, as traffickers are always one step ahead of police and legal instruments. The emergence of the Internet, combined with the increased vulnerability of some of the populations at risk, has led to the emergence of recruitment tactics that are particularly dangerous for potential victims of trafficking, which requires increased vigilance and the implementation of adapted and ever more effective means of action.

A real impact

Samilia's expertise is also solicited by parliamentary authorities; and reveals its impact on the policies carried out to fight against trafficking:

2009 : organization of a conference in the Senate this conference led to the re-establishment of a sub-committee on human trafficking in the Senate.

2013: Organization of an interministerial conference France-Belgium at the Egmont Palace, at the request of Ministers Joëlle Milquet and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem whose objective was to bring together the 17 EU Member States signatories of the 1949 New York Convention (the only UN text specifically devoted to human trafficking) At the end of the conference, the Ministers representing the 17 MS ratified the Brussels Declaration aiming to strengthen their collaboration in the fight against human trafficking. Queen Mathilde enhanced the conference with her presence and gave a committed speech, her first as Queen of the Belgians.

2015: A resolution on trafficking and exploitation in sport was drafted at the initiative of and in close collaboration with the Samilia Foundation voted unanimously by the Parliament of the Wallonia Brussels Federation, this resolution proposes concrete measures to fight against exploitation in sport.

2016: In West Africa, the Samilia Foundation led the "Football Against Trafficking" project from 2013 to 2015. In 2014 the Ivory Coast did not have a law against human trafficking - during different visits to Abidjan, we sensitized our Ivorian official interlocutors to the need for anti-trafficking legislation, explaining Belgium's multidisciplinary approach to the issue in November 2016 an anti-trafficking law was voted by the Ivorian parliament.

2018 : The Samilia Foundation received the Prize of Democracy and Human Rights from the Parliament of the Walloon-Brussels Federation, the parliamentarians having pronounced themselves unanimously, their choice testifies to the importance they give to the fight against human trafficking and to the level of expertise of the Samilia Foundation in this matter.

2019 : Strongly inspired by the Resolution voted in 2015 by the Parliament of the Walloon Federation Brussels proposal for a resolution tabled in the Senate to fight against trafficking and exploitation in sport.

2020 : Through the publication of a white card, Samilia expressed its reservations about the devastating effect that certain provisions of the proposed new sexual penal code could have on the fight against human trafficking.

2021 : Hearing of Samilia by the Justice Commission of the Federal Parliament to present its analysis of theenvisaged reform and its very heavy impact on the fight against human trafficking, as well as in terms of protection of minors against sexual exploitation. Some amendments that mitigate somewhat these effects will be brought to the bill.


2022 : Hearing of Samilia by the special commission on human trafficking of the Chamber: during which we were able to expose a state of affairs on the current situation of the prevention and care of victims of human trafficking in Belgium.

Royal support

The Samilia Foundation has had the honor to benefit on several occasions from the support of the Royal Family, which has at heart to continue the fight of King Baudouin against human trafficking.

Committed artists

During the concerts organized for the benefit of the SAMILIA Foundation, prestigious artists took turns to support the actions against human trafficking: