Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, and the government prosecuted such cases. A convicted rapist may receive 10 to 30 years in prison, depending on factors such as the age of the victim, the difference in age between the offender and the victim, their relationship, and the use or absence of violence during the crime.
The law prohibits domestic violence and provides for fines and incarceration. Legal sanctions for domestic violence are based on the sanctions for physical violence against a third person; the latter range from eight days to 20 years in prison, depending on the means and consequences of the violence. In case of domestic violence, these sanctions are doubled. The law lists several aggravating circumstances, such as violence against the partner and the weakness of the partner (due to age, pregnancy, illness, or handicap.) A number of government-supported shelters and telephone helplines were available across the country for victims of domestic abuse. In addition to providing lodging, many shelters assisted in legal matters, job placement, and psychological counseling to both partners.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls. Reported cases were primarily filed by recent immigrants or asylum seekers. Since 2014 two hospitals, in Ghent and Brussels, were reference hospitals for FGM/C victims. There were no new cases reported in 2015, but a recent study estimated that, as of the end of 2012, there were 48,092 women or girls in Belgium who had arrived from a country where FGM/C was practiced. The study estimated that 13,112 individuals were likely excised, while 4,084 were deemed “at risk” of the practice.
The number of requests for asylum in the country based on FGM/C risk declined slightly, from 701 in 2014 to 609 in 2015. Parents often filed requests on behalf of their children. When asylum was granted, authorities followed up to ensure that FGM/C did not take place by having a parent sign a declaration and by requesting a medical certificate each year. Criminal sanctions apply to persons convicted of FGM/C.
Sexual Harassment: The law aims to prevent violence and harassment at work, obliging companies to set up internal procedures to handle employee complaints. Sexist remarks and attitudes targeting a specific individual are illegal; fines for violations range from 50 to 1,000 euros ($55 to $1,100). Reliable statistics on sexual harassment were not easily available, since formal complaints may be filed with various entities. The government generally enforced antiharassment laws. Although there was not a national campaign to fight sexual harassment, politicians and organizations such as the Federal Institute for the Equality of Men and Women worked to raise awareness of the problem.
Reproductive Rights: The constitution includes the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. According to the UN Population Division, 67 percent of women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 were estimated to have used a modern method of contraception in 2015.
Discrimination: Women have the same legal rights as men, including rights under family, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. The law requires equal pay for equal work and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender, pregnancy, or motherhood as well as sexual intimidation in labor relations and in access to goods, services, social welfare, and health care.
Birth Registration: The government registered all live births immediately. Citizenship is conferred on a child through a parent’s (or the parents’) Belgian citizenship.
Child Abuse: In 2015 the federal police registered 1,477 complaints of child abandonment, 310 of neglect, 132 of food deprivation, and 3,997 involving physical, sexual, psychological, or other child abuse within the family. The government continued to prosecute cases of child abuse and to punish those convicted. The NGO Child Focus reported handling 1,840 missing child and child abuse cases in 2015.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law provides that both (consenting) partners must be at least 18 years old to marry.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See information for girls under 18 years of age in the women’s section above.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation, abduction, and trafficking and includes severe penalties for child pornography and possession of pedophilic materials. Authorities enforced the law. The penalties for producing and disseminating child pornography range from five to 15 years’ imprisonment and from one month to one year in prison for possessing such material. The law permits the prosecution of residents who commit such crimes while abroad. The law also provides that criminals convicted of child sexual abuse must receive specialized treatment before they can be paroled and must continue counseling and treatment after their release from prison.
According to official figures, the federal police investigated 769 child pornography cases in 2015. Belgian girls and foreign children were subjected to sex trafficking within the country.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Statutory rape carries penalties of imprisonment for 15 to 20 years. If the victim is under 10 years of age, imprisonment increases to 20 to 30 years.
Displaced Children: According to the Belgian Office of Foreigners, 901 unaccompanied minors filed asylum claims as minors between January and June. Authorities provided them adequate housing and services.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The country’s Jewish community was estimated at 40,000 persons. There were 570 reports of anti-Semitic acts in 2015. Anti-Semitic acts included some physical attacks but consisted mainly of verbal harassment of Jews and vandalism of Jewish property. Online hate speech continued to be a problem. Jewish groups reported anti-Semitic statements and attitudes in the media and in schools, especially but not exclusively related to the government of Israel and the Holocaust. In one example, the mother of a 12-year-old boy filed a police complaint in June alleging anti-Semitic bullying at a school in the Brussels suburbs, including subjecting him to taunts referencing the Holocaust.
The law prohibits public statements that incite national, racial, or religious hatred, including denial of the Holocaust. The government prosecuted and convicted individuals under this law (see section 2.a.). The government also provided enhanced security at Jewish schools and places of worship.
The Liege court was examining a Holocaust denial case in a francophone school. According to several students, a teacher reportedly mocked Hitler and denied the existence of concentration camps, claiming that the war was not Hitler’s but the Jews’ fault. He reportedly also said that the number of Jews who died during the war was not as high as the number of persons killed by Americans in Vietnam. A Verviers court sentenced the teacher in December 2015 to one month in prison (suspended sentence) and a 900 euro ($990) fine. The teacher appealed the ruling.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, and the provision of other state services. The government generally enforced the provisions. The Interfederal Center for Equal Opportunities (Unia) received 750 complaints in 2015 (which resulted in 384 effective cases), most related to employment and concerned access to private and public buildings and services, including public transport and access to banks, bars, restaurants, and amusement parks.
While the government mandated that public buildings erected after 1970 must be accessible to such persons, many older buildings were still inaccessible. Although the law requires that inmates with disabilities receive adequate treatment in separate, appropriate facilities, there were approximately 1,000 inmates with disabilities in prisons in spite of the law. The city of Brussels continued construction of accessibility measures on public transportation.
Ethnic minorities continued to experience discrimination in access to housing, education, and employment.
Government efforts to address such problems included internal training of officials and police officers and enforcement of laws prohibiting such discrimination. Laws and traditions permitting companies and individuals to discriminate on the basis of outward displays of religious belief disproportionately affected women of Moroccan and Turkish ethnic origin.
In 2015 approximately 15 percent of the allegations of discrimination received by Unia were based on physical disabilities. Discriminatory acts primarily took place over the internet, at work, or when individuals attempted to gain access to various public and private services, such as banking and restaurants.
Observers noted that racial discrimination often took the form of religious discrimination or occurred under the guise of practices that ostensibly limited the influence of religion in public life, but that effectively restricted the access of Muslims to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. Discrimination against women who wore a headscarf was common in the labor market. Companies commonly cited policies of “neutrality” with regard to religious belief in justifying such discrimination, although this defense was challenged in courts. The law also prohibits the wearing of a full-face veil (niqab) in public places; the provision affected very few women, compared to employment discrimination experienced by women wearing a headscarf. Authorities may punish persons who discriminate on the basis of ethnic origin with a fine of up to 137.50 euros ($151) and a jail sentence of up to seven days.
There were reports of discrimination against persons of African and Middle Eastern ancestry. For example, a 2015 socioeconomic monitoring report from Unia and the Ministry of Employment noted substantial differences in the employment rates for European Belgians (74.2 percent), Belgo-Moroccans (42.9 percent), and Belgo-Turks (43.3 percent).
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The country has a well-developed legal structure for the protection of LGBTI rights, which are included in the country’s antidiscrimination laws. Despite some progress, the underreporting of crimes against the LGBTI community remained a problem.
LGBTI persons from immigrant communities reported social discrimination within those communities. The government supported NGOs working to overcome the problem.
The law provides adequate protections for transgender persons but not for the larger transgender community. It requires a lengthy procedure, including psychiatric diagnosis and physical adaptation of the new gender (including surgery and hormones), before allowing persons to change their gender legally.
During the year the government, in cooperation with the regional entities, implemented an antihomophobia action plan. The plan imposes requirements on government entities involved in family matters, housing, and asylum and migration and calls for awareness campaigns to combat homophobic stereotypes in schools, youth movements, places of work, and the sports community.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
In the aftermath of the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and the March bombing attacks in Brussels, there was an upsurge in anti-Islamic incidents across the country, including demonstrations and attempted demonstrations against Islam in Brussels, Ghent, and Antwerp that were attended by hundreds of protesters. There were reports of individual cases of violence directed against Muslims.
In July a petition was circulated in the Brussels municipality of Anderlecht calling on residents to urge Muslims to “go back home” and urging Catholics to set a mosque to a fire. An investigation into the petition was ongoing.
Restrictions on Islamic clothing in public and private sector employment, schools, and public spaces affected Muslim women in particular. In August a school in the Uccle municipality of Brussels forbade two veiled students from taking an examination but relented and allowed them to do so later the same day. The school had earlier changed its regulations to prohibit headscarves as of September 1. The Francophone minister for adult education expressed disappointment over the case and called on the school to provide a solid justification for the ban (schools are free to adopt such a ban, but the ban is required to be justified).
Unia received complaints of discrimination based on physical characteristics, political orientation, social origin, or status. Each of these categories accounted for approximately 3 percent of the total number of complaints filed. In 2015 the center received no notifications involving possible discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS but opened three HIV/AIDS-related cases.