Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men or women, including spousal rape, is illegal, and the government prosecuted such cases. A convicted rapist may receive 10 to 30 years in prison.
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. In cases of domestic violence, these sanctions are doubled. A number of government-supported shelters and telephone helplines were available across the country for victims of domestic abuse.
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. 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 ($60 to $1,200). The government generally enforced antiharassment laws. Politicians and organizations such as the Federal Institute for the Equality of Men and Women worked to raise awareness of the problem.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/.
Discrimination: Women have the same legal rights as men. The law requires equal pay for equal work and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender, pregnancy, or motherhood as well as 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: The government continued to prosecute cases of child abuse and punish those convicted.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law provides that both (consenting) partners must be at least 18 to marry.
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 up to 15 years’ imprisonment and up to one year in prison for possessing such material. 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 up 30 years.
Displaced Children: Authorities provided adequate housing and services to unaccompanied minors who filed asylum claims as minors.
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 109 reports of anti-Semitic acts in 2016, a steep increase from the 57 notifications in 2015. Anti-Semitic acts included some physical attacks but consisted mainly of verbal harassment of Jews and vandalism of Jewish property. Authorities generally investigated, and where appropriate prosecuted, such cases. 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.
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.
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. The government generally enforced the provisions.
While the government mandated that public buildings erected after 1970 must be accessible to persons with disabilities, many older buildings were still inaccessible. Although the law requires that prison inmates with disabilities receive adequate treatment in separate, appropriate facilities, there were still many such inmates incarcerated in inadequate facilities.
Ethnic minorities continued to experience discrimination in access to housing, education, and employment. 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.
Discrimination against women who wore a headscarf was common in the labor market. The law also prohibits the wearing of a full-face veil (niqab) in public places. Authorities may punish persons who discriminate on the basis of ethnic origin with a fine of up to 137.50 euros ($165) and a jail sentence of up to seven days. There were reports of discrimination against persons of African and Middle Eastern ancestry. Government efforts to address such problems included internal training of officials and police officers and enforcement of laws prohibiting such discrimination.
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. On May 24, the Federal House approved a law removing the requirement for persons to undergo gender reassignment surgery before they are allowed to change their gender legally. Under the new law, an individual who is at least 16 may make an official statement regarding their gender to officer of the civil status registry, who would notify the general prosecutor. Absent objection from the Office of the General Prosecutor, the person’s birth certificate would be amended within three months.
During the year the government, in cooperation with the regional entities, implemented an antihomophobia action plan. The plan requires government entities to conduct 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 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and the March 2016 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.
Restrictions on Islamic clothing in public and private sector employment, schools, and public spaces affected Muslim women in particular.
Unia received complaints of discrimination based on physical characteristics, political orientation, social origin, or status.