Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women or men, 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.
In 2017 the NGO Femicide Watch reported that 39 women died in connection with rape or domestic violence. According to 2017 statistics from the federal police, there were more than 37,000 official complaints of physical, psychological, and economic violence, including 142 complaints of sexual violence.
In one prominent domestic violence case, a woman in her forties, Valerie Leisten, and her mother, Lucie Leisten-Brandt, were stabbed and killed on August 22 in their family’s restaurant in Moresnet (Plombieres) by Leisten’s former partner, 52-year-old Michel Gijsens. According to media reports, Leisten had previously filed a harassment complaint against Gijsens following their break-up. Gijsens died from an injury sustained in the attack; two other persons in the restaurant were injured. Media reports indicated that Leisten and Gijsens had long lived together. An investigation was reportedly ongoing.
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. According to estimates during the year, there were more than 17,000 female minor and adult victims of FGM in the country, while more than 8,000 were at risk. The vast majority of potential victims were asylum seekers from Guinea, Somalia, Ivory Coast, and Egypt.
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 ($58 to $1,150). 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 or involuntary sterilization.
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. The government generally enforced the law effectively, although many NGOs and feminist organizations reported women often had to accept part-time work due to conflicting family obligations.
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 of children 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.
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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
The country’s Jewish community was estimated at 46,000 persons. There were 56 reports of anti-Semitic acts in 2017, a steep decrease from the 109 notifications in 2016, which represented a peak over recent previous years. Anti-Semitic acts included physical attacks, verbal harassment, 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 ($158) 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 law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, application of nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. The government enforced the law, but 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.
Local media broadly reported on an August 7 attack in Ghent against an LGBTI couple, both of whom were resident foreigners, who were beaten by a man and his wife during an incident of road rage. The two couples were reportedly neighbors who knew each other and had prior issues. The media characterized the incident as a homophobic attack. One victim was hospitalized with two broken vertebra and a series of stitches for extensive facial lacerations.
The law provides protections for transgender persons, including legal gender recognition without first undergoing sex reassignment surgery.
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
UNIA received complaints of discrimination based on physical characteristics, political orientation, social origin, or status. Restrictions on Islamic clothing in public and private sector employment, schools, and public spaces affected Muslim women in particular.
A socioeconomic study published in December 2017 indicated that a person’s origin and nationality could affect his or her ability to compete in the country’s labor market.