Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of a person, regardless of gender, 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, which range from eight days to 20 years in prison. In cases of domestic violence, these sanctions are doubled.
The government did not keep a record of the number of femicides. According to federal police statistics, there were approximately 38,000 official complaints of domestic violence against women and men to include physical, psychological, or economic abuse, including 203 complaints of sexual violence, during 2021.
Several 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, and it was not a widespread practice in the country. Authorities effectively enforced the law. Reported cases were primarily filed by recent immigrants or asylum seekers. Criminal sanctions apply to persons convicted of FGM/C. According to 2020 estimates, there were more than 23,000 female minor and adult victims of FGM/C in the country, while more than 12,000 were at risk – an increase from the previous year. Most of those at potential risk of FGM/C were asylum seekers from Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Guinea, and Somalia.
Sexual Harassment: The law aims to prevent gender-based violence and harassment at work, obliging companies to set up internal procedures to handle employee complaints. Sexist remarks and behavior targeting a specific individual are illegal; parties found guilty are subject to fines. The government generally enforced antiharassment laws.
The deputy director of the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men reported that the sexual criminal law was the subject of a major reform in March to better fight against sexual abuse and the sexual exploitation of minors and adults, and a series of penalties had been increased.
A June 2021 study titled Safer Cities by the NGO Plan International surveyed 700 persons between the ages of 15 and 24 in the cities of Brussels, Antwerp, and Charleroi and found that 91 percent of girls and 28 percent of boys had experienced some form of sexual harassment in public. Eighty-two percent of girls reported that sexist comments and catcalling were the most frequent forms of harassment. In April the “Safer Cities” online reporting tool for harassment, received more than 6,000 notifications. Of these notifications, organizers highlighted that harassment takes place anytime and anywhere, and did have a significant impact on women and girls, as they felt the need to adjust their behavior to develop defense strategies. Bystanders did not intervene in instances of harassment as they were taking place.
In November 2021 the Self-Managed Inclusive Feminist Union (UFIA) boycotted bars and clubs in the wake of rising reports of sexual violence, illustrated by testimonies shared online. The movement began after online accounts of women being drugged and sexually assaulted by an employee at two bars in the Cimetière d’Ixelles neighborhood.
In November 2021 the country implemented the new national action plan to combat gender-based violence as part of the commitment to the Summit for Democracy.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was available as part of the clinical management of rape.
There were no legal, social, or cultural barriers or government policies limiting access to sexual and reproductive health services.
Discrimination: Women have the same legal rights as men, including under family, religious, personal status, and nationality laws as well as under laws related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing businesses or property. 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 healthcare. 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.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The laws of May 10, 2007, and August 17, 2013 (which modified the law of July 30, 1981), provide the main legal basis for protection against discrimination. The government enforced the laws effectively. In 2021 UNIA reported a record number of 10,610 discrimination notifications, a 12 percent increase from 2020. The pandemic and public measures to address COVID-19 led to a significant increase of the criteria “medical situation,” with 26.5 percent of the notifications (3,231). Racial criteria were second with 15.1 percent of the notifications (1,839). Most cases of discrimination took place on social media, in the housing market, in the workplace, or on public transportation. UNIA noted that the COVID-19 lockdown boosted the amount of time individuals spent online, creating an environment in which online hate speech increased. The number of hate speech cases UNIA handled remained in line with previous years. UNIA also received COVID-related complaints (age discrimination, employment, access to housing) as well as numerous allegations of police violence.
Several reports of ethnic profiling by police were documented by Amnesty International and the Human Rights League’s police observatory, Police Watch.
Birth Registration: The government registered all live births immediately. Citizenship is conferred on a child through a parent’s (or the parents’) citizenship, but, except for a few circumstances, not through birth in the country’s territory. Birth registrations were provided on a nondiscriminatory basis, and there were no differences in birth registration policies between boys and girls.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, and the government continued to prosecute cases of child abuse and punish those convicted.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law provides that both (consenting) partners must be at least 18 years of age to marry. Federal police statistics for 2021 recorded 9 cases of forced marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation, abduction, and using children for commercial exploitation, including sex trafficking of children. The law 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. Local 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.
In August the media reported that police had recorded a rise in sexual exploitation of minors online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Police continued to track the problem.
In May the children’s rights NGO Child Focus released its 2021 annual report confirming the rising number of reports of sexual exploitation, with 2,467 in 2021, 2,416 in 2020, and 1,648 in 2019. The organization also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had vastly increased children’s internet screen time, putting them at greater risk of sexual exploitation. Child Focus reported that it had received 2,147 reports of child pornography in 2021 and 2,056 reports in 2020 on its stopchildporno.be website.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression, or Sex Characteristics
Criminalization: No laws criminalized consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults or cross-dressing. Laws on immorality or loitering were not disproportionally applied to LGBTQI+ persons.
Violence Against LGBTQI+ Persons: Neither police nor government agents incited, perpetrated, condoned, or tolerated violence against LGBTQI+ individuals. There were isolated incidents of nonstate actors committing violence against LGBTQI+ persons.
In May 2021 a student in Oudenaarde was beaten because of their perceived sexual orientation. The assailants were minors attending the same school. They were arrested and tried in juvenile court.
Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, application of nationality laws, and access to government services, such as healthcare. The government enforced the law, but underreporting of crimes against the LGBTQI+ community remained a problem.
Currently, men who have sex with men are excluded from donating blood for 12 months after last sexual contact. Heterosexuals who engage in “risky sexual behavior” were also excluded, but for only four months. Various European and international bodies, including the Court of Justice of the European Union, have called these exclusions “unjustified,” considering technology that detects transmissible diseases.
Availability of Legal Gender Recognition: Legal gender recognition was available without first undergoing sex reassignment surgery.
Involuntary or Coercive Medical or Psychological Practices Specifically Targeting LGBTQI+ Individuals: Intersex babies and children are often subjected to surgery or hormone treatment to give them more “socially acceptable sex characteristics.”
In May the federal government launched a 133-measure action plan LGBTQI+ Friendly Belgium to increase safety and maximize inclusiveness, including a prohibition of “conversion therapy” practices. The draft bill against “conversion therapy” has been submitted to parliament but has not yet been debated.
Restrictions of Freedom of Expression, Association, or Peaceful Assembly: There were no restrictions on those speaking out about LGBTQI+ issues.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government generally enforced these prohibitions. Persons with disabilities can access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. Government communication to disabled persons was made available in accessible formats.
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, many inmates were still incarcerated in inadequate facilities.
The National High Council for Persons with Disabilities raised concerns about access to intensive care services for persons with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. UNIA stated as well that due to social distancing measures, persons with disabilities and older persons did not have equal access to healthcare.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
While the religious practice of animal slaughter remains legal at the federal level, the Flemish and Walloon regional governments instituted laws requiring stunning prior to slaughter in January and September 2019, respectively, which restricted halal and kosher religious practices. Muslim and Jewish communities challenged the restrictions on grounds of discrimination and violation of religious freedom. In December 2020 the EU Court of Justice, to promote animal welfare in the context of ritual slaughter, made it legal for Member States to allow reversible stunning without infringing the Fundamental Rights of the Charter.
On June 17, the Brussels Regional Parliament voted against a legislative proposal that would have banned animal slaughter without stunning. Brussels remains the only one of the country’s three regions where ritual slaughter – animal slaughter following kosher and halal religious practices – can take place.
There were reports of physical and verbal attacks against Muslims. 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 and girls.