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. The 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 (age, pregnancy, illness, and 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 March 2014 two hospitals, in Ghent and Brussels, were reference hospitals for FGM victims. There were no new cases reported in 2014, but a recent study estimated that, as of the end of 2012, there were 48,092 women or girls in Belgium from a country where FGM was practiced. The study estimated that 13,112 individuals were likely excised already, while 4,084 were deemed “at risk” of the practice.
The number of requests for asylum in the country based on FGM risk rose from 554 in 2013 to 701 in 2014. Parents often filed requests on behalf of their children. When asylum was granted (in 65 percent of cases in 2014), authorities followed up to ensure that FGM 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 for FGM. On February 6, the International Day against FGM, several NGOs introduced an assistance packet that included prevention tools and information for frontline workers, victims of FGM, and women at risk of becoming victims of FGM.
Sexual Harassment: Reliable statistics on sexual harassment were not easily available, since formal complaints may be filed with various entities. The law aims to prevent violence and harassment at work, obliging companies to set up internal procedures to handle employee complaints. The government generally enforced antiharassment legislation. Although a national campaign to fight sexual harassment did not exist, politicians and organizations such as the Federal Institute for the Equality of Men and Women worked to raise awareness of the problem.
In August 2014 a law was adopted that introduced criminal sanctions (from one month to one year in prison) and fines ranging from 50 euros to 1,000 euros ($55 to $1,100) for sexist remarks and attitudes targeting a specific individual (movies or ads do not fall under the scope of the law). Observers noted that, as a practical matter, legal procedures and evidentiary requirements could make it difficult for many victims to pursue legal recourse under the new law.
Reproductive Rights: The constitution provides for complete freedom in the way that persons organize their private lives, including 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.
Discrimination: Women have the same legal rights as men, including rights under family, property, labor, 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. Government oversight bodies reported some discrimination based on gender, national origin, religion, and sexual orientation during the year (see section 7.d.).