Several hundred people gathered to demonstrate on the Rue des Colonies in central Brussels on Thursday ahead of the plenary session of the Parliament of the French Community (the Wallonia-Brussels Federation).
The crowd was vociferous against a proposed sexual education policy that would result in all pupils in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation system undergoing regular educational activities (at least twice per year) relating to relationships, emotional and sexual life (EVRAS).
From the start of this school year, all pupils in 6th primary and 4th secondary will receive at least one class. This concerns 85,000 pupils in Wallonia and 25,000 pupils in Brussels.
Chanting their opposition to the proposal and calling for the resignation of education minister Caroline Désir, protestors came out in force against the proposal, which will likely be adopted as well as introducing a new textbook for emotional and sexual education.
Police forbade access to the neutral zone and the street was closed to traffic. Demonstrators tried to make their way to the Parliament building.
The country’s French-speaking entities have agreed to make available an annual budget of €4.8 million for this purpose.
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The project has caused significant controversy, especially among Islamic communities in Belgium. In a statement issued on Wednesday, several Islamic federations expressed their opposition, decrying compulsory sexual education which they say goes against the religious beliefs of students. They claim that this infringes on their rights as parents and will lead to the "hypersexualisation" of children.
A citizens’ group also organised an e-mail campaign targeting FWB MPs. These groups joined the demonstration. However the Secular Action Centre (CAL) has expressed support for this project.
Speaking on Thursday morning on La Première (RTBF), Education Minister Caroline Désir was keen to reassure families: "Our intentions are noble. We’re obviously not going to encourage hypersexualisation among young people, we’re not going to encourage sexual orientation or gender identity, we’re not going to give lessons in sexual practices. It’s unacceptable to frighten parents on this subject."
To the jeer of demonstrators outside the parliament, MP Philippe Courard (PS) announced that he and other MPs were going to vote for the text.