Despite various children's rights organisations sounding the alarm bells and urging Belgium to impose an explicit ban on so-called "educational violence" against youngsters, it remains one of the last Western European countries not to do so.
St Nicholas or Sinterklaas will be bringing children across Belgium presents and sweet goods on Tuesday, but this year, they will once again not receive the gift of the state protecting them against physical, psychological or verbal violence supposedly used by adults for educational purposes, a concept that remains normalised by society and Civil Law.
This matter has been repeatedly criticised by the European Committee for Social Rights and the United Nations. In March last year, the Flemish socialist party Vooruit (sp.a at the time) already introduced a bill to legally ban the so-called corporal punishment of children — including a slap on the backside or a pat on the cheek — as this is not explicitly mentioned in the country's civil code.
In the meantime, Belgian children's and human rights organisations, including the Federal Institute for Human Rights (FIRM), repeated their call for an explicit ban on so-called "educational violence," which ranges from a slap to humiliation and denying children food, acts which they argued "are never actually pedagogical and can have serious consequences for children's lives."
Improvement in sight?
Exactly one year later, they concluded that the situation has not yet changed, stressing that Belgium continues to tolerate this kind of violence. "We continue to join forces to insist that the use of physical and psychological violence in parenting be explicitly banned in our country too," the organisations noted on Tuesday.
Proposals to amend the Civil Code to explicitly prohibit all forms of violence by the Federal Parliament which were repeatedly discussed in the Justice Committee of the Federal Parliament in 2022, and the Commission also organised hearings during which various organisations could share their expertise and recommendations on the matter.
The intention of these proposals is not to punish parents, but to "raise awareness and make them understand the extremely harmful consequences of using violence in the upbringing of children and the importance of giving preference to a non-violent upbringing."
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However, the organisations noted that, despite parliamentary efforts on this, Parliament has not yet voted on the law.
They have called for the early adoption of the ban proposal as well as the development of awareness-raising, prevention and information measures as well as training for parents, teachers, law enforcement agencies, social workers and all professionals working with children.
"This is, without doubt, the greatest gift our society can give to children on Sinterklaas," the organisations said.