The justice committee of the federal parliament yesterday gave its approval to a bill that would enshrine in law the right of siblings to remain together in the event of a divorce or placement in foster care.
The bill is the initiative of MPs Sophie Rohonyi and François De Smet (both DéFI), although members from Open VLD had some amendments accepted. The bill passed the committee stage with opposition only from Vlaams Belang.
The proponents of the bill pointed out that the law in Belgium has never laid down the rights of brothers and sisters in law. When parliament passed a law on co-parenting in 1995, it originally contained a provision on keeping siblings together, but that article was dropped by an amendment before the law was adopted.
“Minor brothers and sisters will now have the right not to be separated in the event of placement [in foster homes] but also to maintain contacts,” commented Rohonyi.
The passage of the bill in committee was welcomed by the Delegate for the rights of children of the French Community, Bernard De Vos.
“Excellent news and real significant progress in the best interests of children,” said his spokesperson on Twitter. The delegate has recommended this measure for some time, they pointed out.
The League of Families, posting on Twitter, described the move as “an important step forward. Recognition of the right to maintain personal relationships between brothers and sisters, including in stepfamilies, will help maintain this strong and important bond for the fulfilment and development of children in the event of fostering.”
“It is often the case that a sibling in the vicinity is a stable factor in a very hectic situation, such as a placement in a foster family,” explains Katja Gabriëls (Open VLD), who brought some amendments to the bill.
The law does not only affect blood relatives; it also extends the same right to children who have grown up together in the same family, and have developed bonds of fraternity such as those that exist between blood relations. In cases of recomposition of the family – as where a family of children of different parents breaks up for any reason – those children also will have their rights taken into account.
“We find that very important: nowadays there are many situations where siblings do not come from the same parents. We are also thinking of stepbrothers and sisters where the same affective bond is possible,” said Gabriëls.
“Being fostered is a drama in itself, to which is sometimes added the drama of separation. It seemed fundamental to us to say that this link had to be preserved because it is often all that remains to them,” Rohonyi explained.
The bill now has to be sent to the Council of State for its opinion, before coming back to parliament for approval.