The Flemish government will approve a proposal to make long-term imprisonment of minors possible for serious crimes with aggravating circumstances or death as a result next Friday.
Flemish Minister of Justice and Enforcement Zuhal Demir has repeatedly appealed for the minimal penalty for sexual offences to be increased, however, the case of an underage girl who recently took her own life after allegedly being the victim of sexual abuse at a cemetery in Ghent, of which pictures were spread on social media, has spurred the discussion of this matter in parliament.
"We cannot imagine the pain the family of the victim in Ghent is going through right now. Nothing can ease their pain. At the same time, nothing could ease the pain of the victim herself," Demir said in a press release on Wednesday.
"The fact is that, compared to the lifelong trauma of the victims, perpetrators too often get away with it. As a society and as politicians, we must refuse to resign ourselves to that," Demir added.
She explained that the government cannot take over the role of the federal legislator or judges, but that it can adapt the legislation when it comes to underage criminals.
"By making long-term imprisonment possible for minors under the age of 16 who commit crimes such as rape with aggravating circumstances or death as a result, we give a clear signal to society that rape is unacceptable and must be severely punished," Demir said.
The draft decree proposes detention terms to be extended to up to two years for perpetrators under 14 years of age, up to five years for those aged between 14 and 16 years, and up to seven years for offenders older than 16.
"These would not be for every crime but focuses only on the most serious offences, including murder, genocide, manslaughter, terrorism, but also rape under aggravating circumstances or resulting in death," said Demir.
In the case of the underage girl in Ghent, police arrested the five alleged attackers, three of whom were minors and two adults, who were placed under arrest for rape, indecent assault and the taking and dissemination of photographs likely to constitute an attack on the integrity of a person.
"This change means that, if the juvenile court qualifies the facts of this recent case as aggravated rape or rape resulting in death, long-term imprisonment of the minors will be possible, which was not the case in the past", Demir added.