Brussels, Belgium – The Belgian Senate Commission for Justice has expanded the legislative framework concerning Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) with a unanimous vote on 3 April 2014. Currently, individuals who perform, facilitate or promote FGM/C can be prosecuted under Article 409 of the Belgian Penal Code. The Bill proposed by AWEPA’s Political Coordinator for the FGM/C programme, Senator Els Van Hoof, also punishes individuals who incite people to practice FGM/C.
According to a study by the Belgian Institute of Tropical Medicine, there are more than 13 thousand victims of FGM/C living in Belgium, whilst approximately another four thousand girls and women are at risk of becoming victims. Statistics further pinpoint that the average age of the victims is decreasing. A study conducted by the European Institute for Gender Equality shows that this type of crime has not once led to a lawsuit in Belgium. It is often difficult to gather sufficient evidence of FGM/C being practiced, also because the victims often don’t dare to report the crime, as instigators remain unpunished.
According to Senator Els Van Hoof, who is Political Coordinator for AWEPA’s FGM/C programme as well as Chair of Women and Society, the political women’s movement of the CD & V party, Belgian legislation is following a growing international trend. The General Assembly of the United Nations and the European Union have asked their Member States to increase their efforts to eradicate FGM/C.
Earlier this year, the TV Programme Ter Zake interviewed several witnesses about FGM/C in Belgium. This issue is exported by means of migratory movements from Africa to Europe. Van Hoof, herself, went looking for witnesses in Belgium. An employee of the Groupe pour l’Abolition des Mutilations Sexuelles (GAMS) verbalized the rise of this issue as follows: “While GAMS organised one meeting to stop FGM/C, the community organised five meetings to say that it must go on”.
The penalty that the Senator has in mind would amount to eight days to one year imprisonment. “As a result, the judge has sufficient possibility to impose a penalty that is fitting the facts”, she says. “As an MP, I have always tried to put the equality between men and women high on the social agenda”, says Van Hoof. “I would like to make an appeal to all women who are directly or indirectly involved: Do not just sit with it. Come out to the open. Only then can we identify the problem and give those responsible an appropriate punishment”. The proposed law of Senator Van Hoof is in line with the holistic approach to abandon FGM/C via prevention, sustainable behavioural change and punishment.