Belgium is a federal state comprised of three regions (Walloon, Flemish and Brussels), three communities (French-, Flemish- and German-speaking) and 10 provinces. The population totals over 11 million, of which around 16% is of foreign origin (7% born in EU member states, 10% outside the EU—2016 figures) (Eurostat and Belgian National Population register, 2016).
Tackling issues such as gender violence can involve up to three levels of government (federal, regional and community), complicating the implementation of relevant conventions and European directives. For example, police, justice and asylum are federal competences, while child protection is a community-level responsibility. Health may be a federal, regional or community competence, depending on the type of service concerned—curative, preventive, rehabilitative or health promotion. Other issues (such as equal opportunities and development cooperation) are the responsibility of all three levels of government.
Despite such complexities, however, Belgian state authorities and NGOs are extremely active in the fight against female genital mutilation (FGM), successfully collaborating to produce and deliver a range of material, including professional guidelines, awareness-raising campaigns, training programmes and research.
II. In figures: FGM in Belgium
According to a 2014 study conducted by the Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine on behalf of the Ministry of Health (MOH)1)With the collaboration of various national and international institutions (ICRH, ISP, ONE, K&G, Fedasil, CGRA, UNHCR), an estimated 48,000 women and girls living in Belgium came from a country where FGM is prevalent on 31 December 2012 (see Figure 1).2)All figures rounded (from 48,092, 3,112, 4,084, 6,761, 5,831, 3,303) Approximately 13,000 of that total were likely to be circumcised, with a further 4,000 at risk (Dubourg & Richard 2014). The Flemish and Brussels regions account for the majority of cases (with figures for those affected or at risk estimated at 6,800 and 5,800, respectively) followed by the Walloon region (3,300). Asylum-seekers account for a further 1,300 cases. The total number of 17000 affected women and girls in Belgium is a low estimate given the on-going influx of refugees from FGM-practising countries such as Somalia and Eritrea.
Figure 1: Estimated numbers affected by or at risk of FGM, by province (31 December 2012) Sources: DGSIE, ONE, K&G
No case of FGM has to date been brought before a Belgian court. However, several cases have been presented to the Public Prosecutor’s Office (family and youth section), resulting in measures to protect at-risk girls.
Requests for international protection on the grounds of FGM increased considerably between 2008 and 2012, to reach the current total of some 500 asylum applications on grounds of FGM reviewed each year by the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRS) (see Chart 1). Of the 487 FGM-related cases processed in 2015, protection was granted in 367 cases (refugee status issued to 366 and one provided subsidiary protection, a rate of 75.4%).
Chart 1. Grants of protection by Belgium in FGM-related cases, 2008-15 (based on CGRS figures)
III. Principal FGM-affected communities in Belgium
The first FGM-affected community to arrive in significant numbers in Belgium were refugees fleeing the war in Somalia in the early-1990s. By 2012, the majority of FGM-affected women in Belgium came from Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone, as well as Somalia (Dubourg & Richard, 2014).
Table 1. Numbers affected by or at risk of FGM in Belgium, by nationality of origin (top ten) and region (2012).3)Belgium’s population register provides data by nationality rather than country of origin
|Flemish Region||Walloon Region||Brussels Region||Immigration Office||Total|
|Nationality of Origin||No.||Nationality of Origin||No.||Nationality of Origin||No.||Nationality of Origin||No.||Nationality of Origin||No.|
|Total top ten||5,417||2,873||5,009||1,169||14,046|
|% top ten||80%||87%||86%||90%||82%|