Belgium's legislation on forced sterilisation

Legislation about (forced) sterilisation

In Belgium, the law of the 17th of March 2013 (which entered into force on the 1st of September 2013) amended the legal capacity regimes and included a new protection status regarding forced sterilisation, in accordance with human dignity.

Since then, sterilisation of persons with disabilities is authorised but their informed consent has to be sought.

Indeed, according to Article 497/2 of the Belgian Civil Code, when sterilisation concerns a protected person, the administrator is not allowed to make decisions on behalf of the protected person regarding sterilisation.

The protection of a patient’s right to informed and free consent is guaranteed by the Law of 22 August 2002 on patients’ rights and Article 54 of the Medical Code of Conduct.

In Belgium, forced sterilisation falls under the criminal offences of assault and battery with or without aggravating circumstances (art. 398 and seq. of the Penal Code), the provisions on inhuman and degrading treatment (art.417bis and seq. of the Penal Code) and serious violations of international humanitarian law which includes forced sterilisation (art.136bis and seq. of the Penal Code).

Despite these safeguards, Belgian NGOs expressed concerns about the fact that women with disabilities, in particular those with an intellectual disability, are still exposed to forced sterilisation. They added in their report to the CRPD Committee, that sterilisation is widespread in institutions for persons with disabilities and is even an entry requirement for women in many accommodation centres. The report mentions that due to a lack of places in institutions when a place becomes available, families are left with no choice but to agree to sterilisation.

Data related to the matter

The available data is outdated, dating from 1999. At this time, a study has been conducted among women with an intellectual disability aged between 18 and 46 years and attending government-funded facilities in Brussels and the province of Walloon Brabant in Belgium. Out of 397 subjects, 22,2% were sterilised.