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Belgium[1] [print]

Last edited: March 2006

 

Summary and Analysis

Belgium ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child [CRC] in December of 1991, effectively giving the Convention legal authority superior to that of domestic legislation.[2]  The federal legislation in Belgium governing child protective proceedings includes the Civil Procedure section of the Judicial Code and the 1965 Law on the Protection of Young People, which describes the various measures of protection and provides the basis for limiting parental authority.

Due to Belgium's unique legal structure (in which the French, German, and Flemish communities have separate legislatures), the “youth assistance” agencies for implementing the measures of protection and intervening on a child's behalf and the administrative procedures for implementing protection measures vary on a local level.  In the Flemish community, the Kind en Gezin (Child and Family) is the local organization charged with intervening when the welfare of a child may be endangered.[3]  The equivalent agency in the French community is the Office de la Naissance et l'Enfance (Births and Children Office) and the German agency is the Jugendhilfedienst (Youth Assistance Service).[4]  In all communities, it is the Youth Court which decides if a child's welfare requires that she be removed from her home.

Since the ratification of the Convention, Belgium has taken steps to implement the CRC's Article 12, which provides for the child's right to be heard in any matter affecting her.  In the child protection arena, the federal legislature has tried to update legislation to comply with Article 12, passing amendments in 1994 to both the Judicial Code and the Law on the Protection of Young People.[5]  Currently, the Law on the Protection of Young People requires the Youth Court to hear the views of children aged twelve and over.[6]  Article 931 of the Judicial Code allows minors who are “capable of understanding” to request to be heard by the court and also provides that judges may request that the minor present her views.[7]  It should be noted that although Article 931 forbids a minor to be heard in cases in which their parents have “opposing interests,”[8] the Article is meant to refer to cases in which the parents are opposing one another, not cases in which the parents' interests oppose the child's.[9]

Every child involved in a protective proceeding has a lawyer appointed for her by the Office of Consultation and Defense or by the President of the Bar, as provided by Article 54B of the Law on the Protection of Young People.[10]  However, the law does not explicitly state that the lawyer must convey the child's opinion and it does explicitly state that a child is not party to the case.  At the same time, neither does the law specify that the assigned lawyer must only represent the best interests of the child.  So, it is unclear if children under the age of twelve who are not given the opportunity to be heard directly have their views conveyed to the court through their lawyers.

Despite our best efforts, we were unable to locate a local contact to confirm the accuracy of our research.

 

Sources of Law (In Order of Authority)

Original Text

International Law

Convention relative aux droits de l'enfant[11]

Article 12

1. Les Etats parties garantissent à l'enfant qui est capable de discernement le droit d'exprimer librement son opinion sur toute question l'intéressant, les opinions de l'enfant étant dûment prises en considération eu égard à son âge et à son degré de maturité.

2. A cette fin, on donnera notamment à l'enfant la possibilité d'être entendu dans toute procédure judiciaire ou administrative l'intéressant, soit directement, soit par l'intermédiaire d'un représentant ou d'une organisation approprié, de façon compatible avec les règles de procédure de la législation nationale.

Judicial Code

Code judiciare[12]

Art. 931.  Le mineur âgé de moins de quinze ans révolus ne peut être entendu sous serment. Ses déclarations peuvent être recueillis à titre de simple renseignement.

Les descendants ne peuvent être entendus dans les causes où leurs ascendants ont des intérêts opposés.

(Néanmoins, dans toute procédure le concernant, le mineur capable de discernement peut, à sa demande ou sur décision du juge, sans préjudice des dispositions légales prévoyant son intervention volontaire et son consentement, être entendu, hors de la présence des parties, par le juge ou la personne désignée par ce dernier à cet effet, aux frais partagés des parties s'il y a lieu. La décision du juge n'est pas susceptible d'appel.

Lorsque le mineur en fait la demande soit au juge saisi soit au procureur du Roi, l'audition ne peut être écartée que par une décision spécialement motivée fondée sur le manque de discernement du mineur. Cette décision n'est pas susceptible d'appel.

Lorsque l'audition est décidée par le juge, le mineur peut refuser d'être entendu.

Il est entendu seul sauf le droit pour le juge de prescrire dans l'intérêt du mineur qu'il devra être assisté.

L'audition du mineur ne lui confère pas la qualité de partie à la procédure. L'audition a lieu en tout endroit jugé approprié par le juge. Il en est établi un procès-verbal qui est joint au dossier de la procédure, sans que copie en soit délivrée aux parties.) <L 1994-06-30/33, art. 1, 026; En vigueur : 1994-10-01>

Laws

Loi relative à la protection de la jeunesse, 8 Avril 1965[13]

Art. 54bis. <Inséré par L 1994-02-02/33, art. 21; En vigueur : 27-09-1994>

§ 1. Lorsqu'une personne de moins de dix-huit ans est partie à la cause et qu'elle n'a pas d'avocat, il lui en est désigné un d'office.

Lorsque le tribunal de la jeunesse est saisi en application de l'article 45.2.a) ou b), ou de l'article 63ter, a) ou c), le ministère public en avise immédiatement le bâtonnier de l'ordre des avocats. Cet avis est, selon le cas, envoyé en même temps que la réquisition la citation ou l'avertissement motivé. Le bâtonnier ou le bureau de consultation et de défense procède à la désignation au plus tard dans les deux jours ouvrables à compter de cet avis.

§ 2. Le ministère public adresse au tribunal de la jeunesse saisi, copie de l'avis informant le bâtonnier de la saisine.

§ 3. Le bâtonnier ou le bureau de consultation et de défense veille, lorsqu'il y a contradiction d'intérêts, à ce que l'intéressé soit assisté par un avocat autre que celui auquel auraient fait appel ses père et mère, tuteurs, ou personnes qui en ont la garde ou qui sont investies d'un droit d'action.

Art. 56bis. <Inséré par L 1994-02-02/33, art. 24; ED : 27-09-1994> Le tribunal de la jeunesse doit convoquer la personne de douze ans au moins aux fins d'audition, dans les litiges qui opposent les personnes investies à son égard de l'autorité parentale, lorsque sont débattus des points qui concernent le gouvernement de sa personne, l'administration de ses biens, l'exercice du droit de visite, ou la désignation de la personne visée à l'article 34.

Translation[14]

International Law

Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified December 16, 1991[15]

Article 12

1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

2. For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.

Judicial Code

Judicial Code[16]

Art. 931.  The minor less than fifteen years old cannot be heard under oath. His declarations can be collected by way of simple inquiry.

Descendants cannot be heard in causes in which their ascendants have opposing interests.

(Nevertheless, in any procedure relating to him, the minor capable of understanding may, at his request or at the decision of the judge, without prejudice to the legal provisions envisaging his voluntary intervention and his consent, be heard, out of the presence of the parties, by the judge or the person designated by the judge for this purpose, with the expenses divided between the parties if it is necessary. The decision of the judge is not susceptible to appeal.

When the minor makes the request for this, either with the presiding judge or with the Crown Procurator, the hearing can be prevented only by one especially justified decision founded on the lack of understanding of the minor. This decision is not susceptible to appeal.

When the hearing is decided upon by the judge, the minor can refuse to be heard.

He is heard only except the right for the judge to decide in the interest of the minor whether he will have to be assisted.

The hearing of the minor does not confer to him the status of party to the procedure. The hearing takes place in any location considered appropriate by the judge. The hearing is established in a statement which is attached to the file of the procedure, without copies of it being distributed to the parties.) <L 1994-06-30/33, art. 1, 026; In force: 1994-10-01>

Laws

Law on the protection of young people, Apr. 8, 1965[17]

Art. 54B. <Inserted by L 1994-02-02/33, art. 21; In force: 27-09-1994>

§1. When a person of less than eighteen years is party to the cause and he does not have a lawyer, he is appointed one of office.

When the court of youth is seized pursuant to the article 45.2.a) or b), or by the article 63C, a) or c), the public ministry immediately warns the president of the Bar of the order of lawyers. This opinion is, according to the case, sent at the same time as the requisition, the quotation, or the justified warning. The president of the Bar or the office of consultation and defense carries out designation at the latest in two working days from this opinion.

§ 2. The public ministry addresses to the seized youth court a copy of the opinion informing the president of the Bar of the jurisdiction.

§ 3. The president of the Bar or the office of consultation and defense takes care, when there is contradiction of interests, so that the interested party is assisted by a lawyer other than that who he calls his father and mother, tutors, or people who have guardianship of him or who are invested of a right of action.

Art. 56B. <Inserted by L 1994-02-02/33, art. 24; ED: 27-09-1994> The court of youth must convene the person who is at least twelve years old for purposes of hearing him, in litigations which oppose the people whose parental authority is invested in him, when points are discussed which relate to the governance of his person, the administration of his goods, the exercise of the right of access to him, or the nomination of the person to whom article 34 referred.

 

Additional Resources and Links

Kind en Gezin—Child and Family (In Flemish):

www.kindengezin.be

Office de la Naissance et l'Enfance—Births and Children Office (In French and English):

www.one.be

Jugendhilfedienst—Youth Assistance Service (In German):

www.dglive.be/Desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-288/540_read-3830/



 

Endnotes

[1] This page is also available as a .pdf Document, and Word Document.

[2] Commision on Human Rights, Core document forming part of the reports of States Parties: Belgium,

¶ 120, U.N. Doc. HRI/CORE/1/Add.1/Rev.1 (Apr. 6, 1995) available at http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/0/12f32d9d4b28a2e241256324003f2abf?Opendocument.

[3] Committee on the Rights of the Child, Second periodic reports of States parties due in 1999 Addendum: Belgium, ¶ 198, 199, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/83/Add.2 (Oct. 25, 2000) available at http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(Symbol)/4144e191b5c253f8c1256bc3004676b0?Opendocument.

[4] Id, ¶ 156, 437.

[5] Loi modifiant l'article 931 du Code judiciaire et les dispositions relatives aux procédures du divorce [Law modifying article 931 of the Judicial Code and the dispositions on divorce proceedings], L 1994-06-30/33, art. 1 (1994) available at http://www.juridat.be/cgi_loi/loi_F.pl?cn=1994063033; Loi modifiant la loi du 8 avril 1965 relative à la protection de la jeunesse [Law modifying the law of April 8, 1965 on the protection of young people], L 1994-02-02/33, art. 24 (1994) available at http://www.juridat.be/cgi_loi/loi_F.pl?cn=1994020233.

[6] Law on the protection of young people, L 1965-04-08/03, art. 56B (2005).

[7] Judicial Code, art. 931 (2005).

[8] Id.

[9] Committee on the Rights of the Child, Initial Reports of States Parties due in 1994 Addendum: Belgium, ¶ 59, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/11/Add.4 (Sept. 6, 1994) available at http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(Symbol)/9f395197c6e7743e4125630d003c8cac?Opendocument.

[10] Law on the protection of young people, L 1965-04-08/03, art. 54B (2005).

[11] G.A. Res. 44/125, U.N. GAOR, 44th Session, Supp. No. 49, U.N. Doc. A/44/736 (1989) available at http://www.ohchr.org/french/law/crc.htm.

[12] Code judiciaire, art. 931 (2005) available at http://www.juridat.be/cgi_loi/loi_F.pl?cn=1967101004 and also here, and also as .pdf Document, and also as Word Document.

[13] Loi relative à la protection de la jeunesse [Law on the protection of young people], L 1965-04-08/03, art. 54bis, 56bis (2005) available at http://www.juridat.be/cgi_loi/loi_F.pl?cn=1965040803 and also here, and also as .pdf Document, and also as Word Document.

[14] The translations of Belgium law are unofficial.  They were completed by a translator provided by the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization.

[15] G.A. Res. 44/125, U.N. GAOR, 44th Session, Supp. No. 49, U.N. Doc. A/44/736 (1989) available at http://www.ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm.

[16] Judicial Code, art. 931 (2005).

[17] Law on the protection of young people, L 1965-04-08/03, art. 54B, 56B (2005).

 

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