Belgium: Honor violence under-estimated

Why do doctors in Belgium issue virginity certificates?


According to experts interviewed by Knack magazine, thousands of girls and women in Belgium deal with honor-related violence. "A complex problem about which almost nothing is done." These are especially women form patriarchal communities in the Mediterranean Sea area, the Middle East and Asia. If the sexual honor of the family is at stake, it must sometimes be 'purified' with violence. Mostly it involves losing virginity, opposition to arranged marriages or unaccepted relationships.

Commission Marc Van de Plas of the federal police says, "we must admit that we in Belgium are yet nowhere. As police we have no expertise, in comparison to the Netherlands. On the contrary, sometimes we aggravate the situation through rush intervention." He counts 17 honor murders in the last five years in Belgium. "But there are still so many other forms of honor-violence: abuse, confinement, kidnapping, forced marriage, etc. A sliding scale of years of threats and violence."

At the end of February, a dead baby was left in the Riverenhof part in Antwerp with a letter where the mother said that "it wasn't allowed by her religion." Helima Guerra, chairperson of the Vrouwenstem organization (women's voice), thinks it's a case of honor-related violence. The organization continuously takes care of victims of honor-related violence in Antwerp. At the moment she's trying to free two girls, 15 and 16 years old, who were born and raised in Hasselt, and have been locked up in Morocco for three months already. "Thousands of women have to deal with honor-violence, but it stays as invisible dramas. there's a great need to do something to the problems, but without stigmatizing the group."

One of the consequences of the problem is that womens' shelter have more and more immigrants. In 2006, immigrants accounted for 44% of the women in shelters in Flanders. Counting children it becomes a large majority, particularly from countries with a strong tradition around honor.

Another result is that more and more girls restore their hymen out of fear. The clinic of Jeff Hoeyberghs in Genk does 30 hymen reconstruction operations every year (costing 1800-2100 euro). The women's clinic at the Ghent University hospital also does 30 such operations a year (650 euro). Ghent gynecologist Marleen Temmerman estimates that there are hundreds such cases all across Belgium.

"Mostly it's about preventing honor murder. I do it in order to help girls in need, though it conflicts with my principles," she says. "Therefore I also regularly issue virginity certificates, even if the girls are not virgins any more. Forgery, yes, but it's for a good goal."

Source: Knack (Dutch)

See also: Belgium: Honor murder statistics, Belgium: Hymenoplasty

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