Schools Set On Fire In Belgium Linked To Sex Ed Protests

Over the course of last week, a number of schools in the Wallonia region of Belgium have been set on fire as protest against the country’s mandatory sex-ed policy going into effect in the region. The acts of arson are believed to have been carried out by members of conservative and extremist religious groups, both Christian and Muslim, who are also supported by vaccine opposers and conspiracy theorists. The “education in relationships, affective and sexual life” (EVRAS) program has been target of much disinformation in conservative media, with many falsely claiming that it aims to groom children and that it promotes paedophilia, early sexual initiation and masturbation among young kids. In truth, EVRAS does the opposite. The program aims to teach children and teenagers about how to deal with and reject the patterns of misogyny and bigotry, firmly establish their boundaries and extricate themselves from dangerous situations.

“I would like to call on everyone to calm down and try once again to cut through the lies circulating about the Evras system,” the education minister in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, Caroline Desir, has stated. “No, it does not prepare a pedophile system. No, it doesn’t plan to make children want to change gender. No, it doesn’t plan to teach children how to engage in sexual activities.” There is no intention from the government agents to tolerate the protest-driven acts of violence. “It’s a form of terrorism. “ said Paul Magnette, the Mer of the city of Charleroi, in the area of which eight buildings have been set on fire last within a week. “Attacking the freedom of education and tolerance act, this is an act of barbarism.”

That the attacks on schools are acts of domestic terrorism is a statement not up for discussion. Though there were no victims of arson so far, the schools, and by extent the children attending them, have still suffered greatly. Not only does such violence cause property damage and therefore costs the local government money that could otherwise be used for other causes, it also drastically decreases the sense of security felt by parents, children and educators alike. This close to the beginning of the school year, it might also be difficult, especially for financially impaired households, to find a new school for children whose previously secured education has been endangered by the attacks. The perpetrators, while claiming to act with children’s wellness in mind, are causing real harm to minors, all in the name of a fictional danger of EVRAS. It is the Belgian’s government duty to prosecute the guilty and make sure that the disinformation that leads to such acts is invalidated in public spaces.

The law behind EVRAS is by no means a recent one. It has been compulsory for schools to provide education about relationships, emotional and sexual life since 2012 in Belgium at national level. In Wallonia, these duties have so far been carried out mostly by non-school organisations, such as family planning centres, and only this year will be included in the obligatory school curriculum. Despite this, conservative groups and parties have been treating EVRAS as introducing new, previously unheard of, concepts in the education of children. Even amongst the scandal caused by the arsonists, protests continue. On Sunday 17th, September over 1500 people gathered to protest in central Brussels with the slogan of “Don’t touch our children!”. Multiple petitions have been filed to stop EVRAS, including one mistakenly submitted in Paris by apparently confused French conservatives, and many parents threatened to take their children out of schools. Despite their actions, the government’s stance is clear: providing good education in schools is non-negotiable. Children have to come first.

Education concerning matters of sex, relationships and gender is an old culture war battlefield and, like many similar issues, is often in danger of transcending its initial subject. The struggle between the state and parents when it comes to deciding on the education of children is a real and valid debate to be had – under one condition. The children’s wellbeing, not the parents’ or anyone else’s opinions, must be the priority. The moment one side is willing to sacrifice the children for the sake of their ideals, the time for debating is over.