Parliament apologises to victims of childhood sexual abuse

Summary

The Flemish Parliament’s speaker made a public apology yesterday to the victims of widespread sexual abuse in the region’s educational and religious institutions

“This moment is very important”

Jan Peumans, the speaker of the Flemish Parliament, made a public apology yesterday on behalf of “the whole of Flemish society” to past and future victims of child sexual abuse. The apology was printed out and placed in a frame to hang in the parliament building. The declaration follows a recent resolution calling on the parliament to acknowledge sexual abuse in youth and educational establishments during the period 1930 to 1990.

The declaration was signed by Peumans and the three MPs who initiated it – Else De Wachter (SP.A), Katrien Schryvers (CD&V) and Lies Jans (N-VA). It acknowledged that “prominent people in youth and educational institutions were guilty of improper conduct and the use of unjustified violence.” The apology also noted that many of the victims were not believed, which added to the trauma they suffered. 

The prominent Flemish child psychiatrist Peter Adriaenssens praised the gesture as it “sent out an important message” and “helped victims come to terms with the abuse”. It doesn’t bring an end to their suffering, he said, “but it will lessen the pain”.

The initiative was steered through parliament by Flemish welfare minister Jo Vandeurzen, who set up a committee in 2013 to look into the mounting allegations of sexual abuse in religious and educational institutions in Belgium over several decades. “One of the recommendations was to organise a public moment where apologies would be made,” he said. “This moment is very important. It demonstrates our commitment to the future: We acknowledge that things happened that should not have happened, and we declare that we as a society will be more alert in future.”    

Photo, from left: Else De Wachter, speaker Jan Peumans, Katrien Schryvers, welfare minister Jo Vandeurzen and Lies Jans present their official apology to the public

Photo by Belga

Government of Flanders

Belgium is a federal state with several regional governments. The northern, Dutch-speaking region of Flanders is governed by the Flemish government, which was created when the Flemish Region and the Flemish Community joined forces in 1980. A minister-president presides over the government of Flanders, and Brussels is the capital city.
Competences - The government of Flanders is responsible for the economy, foreign trade, health care, energy, housing, agriculture, environmental concerns, public works and transport, employment policy, culture, education and science and innovation. Flanders also has the power to sign international treaties in these competencies.
Sole legislator - The powers of the Flemish government and of the federal government do not overlap. Therefore, only one government serves as legislator for each policy area. Flemish laws are called decrees. Decrees apply in co-ordination with federal laws.
Official holiday - 11 July is the official holiday of the Flemish Community, in commemoration of the Battle of the Golden Spurs in Kortrijk on 11 July 1302, when Flemings defeated the army of the French king. Flanders’ official anthem is “De Vlaamse Leeuw” (The Flemish Lion).
6

million people live in the Flemish Region.

5

provinces constitute the Flemish Region: West Flanders, East Flanders, Flemish Brabant, Antwerp and Limburg.

5

number of years for which the Flemish Parliament is elected. Its elections coincide with those of the European Parliament.