Information on some of the issues which affect young people including teen pregnancy, alcohol and drug use and the laws surrounding them in Belgium...
Teenagers in Belgium are affected by similar issues as young people all over Europe. In general, there is good access to advice on drugs, alcohol and sexual health for teenagers, and various organisations can help if a young person finds themself in trouble.
Teenagers and Alcohol
Belgium has traditionally had repressive alcohol laws including the prohibition of public consumption right up until the early 1900s. In Belgium no alcoholic drinks may be sold to under 16s. Beer and wine is allowed at the age of 16, but the age limit for vodka, rum, whiskey and other stronger alcohols is 18.Anyone offering or selling alcohol to those under 16 is liable to be prosecuted.
- For more information: Click here (in French)
The government has a specific department to support young people. In the French speaking community this is known as Aide à la Jeunesse (in French). This department works with teenagers on a range of problems including alcohol and drugs as well as supporting the rehabilitation of young offenders. Teenagers receive education on the use and abuse of alcohol in school. However, the government is concerned about the number of young people claiming to drink regularly in spite of this programme.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has a network in Belgium and runs some English speaking meetings.
- For details of AA meetings in English and links to the French and Dutch speaking associations: Click here
Teenagers and Drugs
Belgian law makes no distinction between hard and soft drugs but does make a distinction between personal and collective use. Use of drugs of any kind in the presence of minors is seldom tolerated. Punishment varies from fines to custodial sentences.
Buying and possessing drugs is an offence, whatever the drug and whatever the quantity and is also punishable by a fine or imprisonment. However, in practical terms the government has admitted that cases of private possession and consumption are of low priority in terms of law enforcement. Individuals found to be in possession of cannabis will seldom be prosecuted especially if they only have a small quantity of the drug and claim either to be using it for the first time or to be giving it up.
- For detailed information: Click here (in French)
Belgium has a strong belief in the freedom of the individual to choose which drugs (if any) to take. Its aim is rather to prevent and limit the risks for users, those around them and society in general. Nevertheless, the Government commits significant funds to the prevention of delinquency and public nuisance caused by the use of drugs.
The federal Government stipulates that each community should ensure that young people are educated about the dangers of using drugs as well as the abuse of alcohol and other substances. Through educational programmes the aim is to persuade young people not to take drugs at all (and in particular to prevent use at a very young age).
For more information the main organisations are:
Belgium has quite low rates of teen pregnancy. Abortion rates among teenagers are also low. The age of consent is 16 for both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Under-age sex can be punished and in particular if the minor is under 14 and the other party is over 18 it is quite likely that a criminal prosecution will follow.
Under 18s need permission from a youth court to marry and this is usually granted only in extreme circumstances, for example if the young woman is pregnant.
Access to contraceptives is relatively straightforward. Recent national campaigns have given away free condoms to young men and women and the price of contraceptive pills has been lowered significantly. Some pills, including the morning after pill, are free. Emergency contraception is available in Belgium without prescription. Teenagers are encouraged to consult their GP, gynaecologist or family planning clinic for contraceptive advice or if they find themselves pregnant.
- For information on family planning in Belgium: Click here (in French)
- To find a family planning clinic: Click here
- To learn more about contraception: Click here
Belgium's abortion laws were liberalised in 1990 and currently the law allows for abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion may take place later if two doctors agree that there is a health risk to the mother or child.
- For general health information from the Belgian Health Ministry: Click here
- For more information on abortion: Click here