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Education in BelgiumBelgium has one of the most complex and successful education systems in the world. Between 2008 and 2012, 98.9 percent of male children and 99.2 percent of female children were enrolled in primary school. These statistics show that mandatory primary school is enforced and taken seriously in Belgium.

Compulsory education lasts 12 years, similar to the United States, and goes from age six to age 17. Belgium also has equal primary and secondary education enrollment rates for both boys and girls, showing equal access to education for both. What is even more impressive is that since 2007, at least 20 percent more women than men have enrolled in higher education.

Education in Belgium is monitored by a number of comprehensive policies. In 2002, the Decree on Equal Educational Opportunities created local consultation platforms to ensure fair school admission and enrollment processes. In March of 2014, the “M Decree” was passed, which is meant to promote the inclusion of students with special education needs in mainstream schools. The Decree indicates that schools may only refer students to “special education” if they can justify having tried all possible methods to allow them to follow mainstream education programs.

This system is very thorough and accounts not only for what happens while children are in school, but also works to make sure they can integrate effectively into the labor market. It is this system that improves not only education and literacy rates, but economic success, crime rates and domestic stability.

Education in Belgium is setting an incredible example for the rest of the world. While it is a very rich country, its model can still be used to improve education in other, less financially stable, countries. It continues to improve further, as seen with its 2014-19 plans to implement measures to reduce dropout rates, and will hopefully help lead education systems in developing countries to similar heights.

Liyanga De Silva

Photo: Flickr

Common Diseases in BelgiumAs a First World country, Belgium enjoys the benefits of a solid healthcare system and a high life expectancy; however, it is not without its share of problems. The most common diseases in Belgium are, for the most part, many of the same diseases the U.S. struggles with today. In no particular order, here are just three of the most common life-threatening illnesses in Belgium currently and what is being done to combat them:

1. Cancer. This comes as no surprise, as cancer is one of the leading causes of death in most industrialized nations. Breast and prostate cancers are by far the most common types. In 2012, the World Health Organization reported over 14 million cases of breast cancer and over 13 million cases of prostate cancer in Belgium. Second in prevalence to these two types is bowel cancer, which affected roughly 5.5 million people in 2012. Lung cancer has also been a major issue, especially in 2009, when Belgium saw a rise in mortality rates for women with lung cancer. This rate has gone down since 2011, when smoking was banned in all public places in Belgium, but the disease is still incredibly prevalent. In 2012, Belgium reported an estimated 5 million cases of lung cancer. Perhaps because of this Belgium is a world leader in cancer research. In 2015, 513 different clinical trials in cancer treatment were underway, with 15 new cancer drugs approved for reimbursement the previous year. Since 1980 – thanks to these trials – the average life expectancy for cancer patients has gone up three years, and the many researchers in Belgium hope to continue this trend.

2. Heart disease. Another one of the most common diseases in Belgium, it was ranked as the number one cause of both death overall and premature death between 2005 and 2015. Thankfully, that mortality rate has dropped roughly 5.3 percent in that time. It is still, however, the leader in mortality by far; The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimated about 105 million years of total lives lost in 2015 due to heart disease. In Europe as a whole, however, the number of lives lost due to heart disease has decreased in recent years thanks to the introduction of increased screening, new surgical procedures, new drugs and lifestyle changes – such as quitting smoking – to the population.

3. Mental illness. This is a tricky category to define, and yet it clearly needs to be addressed. In 2015, the IHME estimated that nearly 67 million years were lost due to self harm, which is significantly higher than the European average. Suicide remains one of the top causes of premature death in the country. In response to this, the World Health Organization devised a Mental Health Action Plan for 2013-2020, which states that mental health services in Belgium will switch from institutional psychiatric care to an inclusive care system with a focus on community. This is part of a sweeping mental healthcare reform which has already shown to be effective in improving health and social outcomes for patients.

Many of the most common diseases in Belgium are complex, lifestyle-based illnesses with no one simple solution. However, through a combination of research, lifestyle changes and health reform, Belgium hopes to continue to improve the quality and length of life for its residents.

Audrey Palzkill

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in BelgiumHuman rights can be defined as things that all people are entitled to. This, of course, includes the people of Belgium, a small country in Western Europe with a population of about 11.5 million. Belgium is a monarchy in which the King plays a largely symbolic role. In reality, a parliamentary democracy primarily governs the nation. While they are protected in some regards, human rights in Belgium are not where they could be.

Human rights in Belgium are not evenly granted. According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2016 report, “The main human rights problem was heightened hostility and discrimination against racial and religious minorities in employment, housing, and societal attitudes.” These prejudices are not simply the continuation of outdated ideas. Recent events have emboldened them.

Following terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, Muslims and Jewish human rights in Belgium were threatened. The previously mentioned report by the U.S. Department of State’s said that Muslim women were especially affected by the restrictions put in place by the government. Additionally, “Anti-Semitic incidents occurred in schools, the media, and elsewhere in society.” This elucidates an important concept about how events and circumstances that may seem isolated are often connected in some way.

On July 10, the European Court of Human Rights made an important decision on one of the issues relating to Muslim women’s human rights in Belgium. The court ruled that banning full face veils is not a violation of human rights law. The case was brought to the court by two Muslim women who argue that the ban violates their rights, both as private citizens and as members of a religious faith.

There is clearly room for improvement when it comes to human rights in Belgium. However, a well-rounded assessment of the situation shows that the country does not completely fail in this regard either.

With regard to respect for the integrity of the person, Belgium does well. Its one blemish, according to The State Department’s report, is that there is room for improvement when it comes to prison and detention center conditions.

Another area in which Belgium thrives is regarding freedom of speech and expression. Belgians’ free speech and the free press is protected by the nation’s constitution and law. The nation has also made considerable efforts to quell dangerous rhetoric, as the 1995 Belgian Holocaust Denial Bill elucidates. According to Revolvy, it is illegal in Belgium to challenge the existence of or justify the Holocaust. The bill passed the Chamber of Representatives without a single “no” vote, demonstrating Belgium’s willingness to combat hate speech.

Human rights in Belgium are not perfectly protected. However, that does not mean that the country is not succeeding on many of these fronts and working to improve others.

Adam Braunstein

Photo: Google

Belgium's Cost of LivingBelgium is a small and beautiful country which is well known for being the center of European politics.  Brussels, Belgium’s capital, hosts the official seats of the European Council, Council of the European Union, European Commission and even the headquarters of NATO. Other than the nation’s international notoriety, Belgium has a reputation for being an excellent place to live, with a booming economy and access to numerous social programs.

However, Belgium does have one downside.  This is an incredibly high cost of living. In fact, Belgium’s cost of living is 9.7 percent greater than in the United States, where the median income is $53,046.

While Belgium’s cost of living may be higher overall, it is lower in all of the right areas. For example, the cost of groceries in Belgium is 4.82 percent lower on average when compared to other nations, and renting an apartment is 21.25 percent less expensive. This fact means that people who have a lower income in Belgium have a better opportunity to keep food on the table, and more options for long-term housing.

Another point to consider while examining Belgium’s cost of living is the benefits Belgians receive through their government. The average income tax rate in Belgium is 42 percent, which is the highest tax rate in the world.

Although this high of a tax rate might appear to be an inconvenience, the Belgian government uses the money to fund their extraordinary social programs. Due to these social programs, while the unemployment rate may be 8.4 percent, only 3.4 percent of the country falls into the lowest 10 percent of income.  This statistic is a sign of significant social progress.

These income tax payments fund Belgium’s social security system, which is extensive and open to all citizens. Additionally, some allowances are even available to foreigners. The social security system includes unemployment benefits and allowances in the event of sickness or accidents at work. Other benefits include family allowances which could take the form of maternity leave or pensions.

In addition to social security services, medical services are also publicly funded without much additional cost. If a Belgian requires medical care for something as simple as the flu, they will not have to pay much out of their pocket. Without these unexpected costs, Belgians have more of their income to spend on food or other necessary expenses.

Even though Belgium’s cost of living is high, and the income taxes take almost half of each worker’s accrued income, the government provides safety nets that give benefits that far outweigh the costs. Ultimately, the low cost of healthy groceries, more available housing, and government assistance programs make Belgium a great place to live, even if the cost of living in the nation is high.

Rachael Blandau

Photo: Flickr


With the recent conflict in Syria and other nations, Belgium has prepared for a huge influx of asylum applications. However, with the huge numbers pouring into neighboring countries, Belgium is somewhat “spooked.” Following are nine facts about Belgium refugees:

  1. With the huge influx of migrants and refugees, the Director of a Belgian regional tourism office warned hotels in March 2016 that they would lose government help and funding if they housed asylum seekers for more than three months.
  2. Additionally, the Mayor of the port city of Zeebrugge called for a “camp like Guantanamo” to house Belgium refugees and told locals to not feed refugees to discourage a large number of refugees attempting to find asylum in Belgium.
  3. In the past year, Belgium police have arrested 363 refugees, and in January it increased to 950. This increase comes after the dismantling of the “Jungle” housing camp in Calais, France, which housed nearly 4,000 people, and the border reinforcement in Hungary.
  4. Refugees detained in Belgium are sent to the last European country before arriving in Belgium, or if they have no documentation given the opportunity to claim asylum and released. The Interior Minister has said those arrested would reach thousands as migrants struggle to find alternative routes to Britain.
  5. In the wake of several refugee shelters being dismantled due to violence, local families have volunteered to host Belgium refugees.
  6. In August 2015, there were approximately 5,600 Belgium refugee applications, with about 1,900 of those applications coming from Brussels.
  7. Most of the refugees seeking temporary asylum in Belgium are Syrian. In 2016, 452 refugees entered Belgium and 448 of those refugees were Syrian. In addition, in the last four years, Belgium has accepted 862 refugees, and more are expected in 2017, including about 550 Syrians planning to enter the country that couldn’t be resettled per the EU-Turkey agreement.
  8. In 2016, 12,197 asylum seekers were granted Belgium refugee status, a record that doubled from the previous year. The 3,281 refugees that did not qualify for refugee status were granted protection until they could be resettled or granted refugee status later.
  9. In 2017, and for the next two years, the Belgian population is predicted to increase about 85,000 people each year. Half of the influx is attributed to refugees entering the country, while the other half is attributed to “natural” additions.

With the impending increase of refugees over the next few years, the government continues to find ways to control the flow and provide resources to Belgium refugees.

Amira Wynn

Photo: Flickr


Although the poverty rate in Belgium is on a steady decline, many people remain at risk. Discussed below are ten facts about poverty in Belgium and its implications.

 

Leading Facts on Poverty in Belgium

 

  1. In 2012, 16.7 percent of people under 18 were living in families with an income level below the line of poverty in Belgium.
  2. Fifteen percent of the Belgian population lives in poverty. Only 3.7 percent of the population falls into the lowest 10 percent of Belgian’s income levels, which is a sign of good progress.
  3. Poverty in Belgium is on the decline due to a strong economy and a high awareness rate, however, the youth population is still at risk.
  4. In 2014, the monetary poverty rate stood at 15 percent, while 21 percent of the Belgian population was at risk of poverty or social exclusion. This means that although only 15 percent were actually below the income level that indicated poverty, many Belgians are at risk of dropping below that line, and even being excluded socially and not given help when needing it.
  5. Six percent of the Belgian population experienced severe material deprivation. They were not allowed the proper materials to keep safe, warm, or even the proper nutrients to survive. Many of these people are struggling with shelter and their diets.
  6. Members of single-parent families are at a 51 percent risk of social exclusion and poverty in Belgium. Many of these children also suffer from severe mental disorders and trauma surrounding not having a parent nearby, the social exclusion due to their poverty, and the poverty itself, always being worried about the next bill or meal.
  7. Compared to other countries in Europe, Belgium has a very low poverty rate of entry, but an even lower poverty exit rate, which could be a terrible combination in regards to the future.
  8. In 2015, Belgium had 5,766 refugees and internally displaced persons. Of those, only approximately 724 were below the poverty line.
  9. Belgium is the economic and political powerhouse for Europe. It also has a strong interest in foreign affairs and is involved in most of the programs that are helping with other countries’ poverty rates.
  10.  The value for the GINI index in Belgium is great, sitting at 27.59 in 2012. The GINI index measures the extent to which the distribution of income among individuals or households within an economy deviates from a perfectly equal distribution. A GINI index of 0 implies perfectly equal distribution, while a 100 implies perfect inequality.

While Belgium still has work to do, it is one of the most poverty-knowledgeable countries in Europe. It has several plans and programs in place that will help poverty in Belgium to continue to slowly decline over the years.

Rilee Pickle

Photo: Flickr