Belgium - Social development

Belgium has a social insurance system covering all workers dating back to 1900 for old age and 1944 for disability. The current law was last updated in 2001, and the age to receive full retirement benefits will be increasing to age 65 by 2009. The law provides for disability and survivorship benefits as well. Sickness and maternity benefits were originally established in 1894 with mutual benefits societies. There is work accident and occupational disease coverage for all employed persons.

The Belgian government has taken an active stance to protect and promote the rights of women and children. Domestic violence is a problem although the law provides for the police to enter a home without the consent of the head of household when investigation such allegations. Belgium's equal opportunity law includes a sexual harassment provision, giving women a stronger legal basis for complaints. In the same year, a law requiring one-third of all political candidates to be women took effect. Child protection laws are comprehensive, and children have the right to take any concerns or complaints directly to a judge. The government also attempts to integrate women at all levels of decision-making and women play an important role in both the public and private sectors.

Legislation prohibits discrimination based on race, ethnicity or nationality, and penalizes incitement of hate and discrimination. The constitution provides for the freedom of religion. Although minority rights are well protected in Belgium, extreme-right political parties with xenophobic beliefs have gained ground in recent years.

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