There is a wave of misinformation regarding the sex education program in Belgium.

Des manifestantes protestent contre le guide Evras devant le Parlement de Wallonie, à Bruxelles, le 17 septembre 2023.

“I cannot reword”

In Belgium, where sexual education has been mandatory since July 2012, this program aims to promote “respect for others”, “equality”, and to “prevent violence in romantic relationships”; to “deconstruct sexist and homophobic stereotypes”, “prevent unplanned pregnancies”, and finally, “reduce sexually transmitted infections”. As explained by Le Soir, it is a “public health tool in schools”.

However, this awareness program is subject to numerous misunderstandings, false information, and defamatory conspiracy theories, especially within the Catholic and Muslim communities, which are susceptible to conspiracy theories. They see it as a project to sexualize children, or even as institutionalized pedophilia. As early as September 7th, La Libre mentioned the circulation of a fake email distorting the purpose of Evras’ animations. Since then, eight schools have been set on fire or vandalized.

Vidéos scandalisées sur les réseaux sociaux

Around September 8th, the masked testimony of a man claiming to be a shocked father of a family is going viral on TikTok. The man recounts a story that his son allegedly told him – “Educators asked him to touch the genitals of a little girl.” These claims lack any context and are impossible to verify. “We have pedophiles in our schools,” he exclaims. According to his account, the principal justified the incident with “the law” and “new texts.” He concludes his video by explaining that he sold his house and second car to move to Spain because “this only happens in France” (sic).

As many internet users have pointed out, the testimony contains numerous inconsistencies and approximations, starting with the fact that this awareness program concerns Belgium and not France, and that there is no mention of engaging in any sexual activity: it is solely about having a conversation.

Another viral video, among many others, is from a certain “Nadou G la lionne”, who openly promotes conspiracy theories. On September 9th, she expresses concern about “free access to pedophilia in schools” and explains that “they want to turn our kids into trans individuals”. In reality, the Evras guide only aims to combat transphobia by raising awareness about gender identity. “We will certainly not encourage hyper-sexualization among young people, nor promote a sexual orientation or gender identity,” emphasized the French-speaking Minister of Education. The guide consists of a three-hundred-page indicative document, of which only certain points will be addressed depending on the class profile and students’ questions.

Pétitions fantasmatiques contre l’Evras

Several petitions have emerged in parallel. The first one, posted online on September 11th and signed by 13,000 people, calls for the French Minister of National Education, Gabriel Attal, to “react to his EVRA law and withdraw it” (sic). This is a rather absurd proposal. As Libération points out, it is not actually a law, and EVRA does not concern France: Gabriel Attal has therefore little to do with the matter.

A second petition appears around September 13 on the website Les Lignes Bougent. “The S in EVRAS means that our children will be informed about the possibilities of individual and group SEX, MASTURBATING, starting at the age of 5 in schools, and from the age of 9 they will be informed and exposed to pornography… BY EXTERNAL INTERVENTORS, this is very serious, we must take action against it,” one can read. On X (formerly Twitter), rapper Roff shares the petition with his 800,000 subscribers, inviting them to sign it to prevent “teaching your 5-year-old children, nephews, and nieces how to masturbate and teaching them about penetration and pornography at the age of 9.” In a few days, it gathers 25,000 signatories, mostly mothers.

As mentioned by the Belgian website RTL, the rapper is misinformed: this two-hour school animation is not aimed at 5 and 9-year-olds, but rather at sixth-grade classes (equivalent to fifth grade in the French education system, which means children of 12 years old) and fourth-year secondary classes (equivalent to sophomore year, which means 15 years old). The Evras guide only considers addressing the issue of masturbation with 12-14-year-olds, not 5-year-olds. “I read that we are going to ‘teach children how to masturbate,’ it is completely unacceptable to scare parents about this subject,” said Belgian Minister Caroline Désir.

Regarding pornography, if it is addressed with 9-11 year olds, in response to a reality: according to a Luxembourg study, 19.4% of 10-11 year olds have already watched pornographic content on the Internet at least once. It is not so much about introducing them to it, but evaluating its “positive and negative influence” and “developing their critical thinking”. Furthermore, while it plans to eventually provide age-appropriate situations for broader age groups, the official website specifies that the animations start from the students’ questioning. Therefore, it is not about imposing themes, but rather responding to the spontaneous questions of children and adolescents.

Mobilisation des sphères intégristes et complotistes

The theme is manipulated by a complex network of activists. Some oppose the Evras for political or religious reasons: as conservatives, they do not want certain progressive themes, such as questions about sexual orientation or gender identity, to be addressed in schools. But others go beyond mere societal disagreement and spread an openly conspiratorial view of the sex education guide, accusing it of serving pedophilic interests. This conspiracy theory has been revitalized in recent years by the QAnon network and the release of the film Sound of Freedom.

An investigation by RTBF has uncovered a network of twenty-five individuals and identities “involved in spreading disinformation about Evras,” divided into five categories: followers of pedocriminal theories (such as Karl Zéro), defenders of children’s rights (Innocence en danger Belgique), covidsceptics (like Bon Sens Belgique), conspiracy media outlets (Kairos, etc.), and ultraconservative religious groups (Civitas Belgique, etc.).

Ces derniers, présents à la manifestation anti-Evras du 17 septembre à Bruxelles, ont ainsi dénoncé de manière fantasmatique « l’application d’un plan mondial promu par l’OMS pour installer un “nouvel ordre mondial sexuel” ».

Plusieurs précédents en France

False information about sex education courses is not uncommon, although it is rare for them to become so widespread. In 2018, an alarming publication claimed that a French national education circular planned to address sexual issues with 5-year-old children. In reality, it was a Swiss report on child sexuality.

Similarly, the Schiappa law of August 3, 2018, which introduces the presumption of non-consent for sexual relations with minors under the age of 15, had been falsely accused of “legalizing pedophilia” despite clear evidence to the contrary.

Une circulaire scolaire élargissant les cours d’éducation sexuelle à la notion de consentement avait également été décrite par des sites d’extrême droite comme du temps « sexiscolaire » faisant les intérêts des pédophiles.