By Anna Pujol-Mazzini
LONDON, May 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Belgium won praise on Thursday for banning the forced sterilisation of people who wish to change their legal gender but campaigners said the law still fell short of fully recognising the rights of transgender people.
Previously, transgender people in Belgium had to undergo sterilisation and a mental health diagnosis in order for their preferred gender to be recognised legally.
The practice of involuntary sterilisation has been widely condemned as a human rights violation, including by the United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights.
Although the law change was hailed as a victory, campaigners for transgender rights criticised a still lengthy and inaccessible procedure and the lack of access to independent legal gender recognition for minors.
"Several of the concerns expressed by the trans community and civil society groups were not taken into account by the Belgian authorities," Evelyne Paradis, director of the International Lesbian, Gay, Trans and Intersex Association said in a statement.
"That is a bit of a missed opportunity - especially when other European countries have gone even further and have adopted laws that permit legal gender recognition in a completely demedicalised procedure, based on self-determination, and open to all regardless of age," she added.
With the new legislation, children aged 12 and older will be allowed to change their first name but will have to wait until they turn 16 to change their legal gender.
Between 16 and 18, transgender people will be allowed to apply for legal recognition but will require parental authorisation and the approval of a psychiatrist.
Once they apply for the legal gender change transgender people in Belgium will have to wait for three months before confirming they are aware of the legal consequences of it.
"The waiting period prolongs the procedure unnecessarily," Julia Ehrt, director of Transgender Europe, said in a statement.
"This shows a lack of understanding and a mistrust of trans people, who are the ones often suffering from accused identity fraud when documents and gender expression do not match," she added.
Applicants can only have their gender recognised once, unless they show "exceptional circumstances" through a court procedure.
Many European countries, such as Finland, Switzerland and Greece, still require transgender people who want to legally change their gender to undergo sterilisation, according to advocacy group Transgender Europe.
But countries such as Malta and Norway have passed legislation which allows full self-determination, campaigners say.
Norway last year passed a law which allows transgender people to have their gender recognised without parental consent from 16. Children from 6 to 16 can have their gender recognised with the permission of one or both parents.
In Europe, transgender people are twice as likely as gay people to be attacked, threatened or insulted, according to a European Union report published in December 2014.
(Reporting by Anna Pujol-Mazzini @annapmzn, Editing by Astrid Zweynert @azweynert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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