“Don’t touch our children! » It was to these cries that 1,500 people demonstrated, on Sunday September 17, in the center of Brussels, in protest against a two-hour school activity per year of “education in relational, emotional and sexual life” (Evras ), supported by the French-speaking Minister of Education, Caroline Désir (Socialist Party), intended primarily for pre-adolescents and adolescents, and whose draft decree was adopted on September 7.

In Belgium, where love life education has been compulsory since July 2012, this program aims to promote “respect for others”, “equality” as well as “prevent violence in romantic relationships”; to “deconstruct sexist and homophobic stereotypes”, “prevent unplanned pregnancies” and, finally, “reduce sexually transmitted infections”. As Le Soir explains, it is a “public health tool at school”.

But this awareness program is the subject of numerous misunderstandings, false information and infamous conspiracy theories, particularly in Catholic and Muslim communities, prone to conspiracy theories. They see it as a project of sexualization of children, or even institutional pedophilia. From September 7, La Libre mentioned the circulation of a false email distorting the aim of Evras’ animations. Eight schools have since been burned or vandalized.

Scandalized videos on social networks

Around September 8, the masked testimony of the man who presents himself as a scandalized father caused all the rage on TikTok. The man relates a story that his son allegedly told him – “The educational instructors asked him to touch the genitals of [a] little girl.” Statements devoid of any context impossible to verify. “We have pedophiles in our schools,” he protests. According to his account, the principal justified the episode with “the law” and “the new texts”. He concludes his video by explaining that he sold his house and his second car to move to Spain, because “this only exists in France” (sic).

As many Internet users have noted, the testimony contains numerous inconsistencies and approximations, starting with the fact that this awareness program concerns Belgium and not France, and that there is nowhere any question of practicing any sexual gesture whatsoever: it is only about dialogue.

Another viral video, among many others, those of a certain “Nadou G the lioness”, with an openly conspiratorial profile, who on September 9, expressed concern about “free access to pedophilia in schools”, and explains that “they want to make our kids trans.” In fact, the Evras guide only plans to fight transphobia by raising awareness of the issue of gender identity. “We are obviously not going to encourage hyper-sexualization among young people, nor create a sexual orientation or gender identity,” recalled the French-speaking Minister of Education. It is based on an indicative guide of three hundred pages, of which only certain points are to be addressed, depending on the profile of the class and the students’ questions.

Fantasy petitions against Evras

At the same time, several petitions have emerged. A first, posted online on September 11 and signed by 13,000 people, calls for the French Minister of National Education, Gabriel Attal, to “react on his EVRA law and withdraw it” (sic). An incongruous project to say the least. As Libération points out, however, this is not a law, and Evras does not concern France: Gabriel Attal therefore has little to do with the question.

A second petition appeared around September 13 on the Les Lignes Bougent website. “The S in EVRAS means that our children will be informed of the possibilities of individual and group SEX, MASTURBATION, from the age of 5 in schools, and from the age of 9 informed and subjected to pornography… BY EXTERNAL WORKERS it is very serious, we absolutely must act against this”, we can read there. On ‘they’re taught about penetration and pornography at age 9.’ In a few days, it brought together 25,000 signatories, mainly mothers.

As the Belgian site RTL reminds us, the rapper is misinformed: this two-hour school animation is not aimed at 5 and 9 year olds, but at sixth primary classes (equivalent to fifth grade in the French education system, i.e. children from 12 years) and fourth secondary (equivalent to the second, i.e. 15 years). The Evras guide only plans to address the issue of masturbation with 12-14 year olds and not 5 year olds. “I read that we were going to “teach children to masturbate”, it is completely unacceptable to scare parents on this subject”, scandalized the Belgian minister, Caroline Désir.

As for pornography, if it is discussed 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 a question of introducing them to it, but of evaluating its “positive and negative influence” and of “developing [the] critical sense”. Moreover, if it ultimately provides situations adapted to larger age groups, “the activities start from the students’ questions”, specifies the official website. It is therefore not a question of imposing themes, but of answering the spontaneous questions of children and adolescents.

Mobilization of fundamentalist and conspiratorial spheres

The theme is exploited by an intertwining of activist networks. Some are opposed to Evras for political or religious reasons: conservatives, they do not want certain progressive themes, such as questions of sexual orientation or gender identity, to be addressed at school. But others go beyond the simple framework of societal disagreement to disseminate an openly conspiratorial vision of the sex education guide, accusing it of serving pedophile interests, a conspiracy antiphon revitalized in recent years by the QAnon network and the release of the film Sound of Freedom.

An RTBF investigation uncovered a network of twenty-five people and identities “active in disinformation around Evras”, divided into five families: followers of pedocriminal theories (like Karl Zéro), defenders of childhood (Innocence in danger Belgium), covid-sceptics (like Bon Sens Belgium), conspiratorial media (Kairos, etc.), and ultra-conservative religious groups (Civitas Belgium, etc.).

The latter, present at the anti-Evras demonstration on September 17 in Brussels, thus fantastically denounced “the application of a global plan promoted by the WHO to install a “new sexual world order””.

Several precedents in France

Although it is rare for it to become so widespread, false information about sex education classes is not uncommon. In 2018, an alarmist publication claimed that a national education circular in France planned to address sexual issues with 5-year-old children. It was, in reality, a Swiss report on childhood sexuality.

Likewise, 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 accused against all evidence of “legalizing[r] pedophilia”.

A school circular extending sex education lessons to the notion of consent had also been described by far-right sites as “sexicurricular” time serving the interests of pedophiles.