"No kindergarten? No living wage!"

The chair of Ghent local social services Geert Versnick wants to oblige parents to send their children to kindergarten if they want to continue to receive support from local social services. The Asylum and Migration Secretary Maggie De Block (Flemish liberal) is to examine whether this is possible. Flemish Education Minister Pascal Smet (socialist) has already condemned the proposal.

The Ghent authorities want to be able to stop social services' support for parents who don't send their children to school. Last year Antwerp social services attempted a similar measure but a judge ruled that there were no legal grounds for this.

The Asylum Secretary is now getting her legal advisors to examine the issue and work out whether a change in the law is needed.

Mr Versnick believes that the measure could help to limit poverty and give children more opportunities. He believes he needs a stick as a last resort against what are usually non-Dutch-speaking parents.

"Over a quarter of the pupils in the big cities are behind the rest of the class in fifth grade. We've been trying everything in a positive vein so far. It would be an enormous help if we could sanction people who don't want to go along with this."

"The living wage is a favour. You can ask something in return. It should be feasible to attach legal requirements to the living wage. It is in the interest of the children."

Flemish Education Minister Pascal Smet has condemned the proposal: "The living wage is low. If you take it away then how are the children to eat? What are they to live off? In this way you are sending the children onto the streets. They are being punished twice."

Mr Smet also has his doubts about whether this is legally feasible.

"I believe it would be a violation of the constitution and children's rights treaties. In Belgium children have to get education, but there is no requirement to send your children to school."

"By European standards Flanders is among the leaders when it comes to kindergarten attendance: 97.5%. The small minority that remains needs to be encouraged and should receive support. That’s what I support! This won't happen by taking away the living wage."