Dutch women considered the Netherlands liable for forcing unmarried women to surrender their children for adoption between 1956 and 1984 but a Court dismissed the case.
The District Court of The Hague on January 26 dismissed the claim that the Netherlands should be held legally accountable for mothers who placed a child for adoption against their will between 1956 and 1984.
Trudy Scheele-Gertsen was 22 and unmarried in 1968 when she became the mother of a child. Her parents sent her to a Catholic center for unmarried women where she gave birth to a boy. She said she wanted to keep her son but the file said she wanted to surrender him for adoption. She found her son decades later on LinkedIn.
In 2019, Trudy Scheele-Gertsen and other women with the support of the foundation Clara Wichmann filed a lawsuit against the Child Care and Protection Board, a division of the Ministry of Security and Justice.
They considered the Dutch State was liable for creating a system in which unmarried mothers were deprived of parental authority between 1956 and 1984 when adoption was legal but abortion wasn’t.
Women with an out-of-wedlock baby were stigmatized by society and considered disgraceful at the time. The Court acknowledged the social pressure on single mothers. Many of them are still struggling with deep grief, the Court noted.
The Child Care and Protection Board didn’t act unlawfully
During the period 1956-1984, there were between 13,000 and 14,000 afstandsmoeders, women who surrendered one or more children for adoption, in the Netherlands.
The plaintiffs claimed to the Court that the Child Care and Protection Board actively contributed to the situation and had done nothing to prevent adoptions. They argued the Board omitted to properly inform mothers about their rights and solutions to raising their children. As a consequence, the mothers didn’t have the freedom to decide and felt compelled to surrender their children for adoption.
The Court dismissed the case because it was not established that the Child Care and Protection Board made legally-punishable errors or acted unlawfully during the period.
Moreover, the Court considered it was not the duty of the Board to inform mothers about legal and practical options for raising their children themselves. However, it didn’t rule out that the Board has made reprehensible mistakes in individual cases.
The former Minister of Legal Protection, Sander Dekker launched an investigation in 2019 about a “black page” in the Netherlands’ history. But the investigation was stopped last November at the request of the victims as information was not treated correctly or confidentially.
The State attorney invoked a statute of limitations for situations that took place more than thirty years ago.
Trudy Scheele-Gertsen was “angry” by the decision. “We will read the verdict in detail and consider an appeal. We maintain that the Child Care and Protection Board, and therefore the Dutch State, are liable for this injustice“, lawyer Linde Bryk from the association Clara Wichmann said in a statement.