Racism scandal in the Dutch government

In January, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his cabinet resigned over a child care benefits scandal. At least 26,000 parents who received child care benefits were wrongfully accused of fraud. The majority of the victims are people of color. One of the main criteria on which parents were targeted was double nationality. This is a violation of the law. The victims were referred to by racist terms within the government. Eventually, a few members of Parliament and journalists got involved, but the government withheld information from them. Every effort was taken to protect politicians and government officials. The child care benefit scandal went on for years and put the families in tens of thousands of euros in debt with the government. Journalist Pieter Klein speaks of a witch hunt on people with a double nationality who have done nothing wrong. On May 15th victims protested in Amsterdam for justice and compensation. (Text continues below)

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Azarkan, member of Parliament, talking to victims

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A protester listening to the speakers on stage

The consequences for the victims were enormous. The government stopped parents on the road and confiscated their cars. They lost their homes or their jobs. Some became disabled. Many have PTSD and some committed suicide, including children. “I thought if I am no longer here so won’t my debt” one victim said in an interview with ex-member of Parliament Zihni Özdil. To make matters even worse, some children of the victimized parents were removed from their parents by The Netherlands’ Child Protection Services. They falsely accused the parents of financially endangering their children.

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One child was taken by Child Protection Services at ten days old and did not see its mother again for four years. One teenage girl was sexually abused in the institution she was put in. Many children have not been given back to their parents when the scandal was disclosed and parents were proven innocent. “It is not institutional bias, it is a crime” said Azarkan, a member of Parliament who attended the protest. “Rutte and other responsible members of the cabinet need to be held accountable in front of a judge.”

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A protester

It is a tragic crossroad of two different scandals. The other scandal is that Child Protection Services unjustly removes children from their parents. It happens more and more that parents are reported for child abuse, or are being threatened with it, as a form of bullying. For example, by spouses after a divorce. It also happens when a child has a disability or illness that the public education system or the public health care system can not, or does not want to accommodate. For example, when a child has a complicated, eg expensive, chronic illness such as Lyme Disease. Or when a child has a disability and the parents want to home school the child. The Netherlands does not allow homeschooling like other countries do and there is a lot of pressure on children to fit into the education system that does not fit their needs.

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Kristie Rongen, one of the victims of the child care benefits scandal

Although not specific to the child care benefits scandal, the Ombudsman for Children researched the complaints about Child Protection Services and concluded that they don’t work objectively enough and mixed facts with opinions. Richard Korver, a successful Dutch lawyer, argues that the European Convention on Human Rights provides the right to respect one’s family life. If you intervene it needs to be based on objective findings and have legal grounds. He believes the government has given too much power to Child Protection Services and argues there should be more oversight. The Netherlands’s Child Protection Services has been reported to the United Nations for violating human rights by wrongfully accusing parents of child abuse as a reason to remove their children who are suffering from Lyme Disease. Leading force behind this was Jenna Luche-Thayer, President of the Global Network on Institutional Discrimination and former senior advisor to the United Nations and US Government. When asked for her opinion about the child benefits scandal she said:

"The Dutch laws need to change so that there are zero incentives for increasing the numbers of children removed and in fact removal should be understood as a FAILURE on the part of the institution as so many other options are available. And the law must be changed to ensure strong parental rights, eg innocent until proven guilty. Multiple transparent steps need to be taken before children can be taken (with exception of obvious immediate danger/violence)”.

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It is often said about Rutte that he runs the country as if it were a for profit corporation. Not surprisingly, he was a corporate manager before he entered politics. Rutte and his current and previous cabinets have made such major budget cuts in funding for public services that many people have fallen outside of the system. Health care workers are underpaid and overworked. Schools are under staffed and classes are too big to give all children the attention they need. People who apply for benefits are treated with hostility to scare them off. And government agencies hunt for fraud when people do receive benefits, despite only a very small percentage actually committing fraud. While The Netherlands has become a tax haven for big corporations, marginalized groups in society have paid the price. Instead of fixing the broken system, Rutte cut funding for legal help for people with low income.

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A protester with a message for Rutte

The Parliament started an official interrogation under oath of the individuals within the government who are responsible for the child care benefits scandal. The conclusion of the investigation was: “Unprecedented Injustice”. Leading up to a debate in Parliament about the results of the interrogations, Rutte chose to resign rather than be sent home by Parliament. Because there was a pandemic, he and his cabinet stayed on until there was a new government. He also remained the leader of his right wing political party VVD. In a debate, Rutte recently stated to Parliament: “You cannot fire me because I already resigned so I have more power now then before”, and then laughed. It has led to a lot of anger that Rutte is obligated to resolve the child care benefits scandal that he is responsible for. The same branch of government who targeted parents with false fraud claims has been given the task of determining if and how much compensation should be given to victims. Natacha Harlequin, a successful lawyer, was recently interviewed about racism in The Netherlands. She said the interrogation into the child care benefits scandal did not address the ethnic profiling well enough.

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Leijten, member of Parliament

The Netherlands has a new left wing party in Parliament. Their motto is radical equality and they hold one seat. Party leader Simons, who was born in the former Dutch colony Suriname, is the first Black female party leader in the The Netherlands. She was one of the speakers at the protest.

“I am not one of the victims of this scandal, but I am a Black woman in The Netherlands. A few days ago I lied in bed and the most horrible thought came to me: I am lucky that I have the last name of the colonizer, the owner of my ancestors. That name saved me from what happened to the parents of this scandal. But many parents were targeted despite their Dutch name, despite their Dutch nationality, despite being hard working people. They were punished for existing. I am here and I will not rest until each victim is compensated, rehabilitated, and humanized. I have one word for you, Rutte: ENOUGH! A government who treats its people this way is a danger to us all.”

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Simons, member of Parliament

In March, Rutte was re-elected. His party is the biggest party in Parliament and he is currently leading the negotiations to form a coalition for his next administration, his 4th. He will hold the record for longest Prime Minister in office. Rutte has previously been convicted for discriminating against people of Somalian ethnicity when searching for fraud by people who receive welfare benefits.

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Banner in the back of the protest

For some much needed healing, there was a lot of live music at the protest. But true healing might not be possible for many of the victims as long as they did not get their rightful compensation and rehabilitation and their children are back into their custody.

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Musician Candy Dulfer

Published on Medium, May 2021

Text and photography by Sara Meijer. Edited by Roxann Murray. All rights reserved.

Read my previous articles about the unjustified removal of children with Lyme Disease and other disabilities by the Dutch Child Protection Service:

Chronic Lyme In The Netherlands

A New Stolen Generation

For more information about the childcare benefit scandal watch these interviews (In Dutch) with former member of parliament Zihni Özdil:

Lynn Woodrow, mother.

Kristie Rongen, mother.

Eva González Perez, attorney who made the scandal public.

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