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Netherlands: Children

(June 20, 2013) According to a recent report issued by the Children’s Ombudsman of the Netherlands, Marc Dullaert, the Netherlands is in violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child because of its restrictive policy on family reunions. The report noted as evidence of the Dutch “get-tough” approach that in 2008, 12% of requests for family reunion had been rejected, but in 2011 the figure had jumped to an 83% rejection rate. It was difficult for Somali children in particular to be reunited with a parent; in 2011, less than 10% were admitted for that purpose. (83% of Family Reunion Requests Rejected, Says Children’s Ombudsman, DUTCHNEWS.NL (June 6, 2013); Kinderombudsman: geen eerlijke kans voorkinderen op gezinshereniging [Children’s Ombudsman: No Fair Chance for Family Reunification for Children], de Kinderombudsman website (June 6, 2013) [with link to the full report].)

According to Dullaert, during the period 2008 to 2013, the rules on children joining their parents not only became stricter, but officials became sloppier in implementing the measures. The result, he stated,is that “[t]here is a real chance many children are being wrongly separated from their parents … . The focus on fraud has led to an unreasonable policy.” (83% of Family Reunion Requests Rejected, Says Children’s Ombudsman, supra.)

His report specifically pointed out that the Netherlands has violated the Convention by failing to respond to reunion applications “with speed, humanity and willingness.” (MPs Want Answers on Highly Critical Family Reunion Report, DUTCHNEWS.NL (June 6, 2013).) Dullaert criticized in particular the cross questioning of children by untrained embassy staff. According to the report, the wrongful refusal of permission to join their parents may have affected some 4,000 children. (Id.)

Article 9 of the Convention stipulates that children shall not be separated from their parents against their will, unless competent authorities, subject to judicial review, determine that the separation is in the child’s best interests. (Convention on the Rights of the Child (Nov. 20, 1989; in force on Sept. 2, 1990), Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website.)

Dullaert asserted that all cases in which requests for reunification that involve children have been rejected since 2008 should be re-examined. Reportedly, most opposition MPS support this view. In addition, MPs from all the Dutch parties are said to have sought a detailed explanation of the Children’s Ombudsman’s report from the State Secretary for Security and Justice Fred Teeven. (MPs Want Answers on Highly Critical Family Reunion Report, supra.)

The Children’s Ombudsman is a Deputy Ombudsman of the National Ombudsman of the Netherlands; a law on the former was approved in June 2010, with effect from April 1, 2011. The National Ombudsman Law of the Netherlands provides that the office is “independent and impartial.” Both Ombudsmen “report directly and independently to the Dutch Parliament.” (The Ombudsman for Children, CHILDREN’S RIGHTS INTERNATIONAL NETWORK (2011); Wet Nationale ombudsman [Law on the National Ombudsman], Feb. 4, 1981, as last amended Feb. 11, 2012 [amendment not yet in force], OVERHEID.NL; Wet Kinderombudsman [Law on the Children’s Ombudsman] (Sept. 20, 2010, in force Apr. 1, 2011), OVERHEID.NL.) The main task of the Children’s Ombudsman “is to promote observance of the rights of the child both by administrative authorities and by organisations constituted under private law, in the field of education, youth care, child care or health care.” (The Ombudsman for Children, supra.)