Woman sues Dutch state for taking her child away in the 1960s

Gavel with lady justice in the background
Gavel with lady justice in the backgroundPhoto: SergPoznanskiy/DepositPhotos

Trudy Scheele-Gertsen is suing the Dutch State for forcing her to give up her child in the 1960s. This is the first time that a Dutch mother is holding the State liable for the suffering caused to her by having her child removed from her custody. "What happened to me and my son is degrading", she said to newspaper Trouw. 

The now 73-year-old woman told the newspaper that she was forced to give up her son in the 1960s because she got pregnant while unmarried. At that time, care for unmarried mothers was entirely focused on separating mother and child, despite the fact that it was already established in Dutch and international legislation that the bond between mother and child must be retained where possible, according to her lawyer Lisa-Marie Komp. 

Scheele-Gertsen, then 22 years old, also never wanted to give up her child. The Child Protection Board could have known that, according to the lawyer, because Scheele-Gertsen stated on several occasions that she wanted to raise her son herself. The boy ended up living in a children's home for three years before he was adopted. Last year Scheele-Gertsen read in his file that he cried a lot and missed his mother in that period, according to Trouw.

"What happened to me and him was degrading", Scheele-Gertsen said to the newspaper. "That is why I want to expose it." She does not only want recognition for the suffering she endured, but also wants to know exactly happened between 1956 when the adoption law was introduced and 1984 when abortion was legalized in the Netherlands. She wants to know what role the government played in the mid-1950s idea that keeping unmarried mothers and their children together was undesirable. 

It is estimated that over 10 thousand women had their children taken away by the State in that period, according to Trouw. 

The foundation De Nederlandse Afstandsmoeder is supporting Scheele-Gertsen in her case. Chairman Will van Sebille told the newspaper that she has never come across a woman who willingly gave up her child - without social pressure to do so. "From experience and from conversations with other mothers, we know how drastic renunciation must have been in our lives, and still is, and how many mistakes have been made. Deliberately and accidentally, often arising from policy. Also if that policy came at the expense of unmarried women and girls."