The Netherlands needs legal provisions to allow compulsory contraception for serious drug addicts, psychiatric patients and the mentally handicapped. That’s the controversial argument being made by Queen Beatrix’s brother-in-law Pieter van Vollenhoven, former head of the Dutch Safety Board.
The subject of compulsory contraception is taboo in the Netherlands. But Mr Van Vollenhoven believes that situations regularly occur in which such a far-reaching measure should nevertheless be possible. In an interview with current affairs TV programme Zembla he says:
“People will accuse me of going too far. But to be honest, that’s an easy thing to say if you do not know the facts. My eyes have been opened by seeing these problems. They came as a shock. You can see that these parents need help, since they’ve no control over their own lives. When it’s clear that’s the case, perhaps contraception would be the best step.”
His final investigation as head of the Dutch Safety Board focused on the cases of 27 children who were severely abused at a young age. Then the Board concluded that “the government is not sufficiently capable of delivering on its responsibility to ensure the safety of young children in the age group 0 to 12 within the home”. It is estimated that 50 children die each year as a result of abuse.
In his appeal for compulsory contraception, Mr Van Vollenhoven has the support of experts from the Netherlands’ Child Protection Agency and the mental healthcare sector. Erik Gerritsen, director of the Child Protection Agency in Amsterdam explains:
“In some cases, these parents have already demonstrated once or twice that they are not capable of looking after their children, with all the terrible consequences that this entails. If you keep on giving these parents another chance, you are basically condoning child abuse.”
Under existing Dutch law, it is possible to institutionalise a female addict 24 weeks into her pregnancy and take the baby directly into care after birth.
In her previous job as a juvenile court judge, Nanneke Quick-Schuyt, Socialist Party member of the Upper House, had several encounters with parents who should never have been allowed to have children:
“It’s definitely a huge dilemma, but these cases do exist. As a judge, you are faced with terrible cases. The worst are where children are neglected from birth because their parents’ addiction means they are incapable of feeding their children on time. The kids become malnourished and the consequences of that can be very serious indeed.”
Nanneke Quick-Schuyt is indignant that there has never been a proper social debate on the subject of compulsory contraception for addicts, psychiatric patients and the mentally handicapped.
“There is a kind of taboo on these subjects. The argument is that everyone should be allowed to have a child. But there is no such thing as the right to have a child. A child has a right to good parents, but not the other way round. It’s a taboo that needs to be broken and there is a pressing need for people working in the care and welfare sector to raise this issue.”
Yet as a Socialist member of the Upper House, she also anticipates problems in drawing up a legal framework for compulsory contraception. Where should the line be drawn?
“That’s the problem when drafting legislation. You have to define categories and that simply doesn’t work in practice. I am not in a position to say who should be included and who should not. But family doctors and people working in the health and welfare sector who know that these people cannot take care of themselves are well able to see that they would also be incapable of taking care of a child.”
Compulsory contraception in the Netherlands
Back in 2009, the Dutch Labour Party made the case for compulsory contraception under special circumstances for mothers who have shown themselves to be incapable of looking after their child. But at the time the party was alone in this view.
The Christian Democrats and the Christian Union were vehemently opposed to the proposal, but so too were the Socialist Party and the right-wing liberal VVD. The liberals believed it would prove unfeasible on legal grounds.
Lawyer Geert-Jan Knoops argued that the proposal was in violation of international human rights: “A judge cannot force an individual to give up the possibility of becoming pregnant by making them take medicine.”