According to the Ecpat/Unicef report (May 2013) about child trafficking in the Netherlands, there were 223 registered cases of (Dutch and foreign) child prostitutes in the Netherlands in 2012. This number does not include all foreign child prostitutes, because there are foreign children who remain undetected by the authorities. Ecpat/Unicef has come to the conclusion that the Dutch government has paid much attention to human trafficking in recent years. However, there is still a lack of attention paid to foreign children suffering from the results of human trafficking in the Netherlands.
The child protection system in the Netherlands
Although Dutch child protection services such as Nidos and the Dutch Child Protection Board take care of these children when they become aware of them, there are still children who remain unknown to these institutions. This is partly due to the fact that these crimes take place in hidden circumstances. There are, according to my experience as a lawyer for the Board, a few additional reasons for the invisibility of these children.
The first reason lies in the gap between adult social services and child protection services. As a result, there is a lack of information concerning these children. Because the suffering of child victims of prostitution is due to adult criminal behaviour, there has to be a strong connection between adult social services and child protection services in order to protect these children adequately.
The second reason is that the child protection services are not closely related to local government authorities which are responsible for all matters concerning the upbringing of children. However until January 2015, they were not responsible for children suffering from abuse and neglect. The connection between the local government and the child protection services is important because the local government regulates adult prostitution which provides the opportunity to find victims of child prostitution.
The third reason can be found in the Ecpat/Unicef report which observed that the Dutch government gives priority to criminal procedures and immigration procedures instead of child protection procedures, where foreign victims of child prostitution are concerned.
The ‘Youth Care Act’
In January 2015 the Dutch system for youth care was amended as a result of the new ‘Youth Care Act’. Before January 2015 child protection services were connected to the province. With the new Act, youth care has now become the responsibility of the local government. As a result, adult care, which was already the responsibility of the local government, will now become linked to youth care. Furthermore the relationship of the local government to child protection services like Nidos and the Child Protection Board, but also with other organizations involved in ‘complex’ youth care, will become more intensive. This will create many opportunities for the protection of foreign child prostitutes in the Netherlands. In my opinion these children can benefit from the attention the local government already has for illegal prostitution and human trafficking of adults. Whenever there is a local procedure concerning human trafficking, the local government will have a direct responsibility when it comes to foreign children.
The new ‘Youth Care Act’ will create opportunities for foreign children suffering from child prostitution because of better links between the local government and adult social services and the child protection services. Ecpat/Unicef concluded that the Netherlands focusses too much on criminal and immigration procedures whenever foreign children are found in a situation of child prostitution. The civil approach of protecting these children which is the responsibility of the child protection services does not get the attention it needs. On the basis of my experience as a lawyer for the Dutch Child Protection Board I agree with this conclusion. The Netherlands has an obligation to protect these foreign children and the new Act will hopefully contribute to a child protection system in which these children are fully incorporated. This obligation should, according to article 39 of the CRC, be given more priority than immigration or criminal procedures.