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'Why aren't those children at school?'

The new privacy laws make it more difficult to combat human trafficking: under-age victims are often not registered. In her lecture, Cleveringa Professor Corinne Dettmeijer called on everyone to be on the alert. 'We don't want to live in a society where people are treated as throw-away objects.'

Take the case of the young Moroccan girl who was given to her uncle in the Netherlands at the age of seven to work in his house; she didn't attend school at all during her childhood. There are also the numerous women from Central and Eastern Europe who are lured to the Netherlands and forced to work as prostitutes.  The trade in illegally removed organs is another worrying issue. In a crowded Academy Building, Dettmeijer cited in her lecture on 26 November many shocking cases of modern human trafficking and slavery. For eleven years, up to 2018, Dettmeijer was National Rapporteur on Human Trafficking and Sexual Abuse against Children. Human trafficking is present throughout the Netherlands but it is often hidden from public view, she warned.    

Internet is the new window

The best-known victims of human trafficking are those who work in prostitution. Contrary to expectations, the lifting of the ban on brothels in 2000 did not reduce criminality in this sector. Dettmeijer: ‘The assertive Dutch prostitutes whose protests led to the lifting of the brothel ban, are hardly seen anymore.’ Instead, many of today's prostitutes are vulnerable women from Eastern and Central Europe, whose position as victims is often difficult to establish. Moreover, the sale of sexual services is increasingly taking place online - 'internet is the new window'- which makes it more difficult to monitor what is happening. 

‘We don't see the rest ’

For a long time the Netherlands was one of the frontrunners in gathering data on human trafficking, but those figures have now lost their validity, according to Dettmeijer. One effect of the new privacy legislation is that onder-age victims are no longer registered. 'This development hampers adequate data collection and consequently also gets in the way of an effective approach to human trafficking.' This is why, when she was National Rapporteur in 2017, Dettmeijer compiled an 'estimate report'. There are indications that on an annual basis around 6,250 people in the Netherlands - children and adults - are victims of human trafficking. Only just over four per ent of these are actually identified as victims. ‘We don't even see the rest,' the Cleveringa professor commented. Under-age girls and residents from a migration background are most at risk of beoming victims. 

Ankie Broekers-Knol, chair of the Upper House, talking to Dettmeijer.

Ask critical questions

On the day when we commemorate the courage of Professor Cleveringa, we need to be aware that we can all take action against injustice, Dettmeijer said. That starts with asking critical questions. She referred to the children who fail to attend school because they are forced to work in shops or keeping house. Over the years, doctors, carers or customers pay visits but nobody actually asks why those children aren't at school. Human trafficking affects not only those directly involved, but also the whole of society, Dettmeijer stated. 'We don't want to live in a society where people are treated  as disposable objects. Freedom for everyone is the norm and we are all responsible for safeguarding that freedom.' 

Rector Carel Stolker in discussion with Corinne Dettmeijer.

Cleveringa and other professors

Before the lecture, Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker considered the importance of taking action against injustice. He looked back at that memorable day, 26 November 1940. Professor of Civil Law Eduard Meijers should have been giving his lecture at that time in the Academy Building, but he was forbidden to do so by the German occupiers. Dean of Law Rudolph Cleveringa took his place at the lectern and spoke openly of his abhorrence at the dismissal. This took a great deal of courage because the Germans already had him under surveillance. Cleveringa was not the only professor to protest, Stolker emphasised. 'Telders, Barge and Van Holk – as well as professors from other universities - publicly denounced this gross abuse.' 

Banner photo: Corinne Dettmeijer with Hiltje ten Kate-Cleveringa and her husband Theo ten Kate (left). To her right, Joost Dettmeijer.

Photos: Monique Shaw
Text: Linda van Putten

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Sociologist and legal expert Kees Schuyt wrote a biography about Rudolph Cleveringa's life, which will be published in 2019 by Boom Uitgevers Amsterdam. Schuyt was Cleveringa professor in 2006-2007. The biography R.P. Cleveringa. Recht, onrecht en de vlam der gerechtigheid will be presented on 16 January in the Academy Building. On that day an exhibition on Cleveringa's life and work will start in the Oude UB.

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