Amid tough scrutiny from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Dutch officials defended the Netherlands' decision to legalize brothels and shed light on Dutch policies to protect women against domestic violence and trafficking.
Presenting the fourth periodic reports on the Netherlands and Aruba, representatives of the 14-member Dutch delegation (and two-member Aruban delegation) stressed that prostitution was not considered a normal profession in the Netherlands. Employment offices did not help women get jobs in brothels. On the contrary, job training and counselling programmes run by the Government and non-governmental organizations aimed to help prostitutes leave the sex industry.
Legalized prostitution meant better health-care services for sex workers and increased protection against unsafe work conditions, human trafficking and violence. Government acts according to an action plan on regulating the sex trade, and research on the link between prostitution policy and the prostitutes' social status were under way. The lifting of that ban had received broad support from the Dutch Parliament, citizens and non-governmental organizations. In April, Dutch officials would publish the results of its second analysis on the ban's removal.
But Committee members questioned the validity of recent studies in the Netherlands that showed prostitution was a profession of choice and that obstacles to leaving the sex trade were less than previously feared. They expressed concern that 80 per cent of sex workers were foreign women, while 20 per cent were of Dutch origin, noting that foreigners often lacked the language, education and technical skills to compete for jobs in the traditional labour market.
On other questions, some experts voiced their dismay that a country report had not been prepared on the Netherlands Antilles and that the Dutch Civil Code was not applicable there. They also questioned the Dutch delegation on such concerns as whether there was free legal aid as well as police protection for victims of domestic violence, including for migrant women regardless of their legal status.
The delegation shed light on that matter, noting that, according to the biennial Emancipation Monitor and police reports, more than 40 per cent of the Dutch population -- mostly women -- had experienced some level of domestic violence in their lifetime. A bill before Parliament would allow police to remove domestic violence perpetrators from the homes they shared with their victims for 10 days. The Public Prosecutor had issued guidelines for apprehending and interrogating suspects.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment was funding 50 small grass-roots projects that had thus far assisted 5,000 women victims, while the State Secretary for Health, Welfare and Sport had set up women's support centres and shelters in 35 municipalities, a delegate said. Victim's legal assistance bureaus located throughout the country provided free legal aid and helped victims prepare criminal cases and lawsuits. The Government also granted independent residence permits to certain dependent permit holders who could prove they had been victims by presenting medical certificates and reporting the violence to the police.
Turning to the issue of trafficking, delegates noted that the Government of Aruba had introduced laws to implement the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and protocols that extended the terms by which human trafficking was punishable and made human smuggling a punishable offence. The Victims Support Centre, set up in August 2005, provided emotional and legal support to victims.