The Netherlands finally apologises after years of forcing trans people to undergo sterilisation to gain legal recognition

Willemijn van Kempen

The government in the Netherlands has finally apologised to trans people who underwent forced sterilisation.

Up until 2014, trans people in the Netherlands were legally obliged to undergo forced sterilisation in order to be recognised in their gender.

Now, the country’s government has finally issued an apology, with the country’s legal protection minister for education admitting that the policy was a “symbol of social rejection for many”.

The government’s apology comes just months after trans woman Willemijn van Kempen filed a lawsuit, alongside 15 other plaintiffs, demanding that the government apologise to the trans women who were sterilised under the law.

It is thought that at least 2,000 people were affected by the law, which was introduced in 1985 and remained in place until 2014.

The Dutch justice minister Sander Dekker and education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven apologised to the trans people sterilised under the law on Monday (30 November) in an online meeting, according to women’s rights group Bureau Clara Wichmann.

The Netherlands’ sterilisation law put ‘impossible choice’ on trans people

“The old law could give transgender people a hard, almost impossible choice,” Dekker said.

“Adjustment of the gender registration was only possible after a physical transition and a definitive farewell to any childbearing wishes.

“Today, we can no longer imagine such a violation of physical integrity. It is important to face the suffering of transgender people and to offer recognition, compensation and apologies for it.”

Meanwhile, van Engelshoven said: “The law turned out to be a symbol of social rejection for many, and dreams have been lost as a result of the irreversible sterilisation. This has brought great suffering.”

The government is expected to release details of its compensation scheme in the summer of 2021, which will see those sterilised under the law given a €5,000 payout.

Speaking to Volkskrant in February, van Kempen, who filed the complaint, said: “People need to know that this happened and should not have happened.”

She said that the lawsuit is not just about those who underwent sterilisation, but also about those who did not legally transition because of the dehumanising law.

The Netherlands finally changed its archaic law in 2014 meaning trans people must now get an “expert statement” from a doctor in order to legally transition.