The 19 elderly women allege as troubled teens they were subjected to compulsory labor by Sisters of the Good Shepherd
The District Court building in The Hague, Netherlands. (Photo: Wikipedia)
Nineteen elderly women in the Netherlands on Friday accused an order of Catholic nuns of years of forced labour while locked up in convents, saying they were "abused on industrial scale".
The case before the Haarlem District Court relates to some 15,000 teenage Dutch girls who were the wards of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd at convents across the country from 1951 to 1979.
The women, now aged between 62 and 91, said as troubled teens they were taken in by the order and put to work, often hours on end, six days a week sewing material sold for profit, grafting in laundries or ironing.
"The Good Shepherd is responsible for the violation of one of the most fundamental human rights known to us: the prohibition of forced labour or compulsory labour," their lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld said.
"Ostensibly the Good Shepherd was doing society, the government and the girls a favour by giving a home to what it called 'fallen women'," she told the judges.
"In reality, it locked up hundreds of women and forced them to work," Zegveld said.
Six women testified on Friday, one telling judges she became a "robot, following the nuns' every instruction and working day-after-day without rest".
"If I die and land up in hell I won't be afraid, because I've already been in hell," another emotional woman said.
The claimants' lawyers said in court papers their clients were among "thousands of young women in various countries who were seriously abused by the order by being subjected to forced labour on an industrial scale".
Lawyers representing the Good Shepherd however slapped down the accusations, arguing that the nuns' method "is being seen outside of the context of the time".
"There was no question of physical or psychological abuse just because they were asked to work," Esther Dubach told the judges, saying back then labour was seen as a reasonable method of rehabilitation.
"None of the claimants individually proved how they were abused," she told the judges.
The Good Shepherd's lawyers added that in any case, the claim was not valid because it fell outside a five and 20 year statute of limitations for certain civil claims.
Judges now have to decide whether the order had indeed abused the claimants, and if so whether compensation should be paid.
A verdict in the case is expected in mid-April.
Share your comments
In a land area of 4,955.9 square kilometers, the diocesan territory covers the civil provinces of Siquijor and Negros
In a land area of 1,493.1 square kilometers, the diocesan territory covers the civil Province of La Union some 235
In a land area of 14,356 square kilometers, the diocesan territory covers Sahibganj, Pakur, Jamtara, Deoghar (excluding
The Sacred Heart Cathedral is the mother church of Kota Kinabalu Kota Kinabalu Archdiocese in Sabah...
St. John’s Church in Kuala Belait of westernmost Brunei carries the legacy of two Spanish...
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption at the heart of Bruneian capital Bendar Seir Begawan,...