Dutch Ombudsman for Children calls for changes of the controversial character of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete)

November 8, 2016

zwarte-pietThe Dutch Ombudsman for Children, Ms. Margrite Kalverboer, released on 30 September 2016 a position statement on the controversial character of “Black Pete” (Zwarte Piet) who appears around Saint Nicholas celebrations in schools and other settings gathering children in the Netherlands. The Ombudsman for Children decided to look into the Zwarte Piet character after having received numerous complaints boiling down to Black Pete being a caricature and a breeding ground for discrimination and racism in society. A number of families complained that their children experience Black Pete as offensive.

To prepare a well-informed statement, the Ombudsman for Children reviewed a number of scholar and general publications on the subject and held interviews with several children from different age groups and racial background about their experiences and opinions on Black Pete. The Ombudsman for Children concluded that the character of Black Pete in his present form as part of the feast of Saint Nicholas may contribute to bullying, exclusion and discrimination and is therefore in violation of 2, 3 and 6 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Black Pete should be adapted in such a way that colored children no longer experience any negative effects and that every child can feel safe and comfortable during the feast of Saint Nicholas.

Margrite Kalverboer stated that “by stripping Zwarte Piet of discriminatory and stereotypical characteristics, he can be turned into a figure that reflects the joy that so many experience in the Sinterklaas tradition, and that is consistent with the rights of all children in the Netherlands”.

The UN Committee on the elimination of racial discrimination has already condemned in 2015 the character of Black Pete in the following terms: “Black Pete is sometimes portrayed in a manner that reflects negative stereotypes of people of African descent and is experienced by many people of African descent as a vestige of slavery, which is injurious to the dignity and self-esteem of children and adults of African descent. Even a deeply-rooted cultural tradition does not justify discriminatory practices and stereotypes.”