Mixed-race children forcibly removed from their mothers sue Belgium

As children, the women were removed from their families and placed into a Catholic mission. (Video screengrab)

BRUSSELS: Five women born in the former Belgian Congo in the 1940s and forcibly taken from their mothers are suing the Belgian state for crimes against humanity, according to legal documents seen Thursday by AFP.

The women, all children of black Congolese mothers and white fathers, were put into a Catholic mission by the Belgian colonial administration, like thousands of other mixed-race children.

The case comes as Belgium grapples with its brutal past in Congo, with protests inspired by the US “Black Lives Matter” movement targeting statues of Leopold II, the king who oversaw bloody colonial exploitation in Africa.

“This was child abduction, organised by the Belgian state and carried out with the help of the church,” the women, now aged between 70 and 74, say in their complaint.

“Some of them were born to fathers declared ‘unknown’ on their documents, when he was not,” the complaint says, pointing out that the principle was to “remove the mixed-race child from any influence from their mother”, against a backdrop of strict separation of white and black people.

The complaint was filed this week, just days before the 60th anniversary of Congo’s independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960.

A spokeswoman for the Brussels court said no date has been set for a hearing.

The Belgian state is also accused of having “abandoned” the children at independence, leaving them vulnerable to militia fighters. The complaint refers to sexual abuse and rape.

“We were the children of sin, we were unhappy,” one of the five women, Lea Tavares Mujinga, told Belgian broadcaster RTBF.

Lawyers for the women say the “crime against humanity” charge is justified by the fact they were the victims of an institutionalised state system.

They are demanding provisional damages of €50,000 each as well as the appointment of an expert to assess the psychological damage they suffered.

In April 2019, Belgium’s then-prime minister Charles Michel apologised on behalf of the state for the “injustices and suffering” endured by mixed-race children forcibly removed from their communities.