Women taken from African mothers by Belgium now want redress

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In this photo taken on Monday, June 29, 2020, clockwise from top left, Simone Ngalula, Monique Bitu Bingi, Lea Tavares Mujinga, Noelle Verbeeken and Marie-Jose Loshi pose for a group photo during an interview with The Associated Press in Brussels. Five women who were taken from their families as children in Belgian Congo and placed in a religious mission run by Catholic nuns have filed a lawsuit seeking reparations from Belgium. The women were among thousands of biracial children seized from their mothers and separated from their African roots by Belgian authorities ruling over the area from 1908-1960. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

NEDER-OVER-HEEMBEEK – NEDER-OVER-Monique Bitu Bingi was only 4 years old when she was taken from her family in Belgian Congo and locked up in a religious mission run by Catholic nuns. Her friend Lea Tavares Mujinga was even younger the day her mother was forced to give her up: just a 2-year-old toddler.

Born from a white settler father and a Black mother — and despised because of their biracial heritage — both girls were seized from their mothers and separated from their African roots by Belgian authorities that ruled over the area from 1908-1960.

During colonial times, they, like thousands of other biracial children known as “métis,” were taken away and raised in Belgian institutions as the colonial power promoted a strict separation of white and Black people and systematically tried to prevent interracial unions.

At the St. Vincent de Paul sisters' mission, they went through years of deprivation and abuse that have left indelible scars.

“We have been destroyed, both morally and psychologically,” Bitu Bingi told The Associated Press on Monday, the eve of the 60th anniversary of Congo’s independence on June 30, 1960. “We have lost our identities. Excuses are not enough.”

Now in their 70s, Bitu Bingi and Tavares Mujinga want reparations. Along with three other biracial women born between 1945 and 1950 in the African country, they have filed a lawsuit in Brussels targeting the Belgian state for crimes against humanity.

Their complaint comes amid growing demands that Belgium reassess its colonial past. In the wake of protests against racial inequality in the United States, several statues of King Leopold II, who is blamed for the deaths of millions of Africans during Belgium’s colonial rule, have been vandalized and a petition has demanded that Belgium remove all of his statues.

Last year, the Belgian government apologized for the state’s role in taking thousands of babies from their African mothers. And for the first time in the country’s history, a reigning king expressed regret Tuesday for the violence carried out by the former colonial power. In a letter to Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, Belgium’s King Philippe conveyed his “deepest regrets” for the “acts of violence and cruelty” and “suffering and humiliation” inflicted on Belgian Congo.