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Belgium: Belgian Bishops ask for forgiveness for “mixed-race” children snatched from their mothers during African colonization

Today the Belgian Catholic Church has asked for forgiveness for one of the darkest and most painful pages in the history of Belgium, that of mestizos, or mixed-race children, often born out of wedlock from Belgian colonists and local African women. In a Declaration, the Belgian Bishops acknowledge the suffering experienced by these persons who were snatched away from their mothers as children, and ask for forgiveness for the Church’s share of responsibility.

A story that – the Declaration reads – concerns many mixed-race children born to Congolese, Rwandese and Burundian mothers and to a white father who was then living in one of those countries. Their story is “one of the darkest pages in the Belgian colonisation of Africa”. Derogatorily called “mulattos”, these children were seen by colonial, civil and sadly even by ecclesial authorities as “a real problem”, for they were the fruit of relations that “should have never taken place”. “Many of them were thus snatched from their mothers and placed in orphanages or children’s homes, often run by Belgian nuns and priests, away from their families, from their brothers and sisters, and from their African roots. “For many of them – the Bishops write today –, that marked the beginning of a painful division and a long search. Many never came to know their fathers and/or mothers; and many of these mothers have never seen their children. From 1959, some have been sent to Belgium and have been cared for by households or foster families. For long, they have been unable to fully enjoy their civil rights, and many have found themselves on the margins of Belgian society”. The fact they were forcibly cut off from their roots has generated a feeling of alienation in many of them since they were unable to know their origins and their true identity.

The Church, therefore, asks for forgiveness and assures her full commitment to opening up her archives which might contain personal information and documents, thereby contributing as far as possible to advancing the search by these mixed-race children (and their descendants) for their origins. The Bishops also call on all those who may have archival historical documents to provide information so as to facilitate the search. The appeal is addressed in particular to the Œuvre nationale de l’Enfance, direction de l’Adoption – Autorité centrale Communautaire (ACC) (for French speakers) and to Kind en Gezin (for Flemish speakers).

The Declaration ends with an appeal to the Federal Government to solve the issue of mixed-race children and their descendants in Belgium: “All citizens, irrespective of their origins and culture, are equal in dignity and have the same rights and obligations. The Catholic Church supports the legitimate request by mestizos and their descendants to see this fundamental principle fully applied”.

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