Five mixed-race – or métisse – women who were taken from their mothers during the colonial era by force in Belgian-Congo are taking the Belgian state to court for crimes against humanity.
The five women, all in their 70s, were born to Congolese mothers and white settler fathers in the 1940s and were brought up in the first years of their lives in a convent in the centre of the Belgian colony, Belgian broadcaster RTBF reports.
In all about 20,000 children are believed to have been similarly affected. Most fathers refused to acknowledge the paternity of their children.
“We were told that we were the children of sin at every moment… We were traumatised,” RTBF quotes one of the women, Monique Bitu, as saying.
According to the AFP news agency, the legal complaint says: “This was child abduction, organised by the Belgian state and carried out with the help of the church.”
Black and white people were not supposed to mix and the presence of mixed-race children represented a threat to the colonial administration, author and researcher on the issue Assumani Budagwa told the BBC last year.
The children were also seen as possible seeds for a revolt and were therefore taken away from their mothers, he added.
In April last year, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel apologised for the kidnapping of the children.
“I vow that this solemn moment will represent a further step towards awareness and recognition of this part of our national history,” he said in his statement.
Though welcome, this apology is not enough for the women.
“You commit a crime, you come, you say ‘sorry’ and that’s it? No, that’s not how it works. Forgiveness is not enough,” one of the women, named as Lea, is quoted by RTBF as saying.
AFP reports that they want $56,000 (£45,000) compensation each. No court date has been set.
The case comes at a time when some in Belgium are demanding that the the country re-evaluates its colonial past in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests.