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Belgium gives birth certificates recognising mixed-race children from its colonial past

06:47 04/12/2022

Belgium has issued birth certificates for the first time for children who were born to Belgian fathers and Congolese mothers during the country's brutal occupation of the Congo in the 1940s and 1950s.

Such mixed-race children were taken from their African mothers by force because Belgian authorities believed the mothers to be unfit for raising children with partial European origin.

Instead, the children were placed in orphanages in Belgium or with Belgian foster families, but they were never given their own birth certificates nor did many of them ever even know who their biological parents were.

This has led to a host of issues, including with administrative procedures that require such documentation as a birth certificate.

Belgian justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne, in consultation with associations representing these now-adults without birth certificates, has finally reached a solution in the form of a new law stating that in the absence of a legitimate birth certificate, the public prosecutor must provide one.

This means that these children abducted from the Congo, who are now adults, can go to their town hall and request a legal birth certificate. Should one not be found already on record, or if the adult was given a fraudulent one in the past, a family court will issue a judgment and then the civil registry office of the town or municipality concerned will draw up an authenticated record.

“The injustice that the colonial power did to these children at the time is indescribable,” Van Quickenborne said.

“These people were discriminated against and stigmatised. The Belgian state is responsible for the absence of their birth certificates and must remedy this. We have worked out a solution via the public prosecutor's office and we are now seeing the results.”

The first of such birth certificates was issued this week to Paul Totori in Antwerp province, in the presence of minister Van Quickenborne.

“This is a day of great joy for me personally, for my family here and for the mixed race community,” said Totori.

“I exist! Well, officially too. It's funny though, you could say that I am consciously witnessing my own birth.”

There are already 13 similar proceedings initiated by people hoping to obtain a birth certificate.

Minister Van Quickenborne is calling on all mixed-race people in Belgium who do not have a birth certificate to contact their local authority in order to obtain one.

Written by Helen Lyons