“It felt like a slap in the face when we heard. This is what I had always wanted to avoid. And now, despite myself, I have a stolen child,” said one father.
He, like several other adoptive parents in Belgium, recently learned that the children they adopted years ago from DR Congo — who adoption agencies claimed were orphans — were in fact trafficked into orphanages after their birth parents were scammed.
Abdula Libenge is one father in rural DRC who sent his daughter to the capital of Kinshasa in 2015 on what he thought was a holiday camp. But his daughter never came back. She was trafficked into an orphanage and subsequently adopted by a Belgian family.
Suriya Moyumbe, a mother whose child was also trafficked explained, “My husband’s family blames me for giving her away for that holiday. I should never have done that. But we all thought it was a great opportunity.”
Now that the truth has come out, the BBC reports that the birth parents are still hoping to be reunited with their children, but it’s now up to a court in Belgian court to decide the children’s fate.
Their children never came back. Without access to legal representation or assistance from local authorities, all they could do was wait.
About two years after Mr Libenge’s daughter disappeared, he received an unexpected visit that would finally shed light on what happened.
Belgian journalists Kurt Wertelaers and Benoit de Freine had got wind of an inquiry beginning into adoption fraud in their country.
The Belgian public prosecutor had strong indications that the biological parents of a number of Congolese children adopted in Belgium were still alive, and the pair had set out to find them.
The orphanage in Kinshasa has since been shut down, and its operator, Julienne Mpemba, is under house arrest and facing criminal charges for her role as head of the orphanage.
Families in Belgium note that they were concerned about the adoption process, but the adoption agency dismissed their worries.
“Once she said ‘you’re not my mummy, Mummy’, when we were reading a fairy-tale,” said one adoptive mother.
“I raised the alarm immediately but was dismissed. I thought she might have been talking about an interim, host mother that she had been living with before coming here. But no. It was her mum.”
Back in DR Congo, Libenge can only wait for a Belgian court to decide what will happen to his daughter.
“I know people will say that she is better off in Belgium. And you know, maybe she is, but I don’t think it was up to anyone else to make that choice. And we didn’t get one.”