An orphanage in in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is under investigation for allegations of abduction and child trafficking by a Belgian court.
The children have been adopted by Belgian families who were told the children were orphans but years later it has been proven through DNA tests that some of the children were not actually orphans.
A 34-year-old tailor, Abdula Libenge from the village of Gemena in the Capital Kinshasa in the DRC is one of the parents who in 2015 sent their children away to Kinshasa on a holiday camp, but the children never came back.
The parents, who are mostly farmers and fishers could not afford legal assistance had no choice but to wait for the hopeful return of their children.
Two years later Belgian journalists Kurt Wertelaers and Benoit de Freine came across a story about an adoption fraud happening in Belgium.
The pair went on an investigative search to find the biological parents of several Congolese children who were adopted in Belgium after the public prosecutor in the country had indicated the possibility that the children’s parents could still be alive.
The investigation led the pair to Libenge’s Gemena workshop in Abdula in the DRC, the father who has not seen his daughter for two years showed the journalists pictures of his daughter, others taken on the day of the holiday trip to Kinshasa.
“She was so happy; we’ll never get the chance to go to Kinshasa. We can’t afford the plane ticket, but she got the chance, and it made us proud,” said Libenge.
There were several photos of a group of three girls and one boy, then aged between two and four.
Including a picture of the children with a young man from a youth organisation, their chaperone to the so-called holiday camp.
“All we have left is this picture and a shoe,” Libenge continued, producing a tiny, white ballet pump for the journalists.
Another distraught parent was Suriya Moyumbe, she showed the journalists a picture of her daughter, who was a toddler when she left and could not yet talk.
“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,” she said sobbing.
Wertelaers and De Freine had enough evidence to return back to Belguim and present it to the authorities who then travelled to DRC to gather DNA samples from the parents.
The Tumaini orphanage in Kinshasa has since been shut down, head of the orphanage who is a Belgian- Congolese lawyer Julienne Mpemba was arrested for his role in the syndicate and faces criminal charges
Mpemba’s lawyer, George Balon Perin, said he challenges the charges against his client, adding that she is not being prosecuted in DR Congo, where the alleged events took place.
He added that other people were indicted in both countries.
In Belgium, the news was broken to adoptive families one by one.
Some adoptive parents in Belgium said that they had their suspicions about the adoption process
“Knowing DR Congo’s reputation, I was very afraid, but the adoption agency really pushed us towards it and reassured us everything would be legal,” said one father, who asked not to be named.
“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,” he added.
Another parent said her concerns were always ignored everytime she took them up with the agency until one day the child was able to speak French and started talking about her life in DRC.
“Once she said ‘you’re not my mummy, Mummy’, when we were reading a fairy-tale,” said the 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,” she said.
When the story broke in Belgium, four children were involved. Now, the adoptive parents of a further 15 children are awaiting the outcome of DNA tests.
A lawyer who is acting on behalf of three of the adoptive families Georges-Henry Beauthier said: “There are people who did not do their job, people who might have benefited financially or in some other way.”
“You have to see all of these people collectively as a truly criminal organisation, that is well organised in DR Congo and in Belgium.”
Koketso Ramorei is a journalist and news editor of SADC News with years of experience in a number of genres including sports, politics and community reporting. He has worked for a numerous publications including The Citizen Newspaper and is a former editor of a Johannesburg-based off-campus publication called The Waldorfian Times.