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"Confronted by the scandal of a stolen
childhood and rape, from revolt to action !"
Cathleen de Kerchove

"Give a future to these children
and reinforce their resilience."
Véronique De Keyser

"Without justice or retribution,
here is no recovery."
Isabelle Durant

"The future of a community depends
on its children’s future."
Marie Dominique Simonet

Who are we ?

The Organization

Véronique De Keyser

Isabelle Durant

Cathleen de Kerchove

Marie Dominique Simonet

The Organization

The Children of Panzi and elsewhere is a Belgian organization, created on September 4th 2015. The organization was founded by four women with different political sensitivities but having in common that all are touched by the situation of victims of sexual violence against children in conflict zones. Veronique de Keyser (Chair), Isabelle Durant (Vice chair), Cathleen de Kerchove (Executive Director) and Marie Dominique Simonet.

The organization gathers together professionals who deal with the psychological support of children and post traumatic stress disorders as well as other concerned individuals to achieve this objective.

Our team in Bukavu:

Divine Bahati
Project Co-ordinator

Véronique De Keyser
President of the Association: « The Children of Panzi and elsewhere »

My first childhood memory is one of war. I never knew my father, who died at the age of 25, At the time Europe was in ruins. Since then, there hasn’t been a day where I haven’t tried to reconstruct these ruins and erase the fear in the eyes of children confronted by violence. It’s hard, but it’s possible, I am convinced of this.

Professor of Psychology, followed by Doyen of the Psychology and Educational Science Department at the University of Liege, Deputy at the European Parliament from 2001 to 2014, I followed conflict zones in Latin America, Africa and Middle East, trying to deliver political answers and soften the psychological suffering of the most vulnerable. Amongst them, women and child victims of sexual violence.

To help them is why, in 2015, I founded The children of Panzi and elsewhere with Marie-Dominique Simonet, Cathleen de Kerchove and Isabelle Durant. My meeting with Doctor Denis Mukwege, after he received the King Baudouin Foundation Award in 2010, was the trigger for this. The doctor proved, by his devotion to rehabilitate women and children who have been raped, that out of ruins life can rekindled. Not only in Bukavu but elsewhere.

Isabelle Durant
Co-founders of « The Children of Panzi and elsewhere »

Mother of three children and Grandmother of two. I have always been involved in social and environmental conflicts, as well as women’s causes. Especially in Africa and the Arabic world where I have often worked and travelled.

Currently a deputy for the Region, I was previously in charge of the Vice President functions of the European Parliament, Vice-Premier Minister of the Belgian federal government, Senator and Co-President of the Belgian ecological party.

Cathleen de Kerchove
Co-founder and General Director of the Association: « The Children of Panzi and elsewhere »

As a pediatric nurse, psychotherapist, body-psychotherapist, trained and certified in EMDR, my priority has always been women and children’s mental and physical well-being. Travelling the world due to my husband’s work, I have always involved myself in local projects while continuing to educate myself on local health techniques.

In Rwanda I dedicated myself to the support of widows and orphans from the genocide who were suffering from post-traumatic syndromes. More recently, during a mission in Iraq, I witnessed the atrocities committed on girls by Daesh, sometimes very young girls, who had just escaped from the hands of their kidnappers.

Currently in a role in New York, I continue to defend the cause of these young children, of these young girls treated as sexual slaves in conflict and post-conflict zones.

Marie Dominique Simonet
Co-founder of « The Children of Panzi and elsewhere »

Mother of two, I worked as a lawyer and am sensitive to equal opportunity, respect of the rights of everyone and the fight for accountability for criminal acts.

Currently a Deputy at the Walloon Parliament and Walloon-Brussels Federation, and previously being Vice President of the Government and Walloon-Brussels Federation and Minister of Higher Education, Research, International Relations and Mandatory Education.

Within these functions and the Presidency of the APEFE, I have had to travel throughout numerous African countries, especially to the Congo region, in order to sign partnership agreements.

Our project

The Association was created on 4th September 2015, with the aim of raising awareness of the rape of children during or after a conflict. Its goal is providing a psychological support, where mass rape of children was present, to either raped children or children born to rape victims. At the request of Doctor Denis Mukwege’s and considering the extreme urgency of the situation in the DRC, a first project has been launched in Panzi, Bukavu.


The issue of child rape and of children born out of rape is of such painful character that it is terribly difficult to properly document the subject. We rarely speak of it, if ever. The amount of suffering is however huge. It affects the victim intimately, it affects the culture, but above all else, it affects what a community values and what makes the community alive and hopeful for the future.

It is neither a new nor a disappearing phenomenon. Last summer, the stories we collected from both women and young girls of the Yezidi community settled in refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan were unbearable. Throughout the nineties, hundreds of thousands of women and very young girls were victims of rape whether it be in former Yugoslavia, in Sierra Leone, in Algeria during the black decade, in Rwanda during and following the 1994 genocide and in many other places. In Mali, punitive rapes spread as a widespread practice against women who did not bend to the rules of fanatics. Women rights organisations are now rallying and asking for recognition of these facts.

This is without mentioning the 50.000 or so Syrian women and young girls estimated by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as having been victims of rape and sadistic atrocities in front of their brothers and fathers.

Resolutions exist at an international level for children in armed conflicts and child soldiers, such as the UN Security Council Resolution 1882. It aims at putting an end to “the killing and maiming of children and/or rape and other sexual violence against children”.

But the facts remain. These children born out of rape, without identities or legal recognition, these babies or young victims of rape are then stigmatised, pointed at and even excluded from their communities. However, they are tomorrow’s generation. Their future constitutes a real time bomb that we must endeavour to deactivate.

We wanted to move from indignation to action. Not only immediate action but action over time for the reconstruction of these young broken lives, with the help of local stakeholders.

It is essential to first have clear data to be able to track the victims when they return to their homes and villages. We must sensitise local communities to support them and break taboos. These children are victims. They are not responsible for their circumstances. Ignoring the issue, ignoring them, is to jeopardize all efforts for peace and reconstructions of a post-conflict society. Ignoring the issue, ignoring them, is to contribute to a loss of important markers and a loss of values that can take root in a society, for the long term, after years of violence.

"The Children of Panzi and elsewhere" Association is committed to a pilot project, which aims at building tools and support systems for child rape victims and children born out of rape. And from there, in the longer term, developing a methodology that could be adapted for other communities and places in the world where post-conflict cohorts of children become, in a certain way, living deactivators of "anti-personnel landmines".

Panzi stood out as a key place to work since Dr.Mukwege expressed his desire to go beyond the physical and surgical reconstruction of these young victims at that location. Set on the outskirts of Bukavu, Panzi’s hospital of reference is a place of care. Despite the suffering, the place exudes a certain serenity. It is the place that brings together a network of workers and stakeholders who do a wonderful job in the physical and moral reparation of thousands of women and very young victims.


In the course of our familiarisation and detailed examination of the existing and functioning systems and the identification of any missing elements, we have chosen to orient our pilot project around three axis.

1. Firstly, the children remaining in their own environment and community, for the long term. How to ensure the personal well-being and safety of young girls and children when the outside world is so unsafe and unkind to them? Often the price these young victims pay is extremely high. In their villages, everyone knows and in school, they are constantly stigmatised. The young girls are physically cured, but they are not considered suitable for motherhood, one of the most important vectors for integration to the community in this country. The children born out of rape, without a legal identity, are just as ostracised from their families and villages. They are sometimes considered as bringing bad luck, which leads them to move away and live elsewhere.

2. Secondly, the training and support to medical and psychosocial specialists who are taking care of the victims. In Panzi, the social stakeholders, the psychotherapists and the group called the “beloved moms” who are doing an amazing work. They are directly exposed to physically distressed children and families and left without tools to accompany and heal them. We are able to provide them training and work with them on the deep scars that rape registers on the mind and body alike, and in the particular on the resilience they encounter from the local culture.

3. and thirdly, the fight against impunity and for compensation, without which it would be impossible to reconstruct the victims and their families. When a complaint is lodged, it often means a lot of problems for the families; insufficient investigation, delays to trials, no claims possible for moral or financial damages. More often than not, families accept bad transactional proposals which put an end to all proceedings or give up totally. A trial of some 75 suspected rapists is expected for 2017. This will be a vital and, hopefully, exemplary proceeding for the cause of the many victims.

Contributing to the healing of those having suffered so much at such a young age means talking about them, for them. This is what we are aiming at, as a first step. The worst possible thing that could happen for these children, young women and their communities is denial.

But it also means providing the children with long-term support. It is in the name of hundreds of them that we want to test a model; a method, some tools and build a network of stakeholders.

We are the ones who must support. But they are the ones who must act. If you want to help us to help them: please click on the thumbnail “make a donation”.

Violence and rape in the context of children presents a particular problem. We recognise the enormous surgical work on female rape victims conducted by Doctor Mukwege. Many of these women are young girls. The legal age for passing from a minor to an adult in the DRC is 18 years. Rape of young adolescent girls in puberty is frequent.

Analysis of needs

Panzi’s hospital has evolved tremendously and developed new structures and kinds of therapies, some of which concern children. At Dorcas, a house that welcomes young female victims of rape, music therapy was developed for the very young girls in order to rehabilitate them in an affordable way. In collaboration with the City of Joy, a 300 hectare model biological farm gives work to those who leave after their six months internship. There was a willingness to start a project, developing a trauma clinic in association with psychologists, specialized in the treatment of Victims of Sexual Violence. And a research center called Icar was opened to capitalize on the experience accumulated. However, the dynamism of this holistic model of Panzi in which, the child is the central subject, has its weaknesses. One such weakness, linked to these dramatic situations, is the fragility of the social workers who provide support. Because they are repeatedly confronted to dreadful crimes and the impunity of the perpetrators, the caring staff are becoming exhausted. Treating the ‘vicarious stress’ of the staff has become urgent.

That is why one of the goals of the EPA’s missions is to train local psychologists and social workers to reinforce the support capacities of the care workers. The themes are: how to support a rape, the rape of children and teaching stress relief techniques. This first training led to the creation of a new team of care workers in Panzi, capable of treating children. This core team will be supported via Internet using Skype and the EPA-ULg platform, supported by childhood specialists (university teachers, “child psychiatrists,” special clinical psychologists, specialists familiar with sexually abused children, etc,).

This training has also provided diagnostic tools, adapted to children which will be used to gather data in socio medical files, in order to ensure a better long-distance follow up of these young victims.

The second training has allowed the local therapists to interactively work with psychologists on adapting the tools to the local situation. A trial of some 75 suspected rapists is expected for 2017. This will be a vital and, hopefully, exemplary proceeding for the cause of the many victims.

Support to the victims will also be decentralized into the villages most effected by rape, using and reinforcing existing human resources and associations by sharing these resources. Congolese civil society is active and has mobilized itself. This is manifested by angry marches in order to defend rape victims and demand justice. Several arrests occurred in June 2016, among which is a provincial deputy and more than 70 persons suspected of child rape. The Panzi Foundation and its juridical clinic which provides assistance to victims have already spread their activities. They set up several contact persons in the villages, called para lawyers. These are legal assistants, nicknamed “bare foot lawyers” who are helping the victims and their families to lodge a complaint. Starting with simple tools to detect psychological problems (anxiety, depression, personality disorders, issues relating to one’s body, relationship problems, etc) it is possible to either:

- give these para lawyers multi skills, a simple training in psychology, allows them to sound the alert if a raped child would show signs of distress, and at an early stage to support them, via mediation,… (in case of stigmatization or rejection of the victim), or

- recruit, train and supervise socio- psychology assistants who will be working in collaboration with this small local team. Starting from there, these assistants would be people living in the local area, familiar with the local culture, with a certain capacity for empathy and leadership in their community.

They would be in permanent communication with a coordinator in Panzi, who will call the mobile clinic of Panzi to send an experienced psychologist, if needed. This psychologist would ensure a more in-depth follow-up under the supervision of and via a direct link with EPA ULg.

During their missions in DRC, our Association will concentrate on the visits of the care workers in the field and the buildup of the capacity of the front line psychologists. Ideally, our missions will occur 4 times a year.

As far as the fight against impunity is concerned, strengthened by its experience and its specialist resources, the Association engages actively in all initiatives to legally support victims, in particular in areas which require expertise relating to the psychological and social consequences for children and the way in which their witness statements are collected.

Comitee of support

Monsieur et Madame André Querton
Chanic SA

Chevalier et Madame Charles van Havre
Monsieur et Madame Patrick de Biolley
Madame Sybille Iweins d’Eeckoutte
Madame Nathalie Kunkera

Comitee of honour

Françoise Bertieaux, Députée au Parlement bruxellois et à la Fédération Wallonie Bruxelles
Vincent Blondel, Recteur de l'UCL

Colette Braeckman, Journaliste

Serge Brammertz, Procureur du Tribunal Pénal pour l'Ex-Yougoslavie
Albert Corhay, Recteur de l'ULG

Katia della Faille, ancienne Députée

Philippe Delusinne, CEO RTL Belgium

Rudy Demotte, Ministre-Président de la Fédération Wallonie Bruxelles

Frank de Conink, Ambassadeur, Envoyé Spécial pour la région des Grands Lacs
François-Xavier de Donnéa, Ministre d'Etat

Willy De Meyer, Bourgmestre de Liège

Emily Hoyos, Consultante

Jean-Michel Javaux, Bourgmestre d'Amay

Joëlle Milquet, Députée

Maxime Prévot, Vice-Président du Gouvernement wallon

Didier Reynders, Vice-Premier Ministre et Ministre des Affaires Etrangères
Isabelle Simonis, Ministre du droit des femmes et de l’égalité des chances
Johan Swinnen, Ambassadeur

Didier Viviers, Recteur de l'ULB

Marc Zinga, Comédien

Our partners


Wallonia-Brussels Federation

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Affairs, Mr Didier Reynders

King Baudouin Foundation

Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs – Conflict prevention

And those who support us

Oh Miroir

Train Hostel


Pairi Daiza

Inventio Group


Les Tourelles

Plein Ciel




Brussels DROH!ME Golf Club

Mini Europe

Maison Dandoy



Le Comptoir des Vins

Le 20 Heures Vin


La Maison de Maitre

Montagne Alternative


Dinner in the sky



Le Chalet Robinson

Berko Fine Paintings

Auriane de Hults


If you wish to join the project as official partner or official supporter?

Please contact us