Photography by Brian Moody
Victoria Climbié’s life was short and tragic. Born in the Ivory Coast, at the age of seven her parents, Francis and Berthe Climbié, trusted her into the care of a relative, Marie-Therese Kouao, who brought her to England to be educated. It was here that she met her death – tortured and killed by the very person who had promised to help her.
Initially, when we first heard about Victoria we could not forgive. We are human beings and no human being is perfect. We were tormented by guilt, anguish and hatred, and could not understand how our daughter’s life could have been destroyed by someone who had promised to take care of her. Victoria was very, very precious to us. We had so many expectations and so much hope for our child. Even so, from the very first day we heard about the death of Victoria, we began praying that one day we would be able to forgive.
If you want to live happily and at ease in this life you have to learn to forgive. It shouldn’t matter if the person is unable to ask for forgiveness or even acknowledge that they’ve done wrong, because forgiveness cannot be based on conditions. So we’re not waiting for Marie-Therese to ask for our forgiveness: whether she asks for it or not we have forgiven her. But while Marie-Therese has shown no remorse, her boyfriend, Carl Manning, did ask for our forgiveness. The sad thing is he hasn’t achieved freedom – not in his body, his mind or his soul. We can’t ignore their culpability. Whatever wrong people do in life there will be a price to pay, but it is not for us to punish. The legal system has its way of dealing with people who are not fit to live among humans.
We have also been able to forgive all those agencies and individuals who were shown through the public inquiry to have failed our daughter. To be locked into a fixed attitude of retribution is to kill a child twice. First, the child is murdered, but if you as the parent then focus only on retribution, you extinguish the very spirit and memory of your child.
Many people in England have asked us why we gave Victoria away. I want to say that we didn’t give her away. In African society children are not just the children of their parents, but the children of their aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, brothers and sisters. The greatest privilege of all is for a relative to offer to educate your child abroad. In Africa we are only able to survive because those who are successful feel a duty to help those who are not.
What comfort is revenge? Our greatest desire is that something positive should come out of this tragedy. That’s why we’re opening a school in the Ivory Coast. It will be a centre of excellence providing education for children from all around the world. The sole reason for Victoria coming to England was to get an education. This school is our way of immortalising the spirit and the name of our child.