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Ladies and Gentlemen,
I must begin by saying how warmly I welcome the holding of a conference on ?Child Abuse and Neglect?. I say this because ?every child matters? and all efforts have to be made to ensure the well-being and welfare of children worldwide, and to create a safer environment for them all. The creation of Confidential Centres on Child Abuse and Neglect in Belgium since 1979 has not only drawn attention to this problem, but has also dealt with it in an organized and systematic manner.
I take a particular interest in the rights of the child and in the problems youngsters face today, because they are vulnerable human beings and yet at the same time important actors within our society. They have to be taken into account. We have to listen to them.
Someone has to speak up and try to make a difference. And it is here that you, as eminent experts from all over the world, have an important contribution to make, each of you in your own field of expertise. So let me add my own very warm welcome to all of you and wish you a successful conference.
Child abuse and neglect are pervasive and complex problems with many causes. The emotional debate has now been overtaken by an integrated multi-sectoral approach. Still, it is difficult to measure the prevalence of abuse in our society. Often accurate data is lacking as a taboo still exists on the subject, and many people are afraid of reporting child maltreatment. Further scientific research is needed, and that is where you come in.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a fact, however, that the number of reports of child abuse and neglect are increasing even as social concern is growing over the issue.
Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a tragic event before consciousness is raised and the necessary measures are taken. Belgium is still recovering from the Dutroux trauma. Some very clear lessons emerged from that particular case.
Perhaps more time is needed to notice the positive developments that have occurred. For instance, incest figures are decreasing in those countries that have a long tradition in prevention and in intervening against sexual abuse.
So I believe that hope exists for future generations of children and adolescents. And we, adults, parents, teachers, field workers..., must create the right conditions and environment for this to continue.
I want to stress the importance of awareness raising and prevention. Effective prevention requires that both risk and protection be addressed simultaneously.
Preventing child abuse at all levels before it occurs seems very important to me. This requires attention and strategies within both society and the family. It is well-known that most child abuse takes place in the home and is perpetrated by individuals close to, and trusted by, the child. It is also well-known that parents who were abused as children are more likely than other parents to abuse their own children. Stopping this cycle at an early stage is essential. I think it is crucial to create a loving, caring and stimulating environment during the first years of a child?s life. Parents do have a unique role to play in educating their children. Sometimes they need help if they cannot cope with a difficult situation. Professional support should be available. Mothers, and above all fathers, should be more actively involved in the education of their child. Children place an unconditional belief and trust in their parents. Positive messages and examples should therefore be given. Children should never feel betrayed. The family should always be a safe haven.
Furthermore, I want to draw special attention to sexual abuse within the peer group. Young people of the same age are showing a lack of respect towards, and commit violence against, one another. Such abuse is unfortunately on the rise. Steps should be taken to stop this kind of abusive behaviour. I urge young people to deal with their problems through dialogue and not through violence.
Prevention campaigns in schools would be most useful.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Child abuse and neglect are delicate subjects to discuss as the risk of stigmatizing an individual or a family is high. In the coming days, you have a difficult task ahead of you in examining the multiple levels of child abuse ranging from biological and individual-level factors to societal level risks. As I pointed out before, every child is important and entitled to a decent life in a trustworthy environment.
The international Convention on the Rights of the Child that you probably all know, takes a holistic approach to the protection of the child. It should therefore be taken into account in developing policies in the field of child maltreatment. In this regard, your research and data are indispensable to support specific actions in favour of the child.
Substantial progress has been made in recent years. We should at the outset reject defeatist attitudes towards the problem and look instead for solutions involving the child.
Let us work together to make life a positive adventure for all children and adolescents.
I am convinced that we have a shared vision of where we want to go, and a commitment to work together to get there. Your presence here today is proof of that commitment .
You have my full support in your fight against child abuse and neglect.
I thank you.