"This afternoon I was listening to Klara, Belgian classical radio. There was an interview with sister Jeanne Devos. She's a Belgian mission sister who's been working in India whole her life. She works for women's rights, education for girls, against sexual abuse of children and for a better life for female servants. this year she was nominated for the Nobel peace prize.
Princess Mathilde visited her last year, on her economic mission to India.
She said in the interview that she's going to open the American congress on child abuse in San Diego in a few days. Because this congress collaborates with a similar congress in Leuven (Belgium), they had asked princess Mathilde to open the congress in San Diego. She accepted, but because of the birth of Emmanuel and her busy agenda she's finally not able to go. Jeanne Devos will go in her place and Mathilde has sent a videomessage that will be shown.
On Mathilde's visit to her work in India Jeanne Devos said the following : "Perhaps it has to do with her past as speech therapist, but she knew how to approach the children and make them feel at ease. In their eyes she was some kind of fairy tale princess. After she visited our institute, I accompanied her on a part of the D'Mello Road
[slums in Bombay] She was very touched by what she saw. I'm seventy years old : I notice immediately when people are sincere and when they aren't. Machteld, her collaborator, has phoned a few times since they left. If I should need it, I know how to reach the princess.
Here's princess Mathilde's speech, through a video message at the International Conference on Child and Family Maltreatment in San Diego, USA. (24 Jan. 2006)
Although I cannot be with you in person today, I am very grateful for the privilege of addressing some words to you. I warmly welcome you to this international gathering. You are professionals from all over the world. You are committed to improving the quality of your community’s response to child and family maltreatment.
I fully share that commitment.
May I begin by saying that a highly developed society - and a world where human dignity and development are central - should always give priority to its children. And so I say again that “every child matters”. Every child is equally precious and deserves the best opportunities in life.
Unfortunately – as we know too well – this is so often not the case.
When I look at my newborn son and see how happily he sleeps in my arms, I can’t help thinking of the millions of children all over the world who are less fortunate than he is. Millions of children have a difficult start in life – if indeed any start at all – and a problematic youth so often follows. It makes me very sad to see that many families – for different reasons – fail in their duty towards their children.
I take a particular interest in the rights of the child. Child abuse and child neglect have such a harmful effect on the well-being and welfare of children. The number of reports on child and family maltreatment are increasing, as concern is growing over the issue. And it is there that you – experts in a variety of fields – have a key role to play in helping to create an environment for children in which they can flourish.
It is my belief – as I am sure it is yours – that awareness raising and prevention are key elements in anticipating potential maltreatment situations. Taking preventive action before child abuse occurs seems very important to me. Both the family and society should be involved. Parents have the initial responsibility to educate their children. But sometimes they cannot cope with difficult situations.
They need your professional support.
In the best interest of the child – be there for them.
This conference will give you the chance to exchange experiences, to learn from each other and to take back home with you new insights and renewed energy in your fight against child and family maltreatment.
I join you in your efforts to find solutions to the problems. We – the adults – also have to listen more to children . They are, after all, active players within our society.
If we truly love our children – and I know we all do – if we are serious about creating a better future for them – then we must give them our full attention both now and in the years to come.
In closing – let me say this : I will continue to do my utmost to support the efforts to fight child and family maltreatment. Many child defenders are working together to make a difference for children all over the world.
Working together - we cannot fail.
I wish you a most successful conference.