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'Don't sit alone: talk about it': Child Focus turns 20

21:01 29/03/2018

Child Focus, the Belgian foundation for missing and sexually exploited children, turns 20 this weekend - and has helped tens of thousands of children in need.

Honorary president Queen Mathilde attended a ceremony at the Château du Lac in Genval on Thursday, where the "Genval Charter" was signed 20 years ago by 25 parents and relatives of missing and murdered children, creating Child Focus.

The charity was born in the wake of the Marc Dutroux affair - who murdered four teenage girls and had kidnapped two others at the time of his arrest. A White March through Brussels in October 1996 saw tens of thousands of people demanding better protection for children and a better-functioning justice system.

Over its 20-year history, Child Focus has examined 67,913 cases of suspected child abductions and disappearances. The group has also intervened in 23,767 cases relating to suspected child pornography possession and 1,380 reports of child sex abuse.

The charity's volunteers visit schools and organise joint child-parent sessions on safe internet use. Other recent campaigns have tackled sexting and international child abduction.

Child Focus director Heidi De Pauw said: "The central message has always been: Don't sit alone with your problem, talk about it. We want children who feel unfairly treated or just have questions to seek support from someone they can trust."

Meanwhile a new 24/7 helpline has been set up in Brussels for caregivers who come into contact with a young person in need. Crisis-Bxl, which is accessible in French and Dutch, aims to provide support and practical information and can be reached on 02 209 16 36.