THE HAGUE (AFP) - A young Filipino who lived off a rubbish dump and slept in an open tomb has won a prestigious children's award in the Netherlands for his work to improve the rights of his fellow street kids.
Cris "Kesz" Valdez, aged 13, was handed this year's International Children's Peace Prize at a glittering ceremony in The Hague on Wednesday, where he received a 100,000 euro (P5.44 million) prize.
Of the three nominated children, who have all made extraordinary efforts in the area of children's rights, the Expert Committee of the Dutch foundation KidsRights selected Valdez as the winner.
Valdez was chosen for the work of his "Championing Community Children" charity which raises funds to hand out gift parcels to needy children in Cavite City, about 30 kilometers south of the capital Manila.
He was presented with the prize by Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu, the patron of KidsRights which initiated the Children's Peace Price.
"You are wonderful," Tutu told Valdez at a press conference shortly after the ceremony, held at at the Ridderzaal, The Hague's historic Knight's Hall.
Archbishop Tutu, the South African peace icon who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize who is in the Netherlands for a nine-day visit, handed Valdez the Nkosi, a unique sculpture which shows how a child can move the world.
The sculpture symbolizes the impact of the International Children's Peace Prize: in recent years, millions of people have become aware of the prize, which offers Valdez a global platform to make his voice heard and tell his courageous story.
"My message to children around the world is not to lose hope" and to remember things like hygiene, said Valdez, who added that the prize would help him get an education and perhaps realize his dream of becoming a doctor.
Through his charity, Valdez has handed out more than 5,000 gifts to destitute children that included everyday articles like flip-flops, toys, sweets and clothes, said the KidsRights Foundation, the prize's initiator.
In all, he has helped some 10,000 children in his area on health, hygiene and children's rights, the foundation added.
Some 246,000 street children are, like Valdez was as a young child, subjected to abuse, violence and child labor in the Philippines, it said.
Valdez himself was severely abused and forced to scavenge at the dumpsite at the age of two.
Three years later, he sustained burns on his arm and back, which forced him to run away and look for help.
He has transformed his own experiences into a drive to help other street children and inspire them to change their own lives.
"To everyone in the world, please remember that every day, 6,000 children die from diseases associated with poor sanitation, poor hygiene, and we can do something about it," the boy said in his acceptance speech.
Asked about the prize money, KidsRights Foundation chairman Marc Dullaert said a committee was now to decide, together with Valdez, to which projects it would be donated.
During this eighth award ceremony for the Children's Peace Prize, specific research into the winner's theme was presented for the first time.
Ton Liefaard, Professor of Children's Rights, focused on the findings of the first "KidsReport" titled: "Street Children Have Rights Too!"
The report emphasized that the rights of street children are still being trampled on.
The ceremony was concluded with a special announcement by Mayra, who won the Children's Peace Prize in 2008. A video message marked the launch of the Remember 2015 movement, an initiative of KidsRights to breathe new life into the Millennium Development Goals of 2015 for children.