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Canada opens Parliament with a focus on children

By Richard Webster

Last Wednesday, the new session of Parliament was ushered in with the announcement of the Speech from the Throne. Like many Canadians, I anxiously awaited the Governor General’s arrival in the Red Chamber that day.

The Speech, which traditionally sets out the broad goals of the government, listed a number of initiatives related to our country’s children and youth. UNICEF Canada was encouraged by a number of references concerning Canadian children, including child nutrition, cyberbullying and ending early and forced marriage.

Child Nutrition

The government announced that it will consult with Canadian parents to improve the display of nutritional information on food labels. This was welcomed news as obesity continues to be a major issue facing our young people. Did you know that Canada ranked 27 out of 29 wealthy nations for childhood obesity in UNICEF’s Report Card 11? This is a serious concern for children not only today but well into their futures, as unhealthy weight contributes to disease.

Cyberbullying

The Throne Speech also highlighted the development of a new cyberbullying law to create a new criminal offence prohibiting the non-consensual distribution of intimate images.

We hope these efforts will provide a greater emphasis on prevention and education and would like to ensure that any legislative developments consider the implications for children, separately and distinctly from the treatment of adults. UNICEF Canada can contribute valuable input to early discussions concerning the content of such a bill.

Ending Early and Forced Marriage

The Federal government also announced plans to take steps to ensure that the practice of early and forced marriage “does not occur on our soil.” UNICEF shares this commitment to end child marriage and is able to use its global leadership position, its mandate to provide data and evidence on child marriage and its field-based programming to bring about systemic change on this issue both at home and abroad.

As the only organization named in the Convention on the Rights of the Child as a source of expertise for governments, UNICEF is uniquely positioned to assist our government on these and other issues related to our children and youth. We look forward to continuing to work with the Federal government on these, and other issues, as the second session of our 41st parliament progresses.

Finally, the excitement and fanfare of last Wednesday’s Throne Speech reminded me of the importance of civic education in this country and the involvement of our young people in decision-making that affects their lives. For this reason, UNICEF Canada is coordinating its second annual “Bring your MP to School Day” initiative to celebrate National Child Day on November 20. This is an event where Members of Parliament visit a school in their riding to hear from young people as part of National Child Day.

After all, education and conversation is where change takes root.

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