Leaving No Child Behind
Aboriginal children are among the most marginalized children in Canadian society. Despite some advances, in almost any measure of health and well-being, Aboriginal children – including First Nations, Inuit and Métis - are at least two or three times worse off than other Canadian children. At birth, there is a much higher rate of infant death among Aboriginal children. Then, young children are less likely to get immunized. As teens, they are more likely to become pregnant. And in many communities, they are more likely to commit suicide. This disparity is arguably the greatest children's rights challenge facing our nation.
Health depends on a web of economic, social, political and environmental factors. These are some of the factors affecting the health of Canada’s Aboriginal children, stemming from decades of cultural destruction and discrimination:
- Lack of education
- Substandard housing
- Poor nutrition
- Lack of access to health care and other appropriate social services
- A legacy of family, community and cultural breakdown left by residential school policies, which forcibly removed children from their families and communities into situations of abuse and other forms of maltreatment.
As a result:
- 1 in 4 First Nations children lives in poverty compared to 1 in ten Canadian children on average
- In contrast to the national infant mortality rate of 5 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, the rate is 8 per 1, 000 among First Nations and 16 per 1,000 in Nunavut (where 85 per cent of the population is Inuit)
- Only 63 per cent of First Nations children on selected reserves accessed a doctor in 2001; 46 per cent of Inuit children and 77 per cent Métis children did so, compared to 85 per cent of Canadian children on average
- Between 33 and 45 per cent of Inuit, Métis and First Nations children (on and off reserve) report chronic illness
- On-reserve First Nations child immunization rates are 20 per cent lower than in the general population, leading to higher rates of vaccine-preventable diseases
- The rate of suicide for Inuit is 11 times higher than the overall rate of the Canadian population.
The solution lies in part in ensuring our policies, funding and service delivery models promote equal access to the rights inherent to all children in this country:
- Culturally appropriate community-based health services to ensure that Aboriginal families do not have to move far from home to find the services they need – services that other children routinely access.
- Improved coordination between federal, provincial and Aboriginal governance systems for health care funding and delivery. No Aboriginal child should be denied services others enjoy because of a dispute about which order of government is responsible to provide or pay for it.
- Funding the same level of services for Aboriginal children as we do for other Canadian children.
The health conditions of Canada’s Aboriginal children are not what we would expect in one of the most affluent countries in the world. It is time to do more to ensure that Aboriginal children have the same services and chances for fulfilling lives as other Canadians. Aboriginal children are the fastest growing segment of the Canadian population. An ageing society depends on the development of every child’s potential; right in principle, and right in practice.
Every Canadian child should have access to the critical health care and protection services their governments provide. These should never be denied or delayed when different levels of government don’t agree on which is responsible to provide them. Jurisdictional disputes between levels of government involving First Nations children are common, affecting hundreds of children every year. All children have equal rights to survive, develop to their potential, and have their best interests prioritized. Jordan’s Principle, passed unanimously in the House of Commons on December 12, 2007, is a child-first principle to resolve inter-governmental disputes affecting the lives of First Nations children. Jordan’s Principle has been adopted by in principle, but needs an effective implementation plan.
Support Jordan's Principle!