On September 26-27, the Canadian Government will answer questions from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child on how well it’s protecting the rights and well-being of children in Canada.
The UN will ask the tough questions – questions many of you would ask as well. Is Canada fulfilling the rights of its 7 million children? What can we do to help the 14% of Canadian children living in poverty? And why do so many Aboriginal children lack the health and education services that are available to others?
I will be at the UN Review in Geneva, Switzerland to witness this dialogue. I am also encouraging Canadian supporters like you to stream the first-ever live webcast and join the conversation online. (Visit unicef.ca/turnupthevolume.)
By accepting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, Canada accepted the responsibility to ensure that every child grows up healthy, educated and protected. Canada is a wonderful country for most of its children, but some children are being left behind.
As a mother, I’m thankful that my adolescent son has had access to good developmental opportunities. Many of those because our family could afford them, and others public goods including education and health care. However, I know that many children haven’t had the same opportunities, and therefore often benefit less from the same public goods (education) and rely more on them (health care). I’ve come to realize not just from my professional knowledge but from being a mother that when some children are at risk, all children are at risk. It’s time to put that right. As one of the world’s most affluent nations, Canada has the resources to give every Canadian child the right start in life – it just needs the political will.
All Canadians share some part of the responsibility for how our kids are growing up, and our governments need to step up along with the rest of us. Children are simply not a high enough priority in public affairs. The latest UNICEF research shows that Canada’s child poverty rate is worse than two-thirds of other industrialized nations. Most disturbingly, the poverty rate among children in Canada is higher than the average rate among Canadians. This would not be the case if children came first for policy-makers.
There is also a lack of fair investment of public funds in children – in services such as early child development and in poverty reduction – relative to other groups in Canada. Numerous policies overlook their negative impact on children, such as the termination of access to basic health care for most asylum-seekers, including the cost of immunization and medication for children’s conditions such as epilepsy and diabetes.
This review of children’s rights is a critical moment for the Canadian Government to show it takes children’s rights seriously, as a leader in the world community.
Our country has made some progress implementing the Convention since the last review in 2003, including strengthening laws to protect children from sexual exploitation, supporting good programs such as Aboriginal Head Start, and sustaining a high degree of equality in children’s school achievement. Now is the time to build on that progress.
Our benchmark, as Canadians, should not be the human rights performance of countries we know are struggling with widely publicized violations, but what is possible in and should be expected of one of the world’s most affluent nations.
Ultimately, the review of Canada’s children’s rights commitments is less about reporting to the UN and more about reporting to Canadians on how the Government of Canada is fulfilling its commitments. Following the review, the UN will recommend ways in which Canada can improve conditions for children. We hope the Canadian government will discuss these recommendations, continue to report on its progress, and finally establish a national Children’s Commissioner. Canada is one of the few industrialized nations without this kind of champion in government.
Until then, Canadians like us will continue to use our voices to be champions for children.