Publication Date: 2020/09/02

TORONTO, 3 September 2020 – Canadian childhoods are in crisis according to a new report released today by UNICEF Canada. UNICEF Report Card 16, which measures the state of children and youth under age 18 in wealthy countries, ranks Canada 30th out of 38 nations on the most recently available data from just before the pandemic. 

The reports indicate that even before the outbreak of COVID-19, the richest countries in the world were failing to ensure that all their children had good childhoods. Expected falls in GDP, increases in child poverty, the consequences of stay-at-home policies, and the impacts of the pandemic on health and school systems, heighten the risk that the COVID crisis will create a global child rights crisis. 

UNICEF Canada’s Companion to Report Card 16, entitled Worlds Apart, shows that before the pandemic, Canada was among the countries with the best economic, environmental and social conditions for growing up, but the poorest outcomes for children and youth. 

“Canada’s children are worlds apart from the happiest, healthiest children in rich countries and worlds apart from each other due to wide inequalities,” said David Morley, President & CEO of UNICEF Canada. “Improving child and youth well-being in Canada is a matter of political will: if governments want to improve Canada’s 8 million childhoods, they have the means to do it. To get better outcomes, Canada needs bolder public policies that protect the right to a childhood.”

UNICEF Canada advises parliaments and legislatures to protect children and youth from the impacts of COVID-19 by investing more in bolder public policies that support families and children like income benefits, early child care and education, school nutrition, parental leave and the Spirit Bear Plan. 

Canada's governments currently spend much less on families and children than most wealthy countries. The average spending rate among rich countries is 2.38 per cent of GDP, while Canada falls far behind at 1.68 per cent.

The charity is also recommending that the Government of Canada take better account of the state of children and youth and their perspectives, by establishing a National Commissioner for Children and Youth, lowering the voting age, and conducting a Child Impact Assessment on all policies and laws.

“Being young right now is hard. It feels like we’re constantly being reminded that nobody cares about our futures: not our government, not the generations that came before us and definitely not our political system,” said Rayne Fisher-Quann, 19. “We’re fighting tooth and nail to get a chance at a future. We’re tired of waiting: we need policy change now, and we need you to help us.”

Canada's rank of 30th in child well-being outcomes is based on indicators of mental health and happiness (31st), physical health and survival (30th), and education achievement and skills development (18th). The Report Card also ranks Canada according to its policies, and finds that in every policy that supports better, more equitable outcomes, Canada falls far short of the best-performing countries.

Canada has been making the most progress in reducing child poverty and reducing the number of young people excluded from education, employment and training, though there are still wide disparities. Canada ranks highest in children’s academic achievement. Canada ranks lowest in child survival (including teen suicide and child mortality), health (including immunization and unhealthy weight) and children’s overall life satisfaction. 

Report Card 16’s Key Findings for Canadian children and youth:

The state of Canada’s children and youth:

•    Almost 1 in 3 young people does not have basic reading and math skills by age 15; ranking 13th
•    26% of young people have difficulty making friends; ranking 23rd
•    Canada’s rate of child mortality is 0.98 child deaths per 1,000 births; ranking 28th
•    Almost 1 in 4 children has low life satisfaction; ranking 28th
•    Almost 1 in 3 children is overweight or obese; ranking 29th
•    Canada has one of the highest rates of adolescent suicide; ranking 35th

Canada’s policies for children and youth:

•    Canada ranks 19th in the number of children in preschool one year before primary education begins
•    6% of young people age 15-19 are not in work, school or training; ranking 20th 
•    7% of infants are born with a low birthweight; ranking 21st
•    Canada ranks 24th in the adequacy of parental leave
•    Almost 1 in 5 children lives in poverty; ranking 26th 
•    87% of children are immunized against measles, below the 95% threshold for protection; ranking 33rd


About UNICEF Canada’s One Youth

UNICEF Canada’s One Youth campaign is working to make Canada the best place in the world for children and youth to grow up. As the global UN agency for kids, UNICEF has worked to improve conditions for every child around the world for more than 70 years and has saved more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization. UNICEF Canada’s One Youth brings that work to Canada by building the new standard for measuring child and youth well-being, designing solutions to the challenges they face, making policy recommendations and engaging Canadians to advocate for kids. 

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations. For more information about UNICEF Canada’s One Youth, please visit For updates, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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UNICEF is the world’s leading humanitarian organization focused on children. We work in the most challenging areas to provide protection, healthcare and immunizations, education, safe water and sanitation and nutrition. As part of the United Nations, our unrivaled reach spans more than 190 countries and territories, ensuring we are on the ground to help the most disadvantaged children. While part of the UN system, UNICEF relies entirely on voluntary donations to finance our life-saving work. Please visit and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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