As one of the most affluent countries in the world – a country that has weathered the financial crisis better than most – Canada’s children should be thriving. Instead, they are more likely than children in most other affluent countries to be poor. We talk about the strength of our economy, but our children are not reaping their share.
In UNICEF’s most recent Report Card on child well-being, Canada’s child poverty rate ranked 24th out of 35 countries. Canadian children have higher than average rates of injury, suicide, drug and alcohol use, and unhealthy weight compared to their peers in many other industrialized countries. These rankings are not inevitable – they are influenced by policy decisions.
While these problems are complex, there is a clear step Members of Parliament can take to improve the well-being of our children – supporting Bill C-420, An Act to Establish the Office of the Commissioner for Children and Young Persons in Canada.
Independent from government, a National Commissioner will advocate for children at the national level, ensure children are more visible and prioritized in government decisions that affect their lives, and help our children catch up to their peers from other countries.
Putting children at the centre of decision-making is a responsibility of all parliamentarians, regardless of their political stripes.
The idea of an independent national office focused on children is neither radical nor new. Approximately 60 countries have similar positions: New Zealand, England, Scotland, Sweden and others have found it an effective way to promote the rights of children.
For these reasons, most provincial and territorial governments have child and youth advocates. With no national equivalent, the impacts of federal laws, policies and services on children (like marriage and divorce laws, criminal justice, social transfers and immigration) are rarely fully considered.
The only growing child populations in Canada are Aboriginal and immigrant, and many decisions that affect the well-being of these groups are federal in scope. It is these children who are struggling most to improve their quality of life.
Every child deserves the opportunity to develop to his or her full potential. It is not only their right, it is necessary in order to support our aging population and ensure continued economic prosperity. A strong economy and healthy society can be sustained only if we raise strong and healthy children. A National Children’s Commissioner would make a lasting contribution to a stronger Canada for all Canadians.
This article was originally published in the UNICEF Canada Newsletter, Winter 2012 and is reprinted with permission.