November 9, 2012 - Upon examination of Canada's adherence to the 'Convention on the Rights of the Child', the United Nations (UN) voiced strong concerns with the Federal Government, for the second time, citing they lacked accountability and a clear strategy to improve conditions for vulnerable children in the following areas:
- The lack of progress in reducing Canada's child poverty rate,
- The over-presentation of aboriginal and African Canadian children in the child welfare and youth criminal justice systems,
- The lack of full or equitable protection extended to children in the work field,
- The evolution of new challenges like mental illness and unhealthy weight without adequate responses, and
- Where a child lives should not determine the realization of his/her rights.
'Convention on the Rights of the Child' is a binding international treaty that Canada ratified in 1991 wherein signatories are obligated to defend their child rights' records and elucidate progress at regular intervals before a UN committee. While the Federal Government tabled 127 pages of responses to questions, the committee members stated that the responses did not systemically demonstrate whether any of the provincial or federal initiatives were improving the lives of aboriginal, African Canadian, immigrant and disabled children.
Marta Mauras Perez, Vice-Chair of the UN Committee stated, "There is a lack of analysis as to how much children's rights have been achieved in the state and how progress has been made," and she added, "What we're telling you is really to raise the bar and to rise to the challenge because Canada is one of the top five economies in the world."
To ensure the 'Convention on the Rights of the Child' is taken seriously at every level and that high standards are maintained across the country, the UN as well as other child rights' organizations would like to see a national co-ordinator or advocate who would bring provincial and federal decision makers together. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, President of the Canadian Council of Child and Youth Advocates stated, "Many provinces, but not all, have children's advocates…and provincial advocates don't have jurisdiction to wade into federal issues such as refugees and immigration, aboriginal affairs, and the Criminal Code…the point is we have grotesquely unequal outcomes for certain groups of children."
"All levels of government in Canada take seriously their obligations under the Convention and its optional protocols, and are committed to protecting and promoting children's rights in an effective, co-operative and meaningful way," says Judith Bosse, Assistant Deputy Minister of the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Canadian officials are concerned that vulnerable groups are over-represented. According to recent research, the Canadian response states that First Nations children are 4.2 times more likely to be investigated by child-welfare officials than non-aboriginal children. To counter over-representation, Ottawa increased funding for First Nations child welfare and is presently reorienting its approach toward prevention.
Marv Bernstein, Chief Advocacy Adviser for UNICEF Canada and a former children's advocate for Saskatchewan said, " If we all accept this challenge to invest in our children, Canada is more likely to score better grades at the time of its next review in Geneva. Only by working together, with all levels of government across all jurisdictions, can we improve the lives of our children and youth in a consistent, equitable, and robust manner."