National Child Day is the Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is a good day for the Government of Canada to tell Canadians what it plans to do with the recommendations from the Third/Fourth Review, which it received in October. The CCRC proposes that the government commit to developing a full response over the next year and releasing it before the next National Child Day in 2013. The CCRC proposes 10 Steps for Canada’s Children as a good starting point. National Child Day News Release: News Release for National Child Day. Letter to Prime Minister: Letter to PM on next steps for children’s rights. CCRC Proposals: 10 Steps for Children in Canada.
MPs from all political parties will discuss the recommendations Canada received after the Third/Fourth Review of Children’s Rights in a panel discussion at the CCRC Annual General Meeting on November 23. That will be followed by a general discussion of what the CCRC and others can do to advance children’s rights in Canada. The meeting will be held on Friday, November 23, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Room 2017, FASS Faculty Lounge, Dunton Tower, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario.
Bill C-420 is a private member’s bill to establish a National Children’s Commissioner. It will be debated again on November 5. A vote could send the bill to committee or kill it. Children’s advocates are encouraging members of parliament from all parties to support referral to a committee so the proposal can be studied in more detail.
The CCRC has long promoted the need for a focal point for children within the federal government.
The Third/Fourth review of Canada’s record on children’s rights showed the gaps and inconsistencies in policies for children in Canada. Provincial children’s advocates cannot address federal policies; a national advocate is needed.
Experience in other countries shows that an Ombudsperson for Children can make a significant difference for children.
The Concluding Observations from the third review of children’s rights in Canada include recommendations for action that would greatly improve conditions for children in Canada. The CCRC will be pursuing implementation of these recommendations. Watch for a user-friendly summary and more detailed analysis in the days ahead.
One reaction to evidence that some children in Canada are not doing well is to point to countries where conditions are worse and pat ourselves on the back for how good Canada is. A more useful response is to focus on improvments that could remove barriers that prevent some children from realizing their full potential.
One advantage of the Convention is that countries commit to make progress toward full realization of its provisions, rather than deflect attention from issues that need attention by pointing to the worst conditions in the world. It is also true that countries more similar to Canada are doing better than Canada in many areas. Most importantly, children in Canada would benefit from a clear focus on implementing these recommendations.
For recommendations relating to all rights under the Convention: Canada_CRC Concluding Observations_61.2012.
For recommendations relating to the Optional Protocol on Sexual Exploitation: Canada_OPSC Concluding Observations_61.2012
A private member’s bill to establish a national advocate for children, Bill C-420, was debated for one hour this week. The next hour of debate is scheduled for November 5. It is surprising to hear members of parliament say it is not necessary to have a national advocate for children one week after the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child pointed out many gaps in Canada’s policies for children that are under federal jurisdiction. These include policies for aboriginal children, children involved in the immigration and refugee sytem, and youth criminal justice.
In addition, the federal government is responsible to ensure that the rights of all children are implemented in Canada, by working with the provinces, not by using provinces as an excuse to avoid its responsibility. The need for a focal point for children at the national level was clearly established in the Third Review of Canada’s implementation of the Convention.
Most important, children across Canada would benefit from such an office. It should have a strong mandate to ensure that the best interests of children are the top priority in all government decisions that affect children. As the CCRC showed during the Third Review, too many children in Canada fall through the cracks of fragmented support systems, with no one focused on putting their best interests first.
Instead of putting up obstacles, the government could make bill C-420 a government bill and ensure it is adopted. That would show leadership for Canada’s children. Now is a good time to ask your MP to speak up for the establishment of a national advocate for children.
Now that Omar Khadr is back in Canada, a reintegration plan should be the top priority. The first step is a full assessment of health and education needs, working with him to develop a plan that will allow him to develop his skills, and then implementing it.
Canada was the first country to ratify the Optional Protocol on Children and Armed Conflict in 2000. Under this agreement states agreed to prevent the involvement of children in armed conflict. When children have become involved. states agreed to remove them, find a home for them, and help them reintegrate into society.
There are good practices for the reintegration of children who have been involved in wars. Some have become leaders in their societies. Sometimes the damage requires a lot time to heal. Canada should do for this one person what many countries do for thousands of children whose stories are similar, but they do not make the headlines.
Dialogue between Canadian government officials and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child revealed many gaps in support for some children in Canada to develop their full potential. The lack of coherence in policies that affect children was highlighted when the committee, composed of experts in child development and children’s rights, reviewed reports from Canada and asked questions of Canadian officials. Everyone will go away thinking about improvements we can make in Canada.
A repeated concern throughout the sessions was making federalism work for children. In presentations by officials the discourse has moved from blaming federalism as a reason why we cannot fulfill children’s rights to saying today that federalism is an advantage for children’s rights because it allows for diverse approaches, innovation, and more local control. But neither of these approaches provide good answers for questions about children who are falling through the cracks of fragmented support systems or questions about equitable treatment for all children in Canada. These are the questions that persisted and need to be taken seriously to give every child in Canada a good start in life.
There is a third way, in my view. Children’s rights could be an asset to federalism. Taken seriously, they could improve the way our system of governance works for children. They provide a comprehensive framework and tools for measuring outcomes and impacts of programs and policies without requiring the same program in every province. Through comparisons, they can help to identify good practices that can be shared across the country. They shine a light on gaps and vulnerable groups of children to help ensure that no children are left behind. All Canadians and all levels of government would benefit by treating children as whole persons with dignity and rights.
Instead of viewing children and children’s rights as the problem, they could help show the way toward a federalism for the future, built on the best of Canadian values.
Kathy Vandergrift, after observing 9 hours of dialogue with too many excuses for why we can’t fulfill children’s rights.