In 2012 Canada was specifically asked to address the high incidence of obesity in children by, among other steps, “ensuring greater regulatory controls over the production and advertisement of fast food and unhealthy foods, especially those targeted to children. (Concluding Observations, paragraph 64, CRC/C/CAN/CO/3-4, page 15) This was one recommendation among many in the last review of how Canada implements children’s rights. The CCRC welcomed the inclusion of this policy initiative in the mandate letter for the Minister of Health shortly after the election in 2015.
Two years later, news reports suggest that the policy development process is mired in conflicting pressures from food production companies and competing economic development interests. There is little evidence that the rights of children are being taken seriously, let alone being at the center for all the stakeholders in this debate. How might the Convention help?
The obligation to give priority to the Best Interests of Children (Article 3) puts impacts for children at the top, higher than impacts for business interests. How are the best interests of children being determined? If all stakeholders put that as a priority, resolution of differences would keep children at the forefront.
Children have a right to enjoy the “highest attainable standard of health” under Article 24. Minimum standards and lowest denominator approaches need to be replaced by a focus on the best possible set of policies and actions by all stakeholders. Instead of doing the least possible, we should do the most we can for the highest nutritional health of children.
Children have a right to information (Article 13), with specific provisions for the mass media “to disseminate information and material of social and cultural benefit to the child” and “protection of the child from information and material injurious to his or her well-being” (Article 18). Is nutritional information youth-friendly? Are the views of young people being considered, to enable them to make well-informed decisions? How do the standards for advertising and packaging information comply with respect for the rights of children, as articulated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which all governments in Canada have ratified?
This issue is another example of how taking children’s rights seriously could improve the way governance works in Canada. Unfortunately Canada lacks a robust mechanism to ensure that the Convention is considered for every policy that affects children. The CCRC calls for the use of Children’s Rights Impact Assessments (CRIA); it would force everyone to put children at the center and come up with the best possible options.