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.
The CCRC calls for three steps to address the concerns related to marijuana use and young people in an Open Letter to Federal and Provincial Governments:
The Open Letter includes a list of all the rights that need to be considered, as well as the specific provisions of Article 33 of the Convention.
How well are children’s rights in education fulfilled across Canada? In a discussion paper, the CCRC reviews the recommendations Canada received during its last review of children’s rights, notes some indicators of progress, and suggests what we hope to see in the next report, which will be submitted in July 2018. In particular, Canada was asked to inform children of their rights through the education system and the use of government websites. This paper looks at provincial curriculum guides and federal government websites as indicators of progress. In addition, it highlights issues in equitable access and the kind of education described in Article 29.
This paper is part of preparing for the next review. The CCRC invites discussion and feedback from readers who have experience or interest in this area of children’s rights in Canada.
Every child has a right to an education. That is widely accepted in Canada. It leads to debates about access, equity in funding, drop-out rates, and school fees as a barrier to some essential activities. Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides principles for sound educational policy in these areas. All of these are important aspects of monitoring how well children in Canada can realize their rights to education. In the last review, Canada was asked to address each of these issues and we look forward to what the next report, due in 2018, will say about them.
Less known is Article 29, which is equally important. It articulates the goals of education to achieve the central focus of the Convention: supporting children to develop their full potential. Education, says Article 29, shall be directed to the:
The CCRC takes Article 29 seriously. It continues to focus attention on how well children learn about their rights and how to exercise them with respect for the rights of others as well. A review of official provincial curriculum guides indicates some attention to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as part of Canadian history and teaching rights and responsibilities of citizenship. But there is only sporadic attention to the rights of children, and even less attention to learning what the Convention on the Rights of the Child says.
Workshops with young people continue to bring out a typical response: “We’ve never really been told about our rights, we need to know what our rights are.”
Watch for a Working Paper on this matter soon.
Learning how to live in a society that respects the rights of all people goes well beyond preparing children to find good jobs, which tends to get a lot of attention in debates about education. Learning respect for the natural environment has particular relevance today and is related to a child’s right to a healthy environment, described in Article 24. As one child said, ” There should be a curriculum on being a person.”
The CCRC encourages parents, teachers, school boards, political leaders, and citizens to reflect on what a child’s right to education means and assess how well we are realizing the educational rights of all children in Canada. The upcoming review of children’s rights in Canada provides an opportunity to take steps to improve how well we fulfill children’s right to an education.
(Quotes from Final Report, Shaking the Movers III, Child Rights in Education, prepared by Ilana Lockwood, June 2009. This is one of a series of workshops with young people, designed to allow young people to explore the meaning of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, sponsored by the Landon Pearson Resource Center for the Study of Childhood and Children’s Rights. Available at http://www.landonpearson.ca/uploads/6/0/1/4/6014680/shaking_the_movers_iii_2009.pdf.)
The case of Omar Khadr shows the importance of recognizing and protecting the rights of every child. Early recognition of Khadr’s rights as a child could have prevented harm to him and the need for redress and financial compensation now. In a public statement the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of the Child (CCRC) explains the role of children’s rights in this issue from early days through the Supreme Court case to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Judicial rulings in this case, along with cases in refugee determination and indigenous child welfare, highlight the need for the federal government to reform the mechanisms it uses to identify and protect the rights of children early in its decision-making processes.