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Children’s Rights in Canada

Budget 2018 and Children’s Rights

Canada’s budget 2018, titled Equality and Growth,  adds some important pieces to the patchwork of public policies that support children but leaves gaps and missing pieces that are essential for realizing the rights of all children across the country.  Budget 2018 through a children’s rights lens. 

Change Promised for Implementation of Children’s Rights in Canada

Children’s rights in Canada may benefit from a Ministerial Meeting on Human Rights, held on December 11, 2017.  Ministers from federal, provincial, and territorial governments agreed that the current system for implementing international human rights obligations in Canada is “out-dated” and “needs modernization.”  This was the first Ministerial level meeting on human rights in Canada in 30 years.  Improving the implementation of human rights in Canada, including children’s rights, was the focus of the meeting.

One of the areas named for improvement in the final communique  was “following up on the recommendations that Canada receives from international human rights bodies.”  (English)  (French)  In 2018 Canada will report on how it implements children’s rights, including response to recommendations from previous reviews. This is a great opportunity for both federal and provincial/territorial governments to put into practice the commitments they made on December 11.

The CCRC was one of the human rights groups who participated in the Ministerial meeting.  In a brief statement, Kathy Vandergrift, Chair of the CCRC, called on all Ministers to pay attention to the review of children’s rights because “realizing children’s rights will make federalism work better.”

The CCRC worked with other human rights organizations to put forward a unified proposal for substantive reform of the way all levels of government implement human rights in Canada. (French)  We will now follow up on the specific proposals in the final communique to improve the process for the review of children’s rights that is currently underway.

The current review of how the Convention on the Rights of the Child is implemented in Canada will be a primary focus for the CCRC in 2018.

National Child Day 2017: Children’s Rights Can Make Canada Work Better

Members of the Coalition will celebrate National Child Day with children across the country on November 20, 2017.  We also celebrate the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is the reason for this day.

This year the CCRC is drawing attention to the potential benefits of the Convention on the Rights of the Child for Canada.  In a public statement, the CCRC highlights that implementation of the Convention would help to prevent children from falling through gaps in piecemeal policies and programs and improve Canada’s middle or low ranking on international assessments of child well-being.  Statement in French.

Canada must file its next report on implementation in July 2018.  The CCRC calls on all governments to respond to the many recommendations in the last review. After the last review the CCRC identified 10 Steps Canada could take.  On the 25th Anniversary of Ratification, the CCRC released an overview of implementation.   Recently a Discussion Paper on Education and Children’s Rights reports on progress to inform children about their rights, a basic step for effective implementation.  The CCRC invites young people and organizations who work with young people to use this process for their own reflection on the realization of children’s rights in Canada and what can be done to improve it.   On-going information for the review will be posted here.

Food Fights and Children’s Rights

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.

 

 

Marijuana Use and Young People: Open Letter

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:

  1. Consider all the rights of young people through a Children’s Rights Impact Assessment of Bill C-45
  2. Implement a comprehensive youth strategy, that includes support services as well as public education and legal measures
  3. Put children first in the allocation of resources on an on-going basis

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.

Education and Children’s Rights in Canada

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.

Back to School: The Aims of Education

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:

  • development of respect for  the human rights and fundamental freedoms of every person;
  • development of respect for a child’s parents, his or her cultural identity, language, and values;
  • development of respect for the national values of Canada, of countries from which the children may come, and for civilizations different from their own;
  • preparation for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples; and
  • development of respect for the natural environment.

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.)