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Progress for Children’s Rights in the Business Sector

Canada announced this week that a new ombudsperson will be appointed to investigate violations of human rights by Canadian businesses operating globally.  This is a positive response to part of one recommendation that Canada received after the last review of children’s rights in Canada.  The new office will focus first on the extractive sector, but the announcement left room for expanding to other sectors.  The office will be independent and have more power to take action than the current contact office. Details will become available later.

At the same time the House of Commons Sub-committee on Human Rights is working on a report about child labour and modern slavery.  Its study focused on what Canada could do to reduce violations of children’s rights in the supply chains for clothing and food sold in Canada.  In a written submission, the CCRC informed the committee about Canada’s obligations under the Convention and the related recommendation received by Canada after the last review.  If the committee recommends action on this recommendation and grounds action in the Convention, the outcome would be progress for children caught in poor and unsafe working conditions.  It would also be one more step toward taking the Convention seriously in Canada. The committee is expected to release its report during the coming session of parliament.

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.

Housing and Children’s Rights

There are two signs of substantive progress in the National Housing Strategy, released on November 22, 2017.  First is the strong focus on housing for vulnerable groups, including low-income families with children, a specific focus on children affected by family violence, and indigenous housing.  Details and dollar amounts are pending, but the direction of the strategy responds positively to the housing component of children’s Article 24 right to “the highest attainable standard of health,” Article 27 right to an adequate standard of living for a child’s full development, and Article 19 right to be free from all forms of violence, which includes support for children who have been affected by family violence.

More importantly, the national strategy will recognize the right to housing and include important components of a rights-based approach to housing in Canada.  Many of these components are similar to what the CCRC advocates for implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  They include legislation rather than short-term programs that can be easily changed, outcome targets and monitoring mechanisms based on outcomes for people, co-operation between levels of government measured by outcomes as well as dollar amounts, and an advocate to help ensure that the voices of those directly affected continue to influence how the strategy unfolds.

This is a paradigm shift in the direction that the CCRC has advocated.  It reflects growing acceptance of rights-based approaches to policy formation.  The CCRC has advocated for a similar approach to the poverty reduction strategy, which is still pending.

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.