Thursday, November 21st, 2013
Canada signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on May 28, 1990 and ratified in 1991. With ratification a nation becomes legally bound to the tenets within. So how is Canada doing? Not so well, as it turns out. A year ago, a UN committee designed to track Canada’s progress over 10 years found that recent legislation, particularly the “tough on crime” approach to youth offenders, is a step backward for child rights. The committee also expressed concern about the over-representation of black and Aboriginal youth in the criminal justice system, reporting that “Aboriginal youth are more likely to be jailed than graduate from high school” (CBC Oct 10, 2012). The report covered many areas of children’s rights, including the inclusion of children with disabilities in regular classrooms and the potential for over-medication in children with mental health concerns, for which they recommend close monitoring. Lack of affordable childcare is also addressed.
These concerns are echoed by the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children (CCRC), who wrote to the Government of Canada after the release of the report to request “a commitment to publicly release its plan to act on the recommendations” of the committee before National Child Day 2013. One year later, that day has come and gone, with no plan of action, no official response.
Two books published by WLU Press have looked at children’s rights from a variety of perspectives. Edited by Katherine Covell and R. Brian Howe, Executive Director and Director, respectively, of the Cape Breton University Children’s Rights Centre, The Challenge of Children’s Rights for Canada (2001) and A Question of Commitment: Children’s Rights in Canada (2007) examine the continuing problems of child poverty, child care, child protection, youth justice, and the suppression of children’s voices. They challenge us to move from seeing children as parental property to seeing children as independent bearers of rights. The contributors contend that Canada has wavered in its commitment to the rights of children and is ambivalent in the political culture about the principle of children’s rights. A Question of Commitment expands the scope of The Challenge of Children’s Rights for Canada, by including the voices of specialists in particular fields of children’s rights, such as disability, immigration and refugee status, and Indigenous children.
If we take a look at the dates related to children’s rights, starting with the signing of the Convention, continuing through follow-up reports and published articles and books, we see that the issue has been examined many times between the signing date of 1990 and the present time. Why has so little progress been made, and why, in fact, does it seem that Canada is backsliding on its commitments? In its response to the report by the United Nations, Canada accepted 122 of the 162 recommendations, but here’s the catch: They believe that policies and practices already in place address the concerns. According to a report from the CCRC, “there are no new actions or commitments, despite evidence of lapses in the protection of Canada’s children and clear opportunities to improve their well-being.”
How many reports need to be written, how many books published, before our nation’s children have the rights in practice that they were given legally over twenty years ago?