Yesterday, Nov. 20, was National Child Day in Canada. It’s a good time to reflect on the fact that children are so often referred to as the leaders of tomorrow, that we can forget they are, in fact, citizens of today. They may not be old enough to vote but that does not reduce the value that children and youth bring to decision-making. Far from it—their opinions, concerns, and ideas can, and should, inspire public debate and influence public policy. It’s only by listening to children’s voices that national policies, programs, and investments can become more responsive to children’s needs and more effective in helping them reach their full potential.
Giving children a voice is an obligation under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Canada ratified 25 years ago. But more than an international responsibility, listening to children and putting their needs first is both a moral imperative and a prerequisite if Canada wants to become the best country to grow up in. We should be striving for nothing less.
Around the world, children are so clearly drivers of development and agents of their own rights. We see it every day in our work at UNICEF Canada. Take U-Report, for instance, UNICEF’s text-message based social platform that amplifies the voices and views of young people in developing countries. More than one million children and youth are now actively engaged on the issues that matter to them, helping to change their communities and connect with their leaders. In Uganda, every Member of Parliament has signed up for U-Report to monitor and respond to what young people in their constituencies are saying. Children’s voices are not only being heard—they’re being acted upon by decision-makers.
Five years ago, Canada’s parliamentarians began their own critical dialogue with their youngest constituents. When UNICEF Canada launched its first Bring Your MP to School Day as a test pilot, 18 MPs participated, visiting schools and discussing with students the issues that mattered most to them. This year, more than 60 MPs are taking part; a sign that both children and MPs find the engagement beneficial.
It is clear that when governments take children and youth into account when making decisions, the result is better outcomes for those children and youth. In UNICEF’s ‘Report Card 11, Child Well-Being in Rich Countries: A comparative overview,’ Canada currently ranks 17th in overall child well-being amongst the top 29 richest countries in the world. We are at the back of the pack when we look at levels of inequality of income, education, health, and life satisfaction compared to kids who live in our peer countries. Canada has one of the highest proportions of children reporting very low life satisfaction, which is associated with poor mental health, low physical activity, and more risky behaviours.
Clearly we need to do more and we need to do better. At UNICEF, we know this is possible. One way to do this is by institutionalizing a process to listen to and represent children’s needs amongst decision-makers.
Canada’s children comprise a quarter of the population, but there is no one in the federal level with a specific mandate to represent their interests across the government. National Child Day on November 20 is their “time to be heard” as UNICEF Canada advocates, but it’s not enough. An independent national children’s commissioner whose role is to listen and put children’s best interests higher on the agenda would help ensure better laws, policies, and services for children. The Senate of Canada agreed with us in 2007; it’s time to act on this recommendation.
In our experience, children want to be involved in the issues that affect them; they want to be empowered, they want to help make the world around them better, and they want to have fun learning and trying new things.
Yesterday was National Child Day in Canada in recognition of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Let’s mark the day with a recognition of the valuable contribution children make to society, and a commitment to giving the voices, rights and well-being of children the attention they deserve with a permanent champion in government.
UNICEF Canada would like to thank the following MPs for participating in Take Your MP to School Day:
Mr. Dean Allison, M.P. for Niagara West
Mr. William Amos, M.P.for Pontiac
Mr. Gary Anandasangaree, M.P. for Scarborough Rouge Park
Mr. Ramez Ayoub, M.P. for Thérèse-De Blainville
Mr. Vance Badawey, M.P. for Niagara Center
Mr. Larry Bagnell, P.C., M.P. for Yukon
Ms. Sheri Benson, M.P. for Saskatoon West
Mr. James Bezan, M.P. for Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman
Mr. Daniel Blaikie, M.P. for Elmwood-Transcona
Mr. Mike Bossio, M.P. for Hastings-Lennox and Addington
Mr. John Brassard, P.C., M.P. for Barrie Innisfil
Ms. Celina Caesar-Chavannes, M.P. for Whitby
Mr. Sean Casey, M.P. for Charlottetown
Ms. Bardish Chagger, P.C., M.P.for Waterloo
Mr. Shaun Chen, M.P. for Scarborough North
Ms. Pam Damoff, M.P. for Oakville North-Burlington
Mr. Don Davies, M.P. for Vancouver Kingsway
Mr. Matt DeCourcey, M.P. for Fredricton
Mr. Nicola Di Iorio, M.P. for Saint-Léonard-Saint-Michel
Mr. Wayne Easter, P.C., M.P.for Malpeque
Ms. Ali Ehsassi, M.P. for Willowdale
Mr. Darren Fisher, M.P. for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour
Mr. Peter Fonseca, M.P. for Mississauga East Cooksville
Mr. Peter Fragiskatos, M.P. for London North Center
Mr. Sean Fraser, M.P. for Central Nova
Ms. Hedy Fry, P.C., M.P. for Vancouver Center
Mr. Marc Garneau, P.C., M.P. for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce
Mr. Bernard Généreux, M.P. for Montmagny-L’Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup
Ms. Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, M.P. for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky County
Ms. Karina Gould, M.P. for Burlington
Ms. Patricia Hajdu, P.C., M.P. for Thunder Bay-Superior North
Mr. Anthony Housefather, M.P. for Mount Royal
Ms. Gudie Hutchings, M.P. for Long Range Mountains
Mr. Angelo Iacono, M.P. for Alfred-Pellan
Mr. Matt Jeneroux, M.P. for Edmonton Riverbend
Ms. Bernadette Jordan, M.P. for South Shore-St. Margarets
Mr. Tom Kmiec, M.P. or Calgary Shepard
Mr. Andrew Leslie, M.P. for Orléans
Mr. Ben Lobb, M.P. for Huron Bruce
Ms. Sheila Malcolmson, M.P. for Nanaimo-Ladysmith
Ms. Irene Mathyssen, M.P. for London-Fanshawe
Mr. Michael McLeod, M.P. for Northwest Territories
Ms. Maryam Monsef, P.C., M.P. for Peterborough-Kawartha
Mr. Alexander Nuttall, M.P. for Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte
Ms. Jane Philpott, P.C., M.P. for Markham-Stouffville
Ms. Tracey Ramsey, M.P. for Essex
Mr. Scott Reid, M.P. for Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston
Mr. Pablo Rodriguez, M.P. for Honoré-Mercier
Mr. Don Rusnak, M.P. for Thunder Bay-Rainy River
Ms. Ruby Sahota, M.P. for Brampton North
Mr. Raj Saini, M.P. for Kitchener Center
Mr. Darrell Samson, M.P. for Sackville-Preston-Chezzetcook
Mr. Peter Schiefke, M.P. for Vaudreuil-Soulanges
Mr. Marc Serré, M.P. for Nickel Belt
Ms. Brenda Shanahan, M.P. for Châteauguay-Lacolle
Mr. Jati Sidhu, M.P. for Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon
Ms. Sonia Sidhu, M.P. for Brampton South
Mr. Francesco Sorbara, M.P. for Vaughan-Woodbridge
Mr. Bruce Stanton, M.P. for Simcoe North
Mr. Marwan Tabbara, M.P. for Kitchener South-Hespeler
Mr. Adam Vaughan, M.P. for Spadina-Fort York
Ms. Salma Zahid, M.P. for Scarborough Centre