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Opinion

Give the leaders of tomorrow a voice today

By David Morley      

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.

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, writes UNICEF Canada's President David Morley. Photograph courtesy of the United Nations by Amanda Voisard

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

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