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A Children's Charter for Canada

Children and youth from across Canada are gathering in Toronto on November 20 for the National Child Day Forum, a day of discussions on the urgent need to invest in Canada’s youngest citizens, culminating with the final release of the Canadian Children’s Charter.

The forum was organized by Children First Canada, a national non-profit organization working to make Canada the best place in the world for kids to grow up. Children First Canada spearheaded the creation of the Children’s Charter - a call to action to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of children. The forum takes place at TELUS Harbour, 25 York Street, Toronto from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The charter will be released to the public on November 20 and will be sent to all MPs and Senators, along with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva; it is available in English and French at www.childrenfirstcanada.com.

The process to create the Children’s Charter began a year ago with consultations with thousands of children and youth from coast to coast to coast and culminated in the release of the first draft at the National Summit in November 2017.  Over the past year, youth across Canada have shared their feedback and crafted the final version that will be released today.

Among the Children’s Charter’s highlights:

·       A clear voice and opportunity to lead in schools, families, governments and communities

·       Access to local healthcare, regardless of cost and free from discrimination

·       Mental health education, services and treatment when they need it, without facing stigma

·       An end to discrimination and exclusion

·       A stable and secure future

·       High quality, safe and accessible education, including support for First Nations, Inuit and Métis schools to provide instruction in the language of their community

·       An end to bullying and protection from all forms of violence and abuse

·       A true commitment to reconciliation with Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples.

Sara Austin, founder and lead director of Children First Canada, has personally advocated for children’s rights for more than 20 years. She founded the non-profit in 2015 with the goal of uniting all Canadians around a common vision for our children, and to mobilize our country to take action. “Our kids are telling us they are struggling with a lot of issues, whether it’s poverty, bullying, mental health issues, or abuse. They created the Charter with the hope that our government will use it as a roadmap to make Canada the best place in the world for kids to grow up,” explains Austin. “We’ve also heard loud and clear that while our children and youth are looking to leaders in government and civil society for support, they’re not waiting for us. They have proven through the creation of the Children’s Charter that they will lead the way.”

This event comes on the same day as Children First Canada and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health release a paper on the economic implications of not investing in Canada’s children. The report puts a price tag on various issues plaguing Canadian children, including:

·       Bullying can cost Canada up to $4 billion per year: According to a recent UNICEF report, 15 per cent of Canadian children aged 11-15 reported being bullied at least twice in the last month, compared to 10.8 per cent on average in other countries.

·       Child abuse cost Canadians $23 billion in 2018 in court, healthcare and social services costs as well as long-term effects on earnings. 

·       Childhood obesity costs Canada up to $22 billion per year in lost productivity and increased healthcare costs. According to a recent O’Brien Institute / Children First Canada report, Raising Canada, 27.9 per cent of youth in Canada report being overweight or obese.

“Taking better care of our children is the right thing to do. What this report points out is that beyond the intrinsic, moral value, there is an overwhelming economic benefit to all Canadians to investing in our kids,” adds Austin.

The economic analysis release today builds on a recently released report by the O’Brien Institute and Children First Canada, entitled Raising Canada, which highlights deeply worrisome statistics on children in Canada.  Highlights from that report include:

·       Mortality

o   The leading causes of childhood deaths in Canada are preventable accidents and injuries and suicide;

o   Canada’s rate of infant mortality is among the highest of OECD countries.

·       Mental Health

o   Over the last 10 years there has been a 66 per cent increase in emergency department visits, and a 55 per cent increase in hospitalizations, of children and youth (age 5-24 years) due to mental health concerns;

o   Suicide is the second leading cause of death of Canadian children and youth, and Canada is ranked in the top five countries for the highest child suicide rates globally.

·       Physical Health

o   27.9 per cent of children age 12-17 report being overweight or obese;

o   Only 5 per cent of 5 -17-year olds meet the daily recommended guidelines for physical activity.

·       Poverty

o   1.2 million children live in low-income housing;

o   10.7 per cent of families with children under 6 years of age say they experience food insecurity.

·       Child Abuse

o   One in three Canadians report having suffered child abuse before the age of 16;

o   26 per cent experienced physical abuse, 10 per cent experienced sexual abuse, and eight per cent had exposure to intimate partner violence.

The National Child Day forum is an opportunity for children and youth leaders to directly contribute to a vision and action plan for all of Canada's children, and meet with leaders from civil society, the private sector and government to address their concerns.

11-year-old Roman Wolfli has participated in the year-long efforts to create the charter. “Adults often think Canadian kids are doing just fine, but what we see every day tells us something different. We want a voice to be able to express our concerns, and we want the power to be able to do something about it. This children’s charter allows kids to have a voice in what our future will look like,” he says.