Child care as a human right – UN Committee finds Canada shirks obligations under Rights of the Child

By Jody Dallaire, lives and works in Dieppe New Brunswick where she writes a weekly column on women’s equality issues and matters of social justice.

Childcare has been a political flashpoint in Canada for decades, especially since 2006, when the incoming Conservatives canceled the proposed national childcare program and substituted a monthly family payment of $100 per child. Human Resources Minister Diane Finley caught flack for explaining that the Conservatives oppose any program that would “ensure that parents are forced to have other people raise their children.”

Last October, the UN Committee on Rights of the Child called on Canada to provide free or affordable child care, as part of a report on its ten-year review of Canada’s efforts to comply with the Convention on Rights of the Child. The Committee found Canada lacking, because of new punitive young offenders measures, inadequate services for aboriginal children and other minorities, and insufficient commitment to childcare.

In fact, child care is a human right, say the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada (CCAAC) and the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of British Columbia (CCABC). Both of these non-profit organizations have been working for more than 25 years to advance child care as the cornerstone of a progressive family policy. They promote child care services that are publicly-funded, inclusive, high-quality, affordable and publicly-owned and operated.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child slammed Canada’s lack of childcare policies and infrastructure.

Unfortunately, Canadian governments have not invested in a range of quality early learning and care programs for Canada’s children, although the case for doing so has been made time and time again.

Most Canadians support public child care. A poll conducted by polling firm Environics in October 2008 found that a strong majority of Canadians, 77 percent (86 percent in Atlantic Canada), believe that the lack of affordable child care is a serious issue. An even stronger majority, 83 percent of Canadians (88 per cent of Atlantic Canadians) believe that governments have an important role to play in helping parents to meet their child care needs.

Child care is a right for a number of reasons. First of all, the Canadian government has signed a number of international treaties that say it is a right, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and related General Comment #7, the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

As part of its examination of how well Canada meets its treaty obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child,  the committee also consulted with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to verify the accuracy of the information being provided by government. The CCAAC and the CCABC submitted a brief called A Tale of Two Canadas to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The UN Committee slammed Canada’s lack of childcare policies and infrastructure.  “The Committee is concerned by the high cost of child-care,” said their report, “the lack of available places for children, the absence of uniform training requirements for all child-care staff and of standards of quality care. The Committee notes that early childhood care and education continues to be inadequate for children under four years of age and the Committee is concerned that the majority of early childhood care and education services are provided by private, for profit institutions, resulting in services being unaffordable for most families.”

Other report recommendations include:

  • Adopt a national strategy to implement children’s rights, alleviate poverty and prevent violence.
  • Address high levels of violence against aboriginal women and girls.
  • Ensure child victims of violence have access to restraining orders and other means of protection.
  • Help troubled parents take better care of their children instead of sending them into foster care.
  • Ensure disabled children are not forced into segregated schooling.
  • Monitor the use of drugs to treat mental conditions in children, to curtail over-medication.
  • Eliminate user fees in public schools.
  • Increase the availability of free or affordable daycare.
  • Rehabilitate Omar Khadr.
  • Stop detaining child refugee claimants.
  • Act to prevent obesity among children.

Unfortunately, this is just the latest example of Canada’s  bad reviews from the international community on its investment — or should I say its non-investment — in children and families. Other unfavourable  reviews came from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and UNICEF.

The Harper government seems headed for more conflict with the international community over childcare. Regardless of its ideological leanings, the Canadian government is still obliged to meet its treaty obligations to its citizens under the international covenants that it has signed.

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UN Child Rights Rep to Canada: What’s Taking You So Long? Visitor prods officials to make good on decade-old recommendations

Katie Hyslop,


Marta Maurás has heard a lot about Canada’s children in the past year. As vice president of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, she has both read and commissioned reports regarding the care, education, and services for available for Canadian youth. …

Maurás came to Canada on invitation from the Canadian Council of Child and Youth Advocates (CCCYA). CCCYA President Mary Ellen Turpel LaFond, who also serves as B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, is pleased Maurás got to speak with marginalized Aboriginal, refugee and immigrant youth directly. …

While the timing was coincidence, children’s advocates believe politicians and governments still don’t recognize the importance of adhering to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Canada ratified in 1991,

“We weren’t able to show her everything, but I feel very strongly that she got enough of an understanding of what are our challenges in Canada to support vulnerable children,” she said…

In a press release issued by the CCCYA yesterday, Maurás repeated other recommendations from her committee, including free childcare and pre-school and more attention paid to children’s mental health.

“In this country, the coverage of care from zero to three (years old) and thereafter in preschool is not that big,” she told The Tyee.

“It should be much larger given the levels of development of Canada, and we know again from research that most of the obstacles have to do with the fact that families have difficulties in ensuring that care is provided, and therefore public investment, state investment in childcare is a very smart thing to do.”

The Tyee contacted Human Resources and Skills Development Canada regarding childcare, but was eventually redirected us to Justice Canada, whose media office was closed for the day. …

No money for universal childcare: BC government

During her four-day visit, Maurás was in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick. In addition to youth she met with First Nations and Aboriginal leaders and provincial politicians in Quebec. …

MET Lafond… “I would have personally, as representative (for children and youth), very much have liked her to come to B.C. and see both the rural and urban contexts for children and to see that in a province that has some of the highest wealth, we have the second worst child poverty,” she said.

Some of Maurás’ recommendations affect provincial governments, as well, particularly early childhood education. In response to her comments on free early childhood education and pre-school, a communications representative from B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development told The Tyee via email the UN Convention is one “guiding principle” they reference in their work.

“We recognize the challenges that B.C. families face in finding and accessing quality and affordable child care. That’s why our government invested $365 million over three years for full-day Kindergarten for five year olds, at no cost to parents. This is improving early learning while reducing child-care pressure on families,” reads the statement, adding
government has increased funding for childcare over 40 per cent to $296 million since 2000/01.

“Unfortunately, implementing universal child care in B.C. is simply not feasible, given our current economic climate. The cost of implementing universal child care has been estimated at up to $2-billion per year.”…

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United Nations Committee on Rights of the Child representative concludes four-day visit to Canada

Media release from CCCYA, an alliance of 10 independent provincial and territorial children’s advocates, appointed by their legislatures. Although their mandates differ according to legislation that establishes each office, they share a common commitment to further the voice, rights and dignity of children, especially vulnerable children.

OTTAWA /CNW/ – The vice-president of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child today wraps up her four-day visit to Canada which included stops in Ontario, New Brunswick and Québec.

The Canadian Council of Child and Youth Advocates (CCCYA) invited Marta Maurás of Chile to visit Canada to observe first-hand this country’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Maurás’ visit closely follows the recommendations issued by the Committee regarding the third and fourth periodic report of Canada’s implementation of the UN Convention, presented this past September in Geneva, Switzerland.

As part of that review, the UN expressed concern over the lack of improvement to Canada’s child poverty rate, continuing Canadian health issues such as unhealthy weights and child mental illness, and inadequate monitoring mechanisms for tracking the well-being of children. The review also found insufficient co-ordination between various levels of government when it comes to serving Canadian children, and unclear accounting of government spending on children.

Maurás has heard directly from many Canadian children and youth during her visit. Among the stops on her tour were: a youth forum in Toronto; a Talking Circle with youth hosted by Elsipogtog First Nation – New Brunswick’s largest Mi’kmaq community; a visit with youth at residential rehabilitation units in Montreal; and a meeting at the Canadian Human Rights Commission in Ottawa.

“According to the UNICEF scorecard for industrialized countries, Canada stands 24th out of 35, with one in seven children – and one in four First Nations children – living in poverty,” Maurás said. “This is a clear deterioration from 10 years ago. Issues of low-quality welfare services – particularly for the many children placed out of their homes for care – domestic violence, bullying and ill mental health affect children, especially if they are Aboriginal or Afro-Canadian, immigrants or suffer from some form of disability. Canada can afford to do better. This is the challenge presented by the Concluding Observations and Recommendations by the UN Committee.”

CCCYA President Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said it was important for Maurás to visit Canada first-hand, to meet with government and non-government agencies and to hear directly the concerns of children and the country’s child and youth advocates.

In February 2012, the CCCYA presented its report on Aboriginal children – Canada Must Do Better: Today and Tomorrow – to the UN Committee during Canada’s pre-session in Geneva. The report urged government to address the key systemic rights issue in Canada – the health, education and safety of Aboriginal children and youth.

“Child advocates across Canada share a number of concerns, including the over-representation of Aboriginal children in care and the quality of services those children receive, child poverty rates, and the lack of consistency when it comes to youth mental health treatment. We are confident this visit will help further inform the UN on the status of Canada’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” said Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth.

Maurás said “important steps have been taken in recent years in Canada to address, for example, sexual exploitation and pornography on the Internet. But much more can be done in the short-term to improve the situation of children, such as eliminating fees for early childhood care and pre-school education, and passing legislation to ban corporal punishment.”

She regretted that Bill C-420 to create a national Children’s Commissioner was not passed by Parliament as it represented “a good step forward to ensure that an independent body monitors the application of the Convention in a comprehensive way and that children have a complaints mechanism to resort to if their rights are violated.”

David Morley, UNICEF Canada President and CEO, said “the visit of Ms. Maurás is a timely reminder that the well-being and rights of the children of this country must be given a higher priority. While the primary obligation to implement the Committee’s recommendations rests with government, the responsibility to create a better life for all children rests with each and every one of us in Canada.”

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