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National Child Day

Honourable senators, I rise today to recognize National Child Day. For nearly 30 years, we have marked our ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and celebrated our country’s children on November 20. This commitment includes the opportunity for children to have a voice, to be provided with their basic needs and to be given every opportunity to reach their full potential.

Colleagues, I am afraid we are not providing these opportunities. By many metrics, Canada is a world leader. In the care of our children, we come up short. A recent report by Children First Canada and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, entitled Raising Canada, uncovered disturbing truths about the state of childhood in Canada. There are nearly 8 million children in Canada. While many of them are doing well, far too many young lives are in jeopardy. For 12 years, the infant mortality rate has remained approximately five deaths per 1,000 births. This is one of the highest infant mortality rates in the OECD. Income inequality has sustained such a high level of poverty that 1.2 million Canadian children live in low-income housing. Thirty-three percent of Canadians report experiencing some form of child abuse before the age of 16. Last, Canada’s ranked is in the top five countries for the highest child suicide rates globally.

New economic analysis released yesterday by Children First and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health revealed there is a price for failing to invest in children. Bullying, for instance, costs up to $4 billion a year. Fifteen percent of Canadian children aged 11 to 15 reported being bullied at least twice in the last month. Child abuse costs Canadians $23 billion in court, health care and social service costs. Childhood obesity costs Canada $22 billion a year in lost productivity and increased health care. Twenty-eight percent of youth in Canada report being overweight.

While there is clearly a strong moral and legal imperative to act, it also makes good economic sense.

Honourable senators, the Senate was created to serve the under-represented regions of Canada, but it has evolved. It has progressed over time to give voice to under-represented groups of people, of which children may be one of the largest.

The Raising Canada report points to three simple actions that would lead to immediate and tangible improvements in the lives of children. The first is the appointment of a commission for children and youth. This has had strong support from the Senate Committee on Human Rights, which called for the appointment in their report Children: The Silenced Citizens. The second step would be for the federal government to make public a children’s budget to provide greater accountability and transparency regarding the resources being invested in our children. Our government has proven that gender-based budgeting works. Why not use a similar strategy for children? Last, we can lend our support for the Canadian children’s charter, an urgent call to action to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of children.

If I am to leave you with one thought today, it is to listen to the children and youth around you. Let’s make sure we are living up to our commitments and providing Canadian children with the opportunities they need and deserve. We will be a better country for it.

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