National Child Day

Honourable senators, today is National Child Day. This is a special day to celebrate the adoption in 1989 by the United Nations General Assembly of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The convention not only recognizes the basic human rights of the world’s children, but also gives them additional rights to protect them from harm. These rights include the right to be free from exploitation, the right to have opinions, and the right to education, health care and economic opportunity.

The convention has been signed or ratified by more countries than any other international treaty. As one of the signatory countries, Canada has pledged to ensure that children are treated with dignity and respect. We have made a commitment in this country and we have a responsibility to fulfill that commitment. This has to involve acknowledging some disturbing facts about children in our country.

According to the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, over 67,000 children — I repeat, over 67,000 children — in Canada lack a permanent home. More than half of children with disabilities get by without the aids that they need because they simply cannot afford them. In our country, children endure more violence, exploitation and abuse than adults.

Canada has to look squarely at this evidence of our collective failings. We have to be realistic about the challenges at hand and address the hardships endured by young Canadians.

Over 40 per cent of Canadian food bank users are children. Canadian children living in poverty are less likely to graduate from high school, let alone go to university.

Following a review of how Canada is doing in implementing the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the Coalition for the Rights of Children has sent a letter to the Prime Minister providing the government with step-by-step plans to get this country started on improving the situation, developing a framework for policies affecting children, implementing a national strategy to prevent violence against children and — what we all want, I believe — creating a national ombudsman for children. These are just a few of the steps that have been recommended and to which the coalition is asking our government to publicly respond before the next National Child Day, November 2013.

 As a country, we can do better. Some of these steps can be made easily, while others will be difficult. In all, they comprise a necessary call to action that we cannot ignore. All the official statements about our respect for children and commitment to enabling them to reach their full potential are meaningless without action.

This Friday, Senators Mercer, Martin and I will be hosting a national day celebration, four days later. We will have children here in this great august chamber; we will have it packed. We will have messages and children singing and telling their stories. A former Senate page will be here telling his own story in book form about how young people can be involved in politics, Dustin Milligan from Prince Edward Island. We hope that if senators are around on Friday they can come and enjoy this, and also ensure that we do respect our children and the world’s children.

On Friday, November 23, the coalition has organized a panel discussion with MPs from all parties on the recommendations coming from its review. It will take place at Carleton University from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Thank you.