Children's rights advocates call for urgent action as Canadian children return to school

Children’s rights advocates call for urgent action as Canadian children return to school

School bus, Ontario. Built by Lion Electric Company/La Compagnie Électrique Lion based in Quebec. Image by Brian Snelson – Flickr: School bus, CC BY 2.0

As children return to school, a new study tracks the top 10 childhood threats that put 8 million children in Canada at risk. The report brings together all the threats to Canadian children, including poor mental health, food insecurity, systemic racism and child abuse.

The Raising Canada report is the fifth in an annual series of reports published by the national charity. Children First Canada. On the occasion of this week’s World Suicide Prevention Day, the report also sheds light on the alarming need for mental health support.

Report tracks Top 10 Childhood Threats – including poor mental health, food insecurity, systemic racism, child abuse and climate change – highlighting that children across the country are in crisis. In particular, threats to the mental and physical health of children are exacerbated by the effects of climate change, rising living costs and school closures.

Canada has one of the highest youth suicide rates among OECD countries. The report calls on all levels of government to take bold action and make Canadian children a priority.

Besides, a third of children in Canada do not have a safe and healthy childhood. The report notes the chronic underfunding of young people. The report calls on all levels of government to take bold action and makes recommendations to make Canadian children a priority.

The main threats are:

  • Indigenous children are 12.4 times more likely to be taken away from home and placed in foster care than non-indigenous children.
  • Transgender adolescents (aged 15-17) are 7.6 times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers.
  • Over the past decade, the number of children presenting to emergency departments has increased by 28 percent, many of which are associated with preventable injuries.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 15-24 and third among children aged 10-14.
  • More than half of young people (ages 12-18) in Canada experience depression, and 39 percent experience anxiety.
  • About one in three Canadians report experiencing some form of child abuse by the age of 15.
  • Among students in Canada, one in four children surveyed had been sexually harassed or assaulted in school by 7th grade.
  • Canada has the second highest infant mortality rate (4 per 1,000 births) among OECD countries.
  • Approximately 1 in 3 young Canadians report being bullied, with the prevalence having been relatively stable over the past 12 years.
  • During the pandemic, cases of anti-Asian racism among children 18 and under increased by 286% for Asian Canadian youth.

According to Sarah Austin, CEO of Children First Canada: “Children thrive in a safe, structured and nurturing environment, but sadly, many Canadian children don’t make it past their 18th birthday.”

Austin adds: “Canada has a higher infant mortality rate than most other rich countries, and preventable injury, suicide and homicide are the leading causes of infant death. These devastating statistics are too troubling to ignore.” To address these issues, Austin is seeking to create an independent Children and Youth Commissioner dedicated to protecting children’s rights and ensuring transparency and accountability of federal spending related to children and youth through the publication of the Children’s Budget. There is also a call for a national action plan to improve the lives of children.

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