CANADA
 

Statement

by

The Honourable John Manley
Deputy Prime Minister of Canada


I am proud to stand here today on behalf of Canada's Prime Minister and the people of Canada to renew and reaffirm our commitment to the rights and well-being of children, as we did eleven years ago at the first World Summit on Children. That this gathering for children was delayed by seven months because of terrorist attacks just blocks away, only gives greater impetus to our mission of ensuring a better world for the next generation.

This is not an abstract concept. The need for action, and for sustained commitment, is real and it is urgent. UNICEF estimates that 2.1 billion children are living on this earth today, and that more than a quarter of these - close to 600 million children and infants- live in poverty. Over 120 million cannot go to school. And most devastating of all, some 11 million children - an unimaginable number - die each year, often from preventable causes, be they hunger, disease or war.

By calling the world to action at the 1990 Children's Summit, some progress has been achieved in our global community. That Summit's Declaration and Agenda for Action, as well as the near universal ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted in 1989, have improved many children's lives in real and concrete ways, and have guided the actions of governments. We have also since welcomed the Convention's two Optional Protocols on children in armed conflict, and on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and have created new standards on issues such as child labour.

Canada believes that children and youth have the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives - as do all people. We are pleased to see this increasingly recognized and respected. The participation of just under 400 children and youth in this Special Session and its preparatory process-including, I should add, five very impressive and dedicated young Canadians representing all regions of our country including our aboriginal people, has enriched and enlightened both them and us.

The protection of children, and the promotion of their rights, is essential not only to their own direct well-being, but to the progress and prosperity of our societies, and our countries, as a whole. In Canada, our most recent national census (2001) counted some 5.9 million children under the age of 14 living in Canada - 1/5th of our population. We are committed to ensuring that they all get the best possible start in life and have continued support as they grow. It is our duty to ensure they are ready, and have the right tools, to learn so that they gain the skills and knowledge, as well as the motivation and creative freedom, needed to live full and rewarding lives. The provision of quality health services, regardless of income, the assurance of safe communities, and of a clean, healthy environment are essential to achieving this goal.

These are characteristics often associated with Canada, and we know that we are fortunate in the prosperity and quality of life that we enjoy as a nation. But we are also deeply concerned that too many families in Canada live in difficult circumstances. We are determined to help all parents realize their hopes and dreams for their children, and this is why our government now provides over $11 billion per year in services and programs for Canadian children. Building on these initiatives, we know that a strong Canadian response to the challenges raised by this Special Session of the United Nations will further chart our way forward.

The federal government works in full partnership with Canada's provinces and territories in the interest of our nation's children. Together we have introduced a National Child Benefit, which provides increased income support directly to low-income families. As of 2001, the Government of Canada has invested $2.4 billion annually in this program, which we see as one of the most important social advances in our country since the introduction of universal medicare in the 1960s.

Through the Early Childhood Development Agreement reached in 2000 with provincial and territorial governments, we have begun to build a comprehensive system of services for young children and their families. The Government of Canada is investing $2.2 billion over 5 years for enhanced programs and services to this end.
The well-being of aboriginal children is a fundamental Canadian priority. We are strengthening and expanding the federal government's early childhood development programs and services in aboriginal communities across Canada. This includes the successful Aboriginal Head Start Program, which provides a holistic approach to child development and education, ensuring a healthy early development for Aboriginal children and contributing to their readiness for school. We also work closely with Aboriginal communities and provinces and territories to reduce the incidence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome among Aboriginal newborns, and are providing support to First Nations children with special needs who face learning challenges in school.

These programs alone reach over 10,000 Aboriginal children in Canada, more when you include those benefiting from special education supports - but there is more we can, and will, do. Last December, our government announced an additional investment in these areas of $185 million over two years in order to expand the reach of the programs, to further help Aboriginal children receive the best possible start in life.

On a global level, the alleviation of poverty and its impact on children remains our common cause. Broader and better-delivered debt relief should be pursued vigorously through the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative. We need to take care, however, that the economic development which all countries desire does not degrade the global environment, and that good governance prevails to meet social development priorities.

Internationally, we must all work together, in cooperation with UNICEF and other organizations including civil society and NGOs to address these issues.
For example, Canada has been a lead donor to programmes that eliminate micronutrients malnutrition.- More than 2 billion people in the world suffer from vitamin A, iron and iodine deficiency. The impact is enormous: hundreds of thousands of children die, 250,000 children each year are blinded, and for millions of children, learning ability is reduced by 15%. Working with partners such as the Micronutrients Initiative and UNICEF, Canada has provided over one billion vitamin A capsules to ensure that two-thirds of African children receive vitamin A with immunization services. We have also helped ensure that children in over 40 countries consume salt fortified with iodine. We are committed to building on these successes so that no child suffers from these forms of malnutrition in the coming decade.
Canada is also working to combat the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on children, their families and communities, particularly in Africa which has 85% of the world's 10.4 million AIDS orphans, according to UNICEF. In Canada, we have recently quadrupled our development assistance for HIV/AIDS prevention and care programs in developing countries, representing an investment of $270 million over 5 years.

Canada has also taken a particular interest in the devastating impact of armed conflict on children. In the past decade such conflicts have killed more than 2 million boys and girls, and have deprived millions more of everything that constitutes a normal childhood. Anti-personnel mines also continue to kill or maim thousands of children each year, and remain a daily terror in at least 68 countries worldwide.

We have made headway - the Ottawa Treaty on Landmines, the Statute on the International Criminal Court, the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and the Winnipeg Conference on War-Affected Children are major milestones marking our way - but there is much, much further to go.
Dangers can also lurk for our children outside of conflict zones - they require our vigilance and protection even in societies at peace. The Government of Canada is unequivocally committed to protecting children from all forms of abuse and exploitation, both domestically and internationally. Canada's laws against child pornography are among the toughest in the world. However, we are not complacent; we are poised to make our laws even tougher through new legislation criminalizing use of the Internet for purposes related to child pornography and the luring of unsuspecting children.

We must keep moving ahead with policies and initiatives that put the security of our children first, and which stop their abuse, exploitation and endangerment.

This is our job - not only as leaders and political decision-makers, but also as parents and adults. It is our responsibility.

These are not easy issues, but should we ever doubt our ability to succeed, I think we need only look to Afghanistan as a source of inspiration and new-found hope. If this country, these people, who have suffered such vast oppression, borne so great a burden of poverty, abuse and deprivation, if they, in less than six months of transition, can bring their children - boys and girls - back to school, as they did in March, then surely the broader global community can make major gains in addressing the challenges of poverty, disease and harm to children.

We have before us the largest and youngest generation the world has ever known with children representing over 1/3 of the world's population. No less than the survival of this planet - the peace and prosperity in which we all seek to live - depends on the extent of the protection and respect we accord our children. Of all the issues which we face as a global community, there is none more universal than this; none more fundamental; and none more urgent.