(This editorial first appeared in the February 2016 issue of the Anglican Journal.)
The primate in his New Year’s Day address delivered at Christ Church Cathedral in the heart of the nation’s capital, put the spotlight on the plight of vulnerable children and youth in Canada and around the world. (See p. 3.)
Archbishop Hiltz reminded the faithful of the images of The Child, found in the gospels of Saints Luke and Matthew: Jesus, nursed by Mary, guarded by Joseph, adored by angels and shepherds, honoured by the magi, clutched closely by his frantic mother as they fled Herod’s fury and sought refuge in Egypt, feared to be lost at age 12 but later found in the company of teachers. He was also The Child, said Hiltz, who increased “in wisdom and years, in favour both human and divine.”
The emphasis on children is crucial. Much attention and money have been devoted by world leaders to the “war on terror,” to the detriment of those who struggle simply to survive.
Consider some startling statistics from UNICEF and the World Food Programme: about 5.9 million children under age five die each year-about 11 every minute-because of poor nutrition. One in four of the world’s children are stunted by poor nutrition; in developing countries, it is one in three. About 66 million primary school-age children in the developing world attend classes hungry-23 million in Africa alone. Between 500 million and 1.5 billion children endure violence.
At home, poverty among Canadian children has increased, despite a commitment in 1989 by the House of Commons to eliminate this injustice by the year 2000. By 2012, child and family poverty had increased to 1,331,530 children (19.1%)-up from 1,066,150 children (15.8%) in 1989, according to Campaign 2000, a report released in 2014 by Family Services Toronto.
It is “most disturbing,” the report adds, “that 4 in 10 of Canada’s Indigenous children live in poverty.”
It is not by accident that the first five Calls to Action of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) address child welfare in Aboriginal communities. The TRC, in its final report, called for an overhaul of Canada’s child welfare system, where, it says, the dark legacy of the Indian residential schools endures.
Indigenous people make up 4.8% of Canada’s population, but they represent almost half (48%) of children age 14 and under in foster care, says Statistics Canada.
In 2013, there were 14,225 Aboriginal children under age 14 in foster care, according to the Ottawa Citizen. “By comparison, at the height of the residential school era, 10,112 were in the schools at a given time.” It also noted that “Aboriginal youth between the ages of 10 and 29, living on reserves, are five to six times more likely to die by suicide than are non-Aboriginal youth.”
In 2013, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child urged Canada to reduce the “high number of Aboriginal and African-Canadian children in jails, and in out-of-home care.” Canada must do more to prevent child sexual abuse and to solve the disappearance and murder of Aboriginal girls, it added.
The list of disparities faced by children around the world-whether from poverty, civil war, economic and political instability and climate change-is long. But the enormity of the challenge should not be a reason for inaction.
While much more remains to be done, some progress has been made in advancing child rights. One of the UN Millennium Development Goals was to reduce the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015. By 2015, the rate declined by more than half, from 90 to 43 deaths per live births and from 12.7 million deaths in 1990 to almost 6 million.
This momentum-due to unprecedented efforts of governments, civil society and the private sector-must not be derailed.
Anglicans can do their part by redoubling advocacy for the well-being of children-through initiatives that fund programs here and overseas, and lobbying all levels of government.