The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

The Hon. Donna J. Martinson, Caterina E. Tempesta and Suzanne S. Williams

Children's rights

Rights of the child: Have we really come such a long way?

By The Hon. Donna J. Martinson, Caterina E. Tempesta and Suzanne S. Williams December 13, 2016 13 December 2016

 

Twenty-five years after ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Canada ranks 17th out of 29 affluent nations for children’s overall wellbeing. Canada drops to 26th for inequality between the most affluent and least affluent children. Children of all backgrounds are affected by our poor performance, but high risk and marginalized youth are particularly vulnerable.  So, what can lawyers do to improve the state of Canadian children?

Since Canada ratified the CRC on December 13, 1991, it has become the most universally accepted human rights instrument with all but one country in the world having ratified it. The CRC contains a bundle of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights to support children’s optimal development and wellbeing.

While the CRC is not directly incorporated into domestic law through enabling legislation, it is referenced in Canadian law in limited instances, for example, the preamble to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and has been cited in Supreme Court of Canada decisions. Canada’s position is that such enabling legislation is not required as it ensured when the CRC was ratified and continues to ensure that its laws, policies and practices comply with the CRC. It is presumed that Canadian statutes conform to the CRC and other international instruments.

However, in the most recent “report card” on Canada’s CRC compliance, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said the absence of comprehensive CRC legislation results in inconsistencies in implementing child rights across the country.  Limited awareness of the CRC among not only children, but also adults, was noted by the Committee, as well as the need for child rights training for professionals working with children, including judicial authorities.

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