A Community Member’s Reflection
“All wars are waged against children”
Eglantyne Jebb, Save the Children, England, 1919
Eglantyne Jebb assisted when the League of Nations drafted and adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1924, the first of a series of efforts to establish universal protection for children.
In 1959 the UN Declaration of Rights of the Child was adopted. For ten years through the 1980’s, representatives of the world’s nations struggled towards an agreement that they could all support which would establish the fact that every child is a person entitled to individual human rights. When in 1989, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child received unanimous approval, it was the culmination of decades of intensive negotiation and the work of many great people who dedicated their lives to the well-being of children.
It was a remarkable document. Nation after nation rallied behind it. It received all-party support in the Ontario Legislature in 1990, and was ratified by the Government of Canada in 1991. We committed ourselves to a document that says: “States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind…” and ” In all actions concerning children…. the best interests of the child shall be of primary consideration.”
But a new war broke out across the country, an economic war, a battle against national and provincial deficits, struggles between multi-national corporations. It developed a climate in which individual rights were threatened by majority interests. “All wars are waged against children.”
Seven years ago the House of Commons passed a Resolution “to seek to achieve the goal of eliminating poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000”. Report Card 1996: Child Poverty in Canada produced by Campaign 2000 states that on the 7th anniversary of this Resolution, 1,362,000 children in Canada are poor, 428,000 more poor children than in 1989. The national Report Card highlights that since 1989, on almost all counts, our most fragile members of society, Canada’s children, are falling further behind:
- poor children – up 46%
- poor two parent families – up 39%
- poor single parent families – up 58%
- children in families experiencing long-term unemployment – up 44%
- children in working poor families – up 17%
- children in families needing social assistance -up 68%
- children in unaffordable rental housing- up 60%
- 20 and 21 year olds without high school diplomas – up 15%
- rate of low- birth weight babies – same
- infant mortality rate – down 13%
The most fragile sector of our community needs every protection that we can offer but the protections that were in place have been weakened or dismantled. Canada promised to respect and ensure Convention rights for children; the Province of Ontario established the Office of Child and Family Services Advocacy and Halton supported a Children’s Council to speak up for the young people of the Region. The Convention is still not recognized in Canadian law; the Advocacy Office report on the abuse of children in a provincial institution is buried by the Ontario Government and the Children’s Council was eliminated by decision of the Ministry of Community and Social Services.
The question that has to be asked is whether we are willing to leave our children vulnerable and exposed to political decisions in which their best interests are not “a primary consideration” and their rights are ignored or denied.
Child Poverty In Halton
As a community partner of Campaign 2000, Halton Social Planning Council releases: Report Card 1996 which highlights some of the disturbing facts about Child Poverty in Halton:
- According to the 1991 Census, there were 3,335 families poor families with children. Over 50% of these families were two parent families
- According to the 1991 Census, there were 6,200 children in Halton living in poverty. This means 1 in 17 children are poor.
- In April 1996, there were 2,212 households on the Halton Housing Authority and Halton Non-Profit Housing waiting lists
- No emergency shelter facilities exist in Halton for the destitute or homeless
- In November 1995, there were approximately 3,500 adults and children served by the eleven food banks in Halton
- In 1996 the Regional Municipality of Halton has provincial funding to subsidize 1,450 child care spaces. In September 1996 there were 637 children on the waiting list for Halton Region subsidized child care, up from 308 in 1993
Why are Children poor?
Through no fault or choice of their own, people, families and children are poor. Income security and poverty are determined by the earning capacity and incomes of the family unit. Children do not choose to be poor…
- A lone parent earning the minimum Ontario wage at a full-time, full year job of $13,700, would not even earn the poverty line income of $16,854
- In November 1996 there were 7,280 active unemployment insurance claims
The cost of living
- Based on minimum costs, the cost of living for a family of four in Halton in 1994 would be $27,599.
- The average rent in October 1996 for a private 3-bedroom apartment in Halton was $941, up from $770 a month in October 1989
Social Assistance Recipients (GWA & FBA)
- A family of four on social assistance receives a maximum of $14,568, more than $10,000 less than the poverty line income.
- In April 1996, there were 6,406 social assistance cases in Halton, over a 110% increase from 3,043 cases in April 1989
- The largest group (over 50%) of social assistance beneficiaries (General Welfare Assistance and Family Benefit Allowance cases combined) are children. In May 1996, there were 5,945 children in Halton dependant on social assistance
Reduced Government Support
- In 1996 the federal government terminated 30 year old legislation that cost shared welfare, child care, child protection and other children’s services with the provinces.
- In October 1995, the Provincial Government cut welfare payments by 22%
- The poverty rate in 1991 for families whose head of the household had a university degree was half that of those with no high school diploma
The consequences of poverty on children?
Poverty affects the life chances of children. Poor housing quality, overcrowding, stress, inadequate food, poor health, lack of child care, inadequate clothing, low levels of education, social segregation, and economic constraints are but a few of the disadvantages poor children face.
Poverty means the inability to provide many of the common opportunities that most Canadian families offer to their children. Some children describe poverty as:
- Not getting a hot dog on hot dog day
- Pretending you forgot your lunch
- Being afraid to tell your mom you need gym shoes
- Not being able to play hockey
- Mom gets scared and she cries
When poor children become adults they are less likely to find well paying jobs and suffer later disadvantages in life. This is a loss to themselves in potential income as well as to the country as a whole in tax revenue.
We all have to pay the price of poverty!
Produced by the Community Development Halton
860 Harrington Court
Burlington, Ontario L7N 3N4
(905) 632-1975, (905) 878-0955; Fax: (905) 632-0778; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org