Rights of Children - Canadian Heritage

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Rights of Children

International Initiatives | Canada's Engagement | FPT Initiatives | Other Resources

" We are the children of the world, and despite our different backgrounds, we share a common reality. We are united by our struggle to make the world a better place for all. You call us the future, but we are also the present."
- A World Fit for Us, May 8, 2002

All children have human rights. These rights fall into three basic categories: provision (the right to be provided an adequate standard of living, health care, education and services); protection (the right to be protected from abuse, neglect and exploitation); and participation (the right to participate in communities and programs and have their opinions heard and respected).[1] When children are taught appropriately about their rights, they learn about the rights and freedoms of others and their responsibility to respect the rights of others.

International Initiatives

Setting the standards...

On November 20, 1959, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, taking one of its first steps to ensure a happy childhood and positive environment for children around the world. These values and initiatives were re-affirmed and strengthened exactly 30 years later on November 20, 1989, when the General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention, based on the principle of the best interests of the child, recognized the civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights of people under 18 years of age. This Convention has received more state signatures and support than any other UN Convention.

On May 25, 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.

November 20 is Universal Children's Day declared by the United Nations to commemorate both the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. It is an opportunity to promote children's issues and status all over the world.

An organization for children...

The United Nations General Assembly created UNICEF (United Nations Children's Emergency Fund) in 1946 to help the children of World War II. It later became the United Nations Children's Fund but kept the original acronym. The organization works to promote children's interests internationally, by promoting education, the reduction of illness and death, protection in war and disaster, and working with governments and non-governmental organizations to expand children's programs.

United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children...

On September 29-30, 1990, world leaders gathered at the UN for the World Summit for Children where they adopted the World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children and developed a Plan of Action to implement the Declaration. Outlined in these documents are goals such as improvement of health and nutrition, increasing support to children with disabilities, ensuring equal education opportunities for girls, encouraging participation in cultural life, and supporting a means of ensuring economic stability.

Twelve years later, state leaders gathered again to commemorate and reaffirm the principles agreed upon at the World Summit for Children. The Special Session on Children was held on May 8-10, 2002, allowing heads of state, non-governmental organizations, children's advocates and young people to come together and assess how rights have been implemented to protect children, and identify what still needs to be done for and with children around the world.

The Special Session culminated in the official adoption, by some 180 nations, of an outcome document A World Fit for Children. The Declaration and Plan of Action reaffirms the commitment of governments to complete the unfinished agenda of the 1990 World Summit for Children and establish important new goals and strategies in health, education, protection against abuse, exploitation, violence, and the struggle against HIV/AIDS.

Canada's international engagement

A priority...

The rights of children are a priority within Canada's foreign policy. Canada has been a leader in promoting the rights of children throughout the world and in ensuring their protection from exploitation and abuse. Much of Canada's work is focused on children in need of special protection measures, for example from child labour and sexual exploitation, and to children affected by armed conflict. For more details on Canada's international role on children's rights, you can consult the Web site of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Further, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in June 2001 launched CIDA's Action Plan on Child Protection: Promoting the Rights of Children Who Need Special Protection Measures. The plan outlines how CIDA will program, over a five-year period, for children in need of special protection measures. It has a strategic focus on supporting child labourers and children affected by armed conflict, and covers street-involved children, children with disabilities, children facing discrimination because of their ethnic or religious identity, sexually exploited children, and children in conflict with the law or in institutional care.

International obligations...

On December 13, 1991, Canada ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and made a serious moral and legal commitment to children. Canada is bound by the Convention to specific principles, such as respecting children's rights without discrimination and protecting children against discrimination, treating the best interests of the child as a primary concern, and taking measures to implement children's rights. Other obligations include providing guidance to parents and information about the rights in the Convention, and submitting regular progress reports to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Canada's first and second reports and concluding observations and comments of the UN Committee are available at: Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In preparation for the UN's Special Session for Children, Canada produced a national report, Ten-Year Review of the World Summit for Children (Youth Friendly Summary), in which Canada's activities in regard to children's issues for the past ten years are assessed in accordance with the principles of the World Summit. It outlines specific steps taken by the Canadian government, with the participation of provincial and territorial governments, to reach the set goals.

National Plan of Action...

The outcome document of the United Nations Special Session on Children concludes with a section on follow-up actions and assessment to facilitate implementation and to ensure monitoring, periodic reviews and reporting, including the development of national plans of action. The Prime Minister has asked the Minister of Health and the Minister of Human Resources Development to accept joint responsibility for preparing the National Plan of Action for Children. He has asked Senator Landon Pearson to be his personal representative to the process. More information is available on Health Canada's Web site and Senator Pearson's Web site.

Federal, Provincial and Territorial Initiatives

Federal, provincial and territorial governments offer a range of programs and services for children. The following is information on some of these programs and where to find more details.

Governments working together...

The Social Union Framework Agreement (SUFA) is a joint federal, provincial and territorial government initiative that works to "reform and renew Canada's system of social services and to reassure Canadians that their pan-Canadian social programs are strong and secure".

Under the SUFA umbrella, federal, provincial and territorial governments[2] launched in 1998 the National Child Benefit, which aims to prevent and reduce the depth of child poverty in Canada, promote labour market attachment by ensuring that families will always be better off as a result of working, and reduce overlap and duplication by harmonizing program objectives and benefits across jurisdictions.

In the same vein, Canadian governments[3] launched the Early Childhood Development Agreement in September 2000 to improve and expand early childhood development programs and services across the country. Provincial and territorial governments have agreed to use the Government of Canada's funding to improve and expand services in four key areas: healthy pregnancy, birth and infancy; parenting and family supports; early childhood development, learning and care; and community supports.

At the national level...

Several departments and agencies within the federal government share responsibility for measures related to children and youth. For example, Health Canada's Division of Childhood and Adolescence is a focal point for policy development, research, and strategic analysis of trends regarding broad determinants of health regarding children and youth's health in Canada. The Division helps to provide policy development and coordination related to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Health Canada is also responsible for the activities related to National Child Day, celebrated on November 20.

Human Resources Development Canada offers information on services for children, youth and families. More information is available on the Department's Web site. In addition, the Department of Justice is responsible for the Child Support Program and the Youth Justice Renewal Initiative.

For more information, you can consult the Government of Canada's Web site, which includes information such as the online edition of Services for Children: Guide to Government of Canada Services for Children and their Families. The Guide provides useful and reliable information on topics including: child health, safety and nutrition; educational resources available from federal departments and agencies for learning and schoolwork; attractions at Canada's national museums and parks; tax measures and benefits to help with the costs of raising children; programs to help finance post-secondary education; and services if your child or family has special needs.

In your province or territory...

British Columbia :
Ministry of Children and Family Development
Representative for Children and Youth

Alberta :
Alberta Children's Services
Children's Advocate

Saskatchewan Children's Advocate Office

Healthy Child Manitoba
Children's Advocate

Ministry of Children and Youth Services
Office of the Children's Lawyer

Commission des droits de la personne et de la jeunesse

New Brunswick:
Family and Community Services

Nova Scotia:
Department of Community Services
Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman Children's Section

Prince Edward Island:
Health and Social Services
PEI Children's Secretariat

Newfoundland and Labrador:
Office of the Child and Youth Advocate

Yukon Health and Social Services

Northwest Territories:
Health and Social Services

Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth

Other Resources

Alongside government efforts, child advocacy groups and other private organizations provide a variety of resources and information dealing with child rights. The following is a selection of some Canadian and international organizations; it is not a comprehensive list.

Canadian organizations...

The National Children's Alliance is made up of 30 national organizations that support the widening of services and programs for child development. It coordinates recommendation papers and holds forums to help in building policy plans.

The Child Welfare League of Canada promotes the well-being and protection of all children, especially vulnerable children and youth. It is a federally incorporated charitable organization that plays a role in promoting best practices among those in the field of child welfare and mental health and youth justice.

Canadian Child Care Federation is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the quality of child care services for Canadian children and families. It includes 16 regional affiliate organizations, independent members and other national partner organizations.

Save the Children Canada is part of the International Save the Children Alliance and provides emergency relief and long-term development assistance through partnership with local communities, government bodies and international organizations.

The Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children is mandated to ensure a collective voice for Canadian organizations and youth concerned with the rights of children as described in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the World Summit for Children Declaration.

The Canadian Institute for Child Health is dedicated to promoting and protecting the health, well-being and rights of all children and youth through monitoring, education and advocacy.

Child and Family Canada Fifty Canadian non-profit organizations have come together under this banner to provide quality, credible resources on children and families on an easy-to-navigate Web site.

International organizations...

The Child Rights Information Network (CRIN) is an organization whose main objective is to improve the lives of children by providing information to other organizations and to individuals.

The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers works to prevent the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, to secure their demobilization and to ensure their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

Defence for Children International is an international organization that works to promote and protect the rights of the child; its work is based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Free the Children is an international network of children dedicated to eliminating the exploitation of children around the world. Youth are encouraged to volunteer in and create programs and activities that relieve the plight of underprivileged children.

Children International is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children living in poverty.

Educational Tools...

The Human Rights Program at the Department of Canadian Heritage has supported a number of projects that teach human rights to children. Recent projects include:

Keeping the Promise: The Canadian Child Care Federation (CCCF) published posters to display the Convention on the Rights of the Child in plain "child-friendly" language in homes, pre-schools, community centres and other places frequented by young children and parents. The posters are available on-line. Canadian Heritage has also participated with the CCCF in raising public awareness of children's rights in early childhood care. Two fact sheets have been produced - one for parents and one for early childhood education and care workers.

• The Canadian Institute of Child Health has produced a fact sheet on the rights of children in the health care system, drawing strongly on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Right Way Project:(Save the Children Canada) is an interactive training workshop that educates on rights and gives youth a chance to practice self advocacy skills in simulated situations where those rights are being violated. The objectives are: to provide children and youth with information about their rights; give children and youth an opportunity to develop the skills necessary to speak up about one's rights; and promote the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

• The John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights developed material to introduce human rights education into summer camps and programs for children in Alberta.

• The YMCA in Montréal has developed a manual entitled Hands Up!: A Hands-On Approach to Children's Rights, to provide tips to educators, childcare and youth workers on how to incorporate human rights education for children (ages 3-12) into community programs.

Other organizations, such as the Children Rights Centre of the University College of Cape Breton and the Calgary Board of Education , offer educational material to teach human rights to children and youth.

Those interested in learning more about these projects should contact the organizations for further information.


  • [1] "Respecting Children's Rights at Home," Resource Sheet 64, Child and Family Canada
  • [2] The Government of Quebec has stated that it agrees with the general principles of the National Child Benefit. Quebec chose not to participate in it because it wanted to assume control over income support for children in Quebec; however, it has adopted a similar approach.
  • [3] While sharing concerns on early childhood development, Quebec did not adhere to the Early Childhood Development Agreement because of concerns regarding constitutional jurisdiction on social matters. Quebec intends to preserve its sole responsibility for developing, planning, managing and delivering early childhood development programs.


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