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Canada has a poor record on promoting children’s rights and healthy development, including scandalously high rates of child poverty, according to a new report released on National Child Day.  Improving the situation starts with strong public services like child care.

The Unicef Canada report looks at the well-being of children 18 years after our government signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Despite helping draft this progressive – and legally-binding - document, our country hasn’t lived up to its expectations. Canada ranks 12 out of 21 wealthy countries. The report looked at child poverty, health, violence, education and obesity.

One in six Canadian children live in poverty, and rates have risen 20 per cent since 1989. Aboriginal child poverty is almost double the national average, and many in remote communities don’t have access to safe water, proper housing and quality education. These damning statistics aren’t a new development – nor are they news to MPs and senators. A Senate report released earlier this year warned many children were falling through the gaps. Yet the federal and some provincial governments continue to underfund and cut the services that could close the gaps.

Ending child poverty starts with strong public services like housing, education, child care and water. The Unicef report comes on the same day Bill C-303, the NDP’s Early Learning and Child Care Act, returns to Parliament to begin third reading. The bill lays the foundation for a strong, pan-Canadian child care system and protects child care from a foreign, big box takeover.

The UN convention recognizes child care as a human right, stating that national governments must “ensure the development of institutions, facilities and services for the care of children” – and that those services must provide high quality care. The convention also commits Canada to “ensure that children of working parents have the right to benefit from child care services and facilities”.

A high-quality, non-profit child care system gives children an excellent start in life, and helps parents work or get further education and training, allowing them to break the cycle of poverty.

Activists with Code Blue for Child Care are organizing public signings of a National Child Day proclamation that calls for Parliament to pass Bill C-303, as well as demanding governments at all levels act to stop the spread of “big box” child care. CUPE is preparing to step up the pressure on elected officials, in coalition with Code Blue and other allies in the labour and social justice movements.

While Unicef Canada points to improvements in children’s health and education, the organization’s head says “there’s absolutely no doubt we can improve the situation of Canadian children.”

Take action by emailing your MP urging them to make Bill C-303 the law. You can also sign Unicef’s petition calling for Canada to appoint a children’s commissioner who has the power to hold the governments to account on these crucial issues.

Or you can download and send this Unicef postcard to Prime Minister Stephen Harper at pm@pm.gc.ca.