Best interests ignored
In 2012, the UNCRC’s Committee on the Rights of the Child raised significant concerns about Canada’s compliance efforts, says Donna J. Martinson, a retired BC judge who chairs the UNCRC subcommittee of CBA’s Children’s Law Committee and leads the toolkit project along with Christian Whalen.
“There are many children in Canada who experience human rights violations on a daily basis. But they don’t have adequate information about their rights, and don’t have the ability to remedy those violations,” Martinson noted in an email.
“Too many children are living in poverty, without adequate education or healthcare, and experiencing violence of all kinds, while at the same time having their best interests undervalued or completely ignored,” added Martinson, who, together with Suzanne Williams, co-chaired a recent Vancouver conference on access to justice for children.
“Children rarely have the chance to participate in the making of decisions that impact significantly upon their lives, and they almost never have separate legal representation. Urgent attention is required both generally, and with respect to the particular concerns of Indigenous children.”
There has been some evolution at the public-policy level in how parliamentarians or decision-makers view children’s rights, added Williams, an associate of the International Institute for Child Rights and Development.
In the mid-2000s, Canada’s standing committee on children’s rights advocated a rights-based approach. Now, “in the legal world, it’s not uncommon to see ‘views of the child’ ” considered in decision-making, Williams noted. “That wasn’t there 20 years ago.”
But there is still room for Canada to play a leadership role in children’s rights, Birdsell says. The CBA’s Children’s Law Committee is pushing the federal government to establish a national children’s commissioner. Most provinces have a child/youth advocate, but this still leaves a gap for children involved in federal matters, such as aboriginal law and immigration, says Whalen.
RIGHTS OF THE CHILD
Here are three examples of protected rights under the UN Convention.
1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
2. For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.
1. States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.
2. Such protective measures should, as appropriate, include effective procedures for the establishment of social programmes to provide necessary support for the child and for those who have the care of the child, as well as for other forms of prevention and for identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment and follow-up of instances of child maltreatment described heretofore, and, as appropriate, for judicial involvement.
1. States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that a child who is seeking refugee status or who is considered a refugee in accordance with applicable international or domestic law and procedures shall, whether unaccompanied or accompanied by his or her parents or by any other person, receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of applicable rights set forth in the present Convention and in other international human rights or humanitarian instruments to which the said States are Parties.