Nov. 20 is National Child Day — the day we celebrate Canada’s signed commitment to two child-rights documents: the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child (1959) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).
Canada’s signing of these documents means that the government will acknowledge, respect and support the rights of children regardless of their circumstances, race, gender, sexual orientation, ability or any other factor.
All children in Canada have the right to survival; the right to develop to their fullest potential; the right to be protected from harm, neglect and exploitation; and the right to participate fully in family, cultural, and social life.
The Representative for Children and Youth’s Office (RCYO) in Iqaluit, works on behalf of all young Nunavummiut and their families to ensure that the Government of Nunavut upholds children’s rights.
“The future of Nunavut rests with our children,” says Jane Bates, Representative for Children and Youth in Nunavut, “which is why, right now, we, as the adults and decision makers, must do everything we can to support the rights of children and their right to healthy development.”
Several things guide the work of the RCYO, which include the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Inuit societal values. According to Bates, Inuit societal values have many similarities with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“Our role is to make sure the Government of Nunavut is doing everything possible to support young people in the territory so they grow and develop into capable individuals who support themselves, their families and communities,” says Bates. “We are all in this together,” which ties into the Inuit societal values of Piliriqatigiinniq, working together for a common cause; and Pijitsirniq, serving and providing for family and community.
The future of Nunavut
National Child Day reminds us of what has already been accomplished in Nunavut to support children’s rights while recognizing that there is still much work to be done.
“This is Canada,” says Bates. “We should not be questioning why the basic needs of our children and their families are not being met.”
Access to adequate and safe homes; affordable, healthy food; clean drinking water; protection from all forms of abuse; and child- and youth-specific mental health services, are just a few of the ongoing issues that the government needs to prioritize, according to Bates.
Encouraging young people to speak up
“Children have a voice that needs to be heard,” says Bates, which aligns with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and with the Inuit societal value of Aajiiqatigiinniq, decision making through discussion and consensus.
“Simply hearing the young person’s opinion does not mean that they get to make the decision and it doesn’t exclude the opinion of the child’s parents or caregivers,” says Bates. “But, what it does do is support that the decision made is considerate of the child’s opinion.”
Encouraging young people to participate in decisions about their lives also supports Pilimmaksarniq, the development of skills through observation, mentoring, practice and effort.
Every day, and especially on National Child Day, the RCYO reminds us that everyone has rights, including children, and it’s our responsibility to demand that the government supports those rights.
If you, or a young person you know, feels that their rights have not been supported by a government service or program, you can contact the RCYO. All information reported is confidential and can be reported anonymously. Call 867-975-5090 in Iqaluit or 1-855-449-8118 anywhere in Canada, text 1-855-449-8118, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow them on Facebook here.