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Is Canada Letting Down Kids? New UNICEF Report Says Yes
April 10, 2013
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Canada seems like a great, safe place to raise children. But according to a new UNICEF report, we're not doing a very good job ensuring the well-being of our kids.

'Report Card 11: Child Well-Being In Rich Countries' ranks Canada 17th out of 29 countries for the well-being of children, and finds that we score "below average" on issues such as child poverty, obesity, and children's life satisfaction.

In fact, Canada has scored at about this level for nearly a decade, and UNICEF Canada President David Morley says that needs to change.

"As a Canadian, I'm ashamed," Morley said. "The fact that our children rank in the bottom half when compared to other industrialized nations simply isn't good enough."

"It is clear Canada can do better. Protecting and promoting the well-being of our children must become a national priority."

The top five countries in the report are the Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Finland and Sweden. The U.S. ranked 26th.

Canada's worst category was health and safety, CBC News reports - we ranked 27th of the 29 countries studied. Only Romania and Latvia ranked lower.

We also ranked 27th on overweight children, 21st on high rates of bullying, and 22nd in terms of infant mortality.

Morley says different reporting methods for infant deaths in other countries may be partly responsible for that ranking.

But infant mortality rates are notably higher in aboriginal communities than in the rest of Canada and there is significant room for improvement, according to the report.

If the stats don't look good, neither does this - UNICEF took a survey of Canadian children, and based on their responses, ranked us 24th.


"I can't speak for the other countries, but I think when the myth or the aspirations and the reality are so far apart, children don't have that same feeling of well-being," Morley said. "They feel that they are being thwarted in their hopes and dreams."

The report finds that 84 per cent of Canadian kids rate their level of "life satisfaction" as fairly high, but they are not as positive about their relationships with classmates and parents.

Canada scored above average in some categories - 11th in housing and environment, 15th in material well-being, and 14th in education (including 2nd in educational achievement by age 15, behind Finland).

However, Canada ranked 24th with low rates of children aged 15-19 participating in further education.

On the positive side, Canada scored well on smoking, with young people's tobacco use here the third-lowest of all the countries surveyed.

But just because Canadian kids aren't smoking tobacco, it doesn't mean they're not smoking: we have the highest rate of cannabis use in the report.

According to UNICEF, about 28 per cent of Canadians aged 11, 13 and 15 said they've smoked pot in the past year. Norway, meanwhile, had a rate of less than five per cent, the lowest of all the countries surveyed.


The CBC News Community Blog is asking what people think Canada should do about youth cannabis use - check out their post and weigh in here.

UNICEF Canada has offered some general recommendations to improve things.

It's calling for for all three levels of government to provide more information on the amount of money they spend on children and how it actually helps kids.

It also wants a national children's commissioner to be appointed, who would release a regular "state of the children" report.

The key for Morley is focusing on the problem and working on child-specific policies.

"Some takes money, some takes attitude, and I think we have to look at both of those," he said.

You can see the overall rankings from 1st to 29th on the Toronto Star's website right here.


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