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Today Is Universal Children’s Day, So Let’s Celebrate Kids & Fight For Their Rights
November 20, 2012
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Each November 20, the world celebrates Universal Children's Day.

It's a day to appreciate children for just being themselves and to recognize them as important and valued members of society, now and in the future.

The day was first suggested in 1954 by the UN General Assembly, to encourage fraternity and understanding between children around the world.

Since then, the General Assembly has adopted two landmark documents - the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.

They cover everything from a child's right to be free from exploitation, to the right to his or her own opinion, and the right to education, health care, and economic opportunity.

To mark the day, Google put up this image on its homepage - featuring children watching a medieval jester and his puppet.

today-is-universal-children's-day-so-let's-celebrate-kids-and-fight-for-their-rights-feature1.jpg

In Canada, this day is designated as National Child Day.

The United Nations Association in Canada says it is "a day to remind us that children need love and respect to grow to their full potential," and "a day to listen to children, to marvel at their uniqueness and all they have to offer."

Of course, as important as that sentiment is, the reality for many children is far from perfect.

today-is-universal-children's-day-so-let's-celebrate-kids-and-fight-for-their-rights-feature2.jpg In 1989, all members of the House of Commons agreed to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. It still hasn't happened.

In this country, one in ten children are poor. That's 639-thousand children.

today-is-universal-children's-day-so-let's-celebrate-kids-and-fight-for-their-rights-feature3.jpg It's even worse in aboriginal communities. One in four First Nations and Inuit children grows up in poverty.

And overall in Canada, more than 300,000 children rely on food banks.

In fact, a UNICEF report from earlier this year said Canada is well behind most other developed countries when it comes to fighting child poverty.

"The face of poverty in Canada is a child's face," UNICEF Canada's executive director David Morley said at the time. "This is unacceptable."

Out of 35 countries, Canada was in the bottom third with a child poverty rate of 13.3 per cent - a slight improvement over the past five years.

The report said that since the 2008 economic crisis, there's been little attention paid to child poverty.

And it points out that Canada's child poverty rate is higher today than in 1989, when MP's promised real action.

"Because children have only one opportunity to develop normally in mind and body, the commitment to protection from poverty must be upheld in good times and in bad." the report said.

"A society that fails to maintain that commitment... is a society that is failing its most vulnerable citizens and storing up intractable social and economic problems for the years immediately ahead."

today-is-universal-children's-day-so-let's-celebrate-kids-and-fight-for-their-rights-feature4.jpg Aside from the big picture, there's the day to day consequences.

Kids who have to wear old clothes that don't fit, or can't afford to take piano lessons or play on a hockey team, or go to school with no breakfast.

As Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. David Butler-Jones said in a 2009 report:

"When children go to school hungry or poorly nourished, their energy levels, memory, problem-solving skills, creativity, concentration and behaviour are all negatively impacted."

"As a result of being hungry at school, these children may not reach their full developmental potential -- an outcome that can have a health impact throughout their entire lives."

Right now, the federal government invests $13.2 billion in children. By comparison, it invests $40.4 billion in benefits to senior citizens.

As a result, seniors' poverty has declined to 6.3 per cent.

"There is no excuse not to apply the same determination to reduce child poverty as we have for our elderly," said Morley.

The report did note that Canada does better than the United States when it comes to using taxes and transfers to help kids.

"The good news from this is that when we invest in things like early childhood education, when we invest in early health care, when we invest in helping the most vulnerable children... it makes a difference," Morley said.

The report also urged Canada to establish a national strategy aimed at reducing poverty, particularly for children.

Right now, Canada doesn't have an official definition of poverty. UNICEF says that makes it difficult to come to grips with or fix the problem.

Campaign 2000 is a national advocacy group that tracks child poverty.

In its latest report, released last December, it pointed out that Canada's economy had doubled over the past 10 years.

But the incomes of the country's poorest families has stayed the same.

Campaign 2000's new report is entitled 'Needed: A Federal Action Plan to Eradicate Child and Family Poverty in Canada.'

It comes out tomorrow.

today-is-universal-children's-day-so-let's-celebrate-kids-and-fight-for-their-rights-feature5.jpg Along with poverty, a new study suggests children are increasingly concerned about the health of the planet and have fears about pollution and natural disasters.

The study - entitled 'Small Voices, Big Dreams' - was done for Christian Children's Fund of Canada and ChildFund Alliance.

Researchers surveyed more than 6,000 kids - aged 10 to 12 - in 47 countries (36 developing, 11 developed).

One-third of children around the world said pollution is the environmental problem they worry most about.

One-fifth are most concerned about natural disasters, such as drought, earthquakes and floods.

53 per cent of Canadian children said they were most worried about pollution.

"This year, we asked children about their hopes, dreams and fears, as well as their thoughts on the environment, and they had a lot to say," said Mark Lukowski, CEO of the Christian Children's Fund of Canada.

"Whether from urban Canada or rural Africa, it was meaningful to hear the voices of this next generation".

today-is-universal-children's-day-so-let's-celebrate-kids-and-fight-for-their-rights-feature6.jpg The survey also notes how recent events play into children's fears.

In Africa, which has experienced major weather events such as drought, more than 25 per cent of kids said natural disasters are their biggest environmental concern.

By contrast, many children in the Americas said pollution.

"When Canadian children were asked what they could do to help change the world, over half suggested tactics to prevent people from littering or causing pollution," said Lukowski.

A couple of other highlights from the survey:

• Children in developing countries tend to dream of careers that will ensure the basic needs of their community are met. One in four said they wanted to be a teacher, social worker or health care professional.

• Children in developed countries had a higher desire for becoming professional athletes and entertainers than kids in developing countries.

"Listening to the voices of children contributes to our understanding of how they view and experience the world and helps guide our priorities and programs," said Lukowski.

"We are reminded that children can think beyond themselves and consider how their world can be improved."

Related stories

Canada's Education System Is Failing First Nations Kids: Report To The UN

World Food Day: Hunger Is The World's Greatest Solvable Problem; Here's How We Can Do It

Fighting Child Oppression: It's The World Day Against Child Labour

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