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National Child Day: Moving beyond 'paper' rights [CA-SK]

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Bernstein, Marvin
Publication Date: 
20 Nov 2007

See text below.


Today is National Child Day. Proclaimed by the federal government in 1993, it celebrates two historic events: the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child in 1959 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on Nov. 20, 1989.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified by the Canadian government on Dec. 11, 1991. Likewise, the Saskatchewan Legislature confirmed its own support earlier on the very same date. "Support for the convention is essential because it reaffirms our responsibility for the care and well-being of all children in our society," the provincial government said. "The convention also serves as a reminder that as long as there are still children in this province who are not receiving the care and protection to which they are entitled, there is more which must be done."

This year, National Child Day has special significance, as the convention turns 18: As of Nov. 20, children reaching that age will be the first generation born under the convention's universal rights. But while Canada, and Saskatchewan, have made some progress in protecting the rights and promoting the well-being of this first generation, to a great extent, these entitlements have not been sufficiently implemented and have been largely relegated to mere "paper" rights.

On the occasion of this special National Child Day, we must, as a province and as a community, pledge a stronger commitment to the next generation of children born with rights under the convention. We must all seek opportunities to make a tangible difference in their lives and to ensure that they will be able to practically access and exercise their rights. In this way, we will go a great distance towards transforming these "paper" rights into actual "lived" rights.


Recent developments at the federal level from the Senate and the Supreme Court of Canada have helped advance a "child first" focus on the issue of rights and child welfare. Consideration is also being given to the establishment of an independent national children's commissioner to monitor the federal government's implementation of children's rights. Seen as an opportunity to build consensus at a national level for all children, and to bridge interjurisdictional issues for the particular benefit of aboriginal children in individual provinces, this recommendation has been endorsed and supported by my office and other provincial children's advocates across Canada.

The convention expressly recognizes that parents have the most important role in bringing up their children. The text encourages parents to deal with rights issues with their children "in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child." As former senator Landon Pearson has stated, "The standards set by the convention should not be seen as entitlements that set the child against the adult world. On the contrary, they represent the highest norms of civilized behaviour."

It is imperative for children and youth to have as many advocates as possible. I encourage everyone &emdash; parents, family members, teachers, caregivers and professionals &emdash; to become effective advocates for children and youth and to find practical ways of helping them on a day-to-day basis. Can we transform children's "paper" rights into "lived" ones? It is my sincere hope that by National Child Day 2008, we will see Saskatchewan taking the lead in moving beyond the rhetoric of children's rights and in making the convention a reality for all of our children and youth.

* Marvin Bernstein is Saskatchewan Children's Advocate.

- reprinted from the Globe and Mail

Entered Date: 
23 Nov 2007
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