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First Nations children face crisis, advocates to tell UN

Feb 03 2012

An alliance of child advocates from across Canada will brief the United Nations next week on the crisis facing aboriginal children.

The Canadian Council of Child and Youth Advocates plans to use its appearance before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to press for a national strategy to deal with the problem.

"We believe that the situation facing aboriginal children in Canada today — a matter of national importance — requires Canada to implement special measures for aboriginal children on an urgent basis," the council says in a 60-page report to the committee.

Irwin Elman, Ontario's child advocate, will present the report at a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday.

The alliance of government-appointed child advocates from 10 provinces and territories notes that aboriginal children are the fastest growing segment of Canada's population. Yet, despite the country's wealth, they "face a bleak reality and future."

Too many aboriginal children live in poverty and overcrowded housing with inadequate plumbing and drinking water, the report says. They are more likely to die young than other Canadians. They lag in education and general health. They suffer higher rates of suicide and substance abuse, and they end up in jail or government care far more often than non-aboriginals.

"Our analysis reveals a crisis in aboriginal children's lives that must be addressed," says the report, Aboriginal Children: Canada Must Do Better.

B.C.'s child advocate Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, president of the national council, said the report will allow the UN to ask informed questions when Canadian officials appear before the committee in September.

"I think it's very important that there be international attention to the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child for all countries," she said. "But Canada can't escape that. They ratified the convention more than 20 years ago. . . . It's really important that Canada takes its position seriously and can speak about what it's doing."

The child advocates make 40 recommendations for change. They want Canada to:

• Develop a national plan for aboriginal children

• Hold a national conference on aboriginal children's issues

• Establish a federal commissioner to advocate on behalf of aboriginal and vulnerable children

• Develop a national aboriginal children's research institute to identify key issues, measure progress and identify strategies that are working.

Turpel-Lafond said the advocates highlights serious problem across the country, including cases in which aboriginal children have no access to safe schools.

"They don't have a safe place in their community to learn or they're being sent away long distances to learn," she said. "They can't have teachers. The teachers quit, they don't stay, because they can't pay their teachers adequately.

"So there are some real basic issues around their right to education, their right to safe housing, their access to health care."

lkines@timescolonist.com

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