Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to this motion before the House inviting the Government of Canada to establish a national children's memorial day.
The idea of establishing a special day to pay tribute to Canadian children is commendable. It illustrates Canada's determination to respect children, to never forget them and to pay tribute to them for all they bring us during our lives.
I am happy to note that this idea of the importance of children already received the support of the House when it passed Bill C-371, the National Child Day Act exactly ten years ago. This act designates November 20 of each year as a day to pay tribute to children. National Child Day has a positive impact on their life, their accomplishments and their role in society.
In the last ten years, National Child Day has become an important mechanism in helping communities and families pay tribute to children, and respect and cherish them in the ways they deem to be the most appropriate.
In the next few minutes, I would like to discuss the progress this country has made vis-à-vis children thanks to National Child Day. This important day has helped us better understand the rights that have been recognized for children and has prompted us to strengthen our collective commitment to provide Canadian children with the opportunities they need to develop their full potential.
National Child Day is observed on November 20 in order to commemorate two historic initiatives of the United Nations: the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, on November 20, 1959 and, even more important, the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, on November 20, 1989.
The convention is the most complete international agreement on human rights that has ever been negotiated. It establishes fundamental rights for children around the world, and protects these rights by setting standards for the survival, growth and protection of children.
This convention addresses all aspects of the lives of children from birth to age 18, particularly their basic rights to food, housing, and accessible drinking water. It also deals with health care, recreation, education, protection against exploitation and violence, and the opportunity to be heard in matters that concern them.
It is also important to note that the convention assigns an essential role to parents and the family as far as child-rearing is concerned, and provides a framework focussed on parental rights and responsibilities.
Since the United Nations adopted it in 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child has become the most heavily ratified treaty in the history of human rights.
As a signatory to the convention, the Government of Canada has made a commitment to enforce its provisions within the framework of its own laws, programs and policies. National Child Day is one of the most positive and tangible manifestations of that national commitment.
Since 1994, Health Canada has played a major role in National Child Day by preparing and distributing educational documents on the convention, and supporting special events aimed at raising public awareness of such vital issues as child protection and safety and healthy development.
Just recently National Child Day activities have been combined with another major UN activity, the special session on children held last spring in New York.
In preparation for the session, the Government of Canada took advantage of National Child Day 2001 to invite children and youth to express opinions on issues of concern to them. Their comments were collected in a report called “Your Voice Matters:Young People Speak Out on Issues Related to the UN Special Session on Children”.
One of the salient points of the report was that Canadian children and young people are very anxious to see their environment protected and to be safe from violence.
The opinions of Canadian youth were integrated into the declaration and outcome document of the special session, “A World Fit for Children”.
This action plan supports the principles and goals of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and consists of a program outlining goals, strategies and actions in the following four areas: promoting healthy lives, providing quality education, protecting against abuse, exploitation and violence, and combating HIV/AIDS.
In order to have the program reach every household, the theme of National Child Day 2002 was “A World Fit for Children”.
This theme was the basis for wide-reaching activities, including the production of a CD-ROM for teachers on the rights of the child. It was created in collaboration with NGOs such as Save the Children Canada, UNICEF, and the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children. It was distributed last fall to a representative sampling of schools across the country. This CD-ROM provides information on National Child Day, the UN Special Session on Children and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It also offers creative activities enabling children to learn about their rights, visit educational Web sites and be informed about the Canadian Children's Art Gallery project.
This artistic project led to the creation and distribution of postcards promoting a world fit for children, and to their participation in the activities marking World Child Day in 2002. These postcards were sent all over the country, to schools and RCMP detachments chosen at random.
Among the activities related to National Child Day, November 20, 2002, was an opportunity for Health Canada to reprint a poster for children, explaining the Convention on the Rights of the Child in simple terms.
The department also updated its popular Web site about National Child Day, adding other information on the rights of children and on the United Nations Special Session.
National Child Day in 2002 was also marked by the publication of two important reports on the Government of Canada's progress in helping young children get a good start in life.
The first one, entitled “Report on Early Childhood Development Activities and Expenditures”, sets out the government's progress in supporting young children and their families under the Early Childhood Development Agreement announced by federal, provincial and territorial first ministers in September 2000.
The activities listed included a new folic acid awareness campaign, improved maternity and parental benefits, and projects which were recently subsidized under Heath Canada's Community Action Program for Children.
The second report released on National Child Day 2002, entitled “The Well-Being of Canada's Young Children”, shows that the vast majority of these children are growing up in safe and secure environments. It points out that improvements are required with respect to collecting data on aboriginal children and children with disabilities, two areas the government is currently looking into.
The reports and activities I just mentioned show how important National Child Day is as a yearly reminder of this country's standing commitment to ensuring the health and well-being of its youngest and most vulnerable citizens.
The most important message National Child Day sends to Canadians is to do everything in their power to ensure that our children are surrounded by love, sympathy and understanding as they develop, that they are considered as individuals at the early stage of their development and that they are provided with every opportunity to achieve their full potential as adults.
A decade after the National Child Day Act was passed in this House, it is gratifying to see this national day occupy such a special place in the hearts of families, educational institutions, businesses, day care centres, youth groups and community organizations in every part of the country.
I am delighted that the spirit of this motion is consistent with the initiative already taken by our government. We will gladly support this motion which will ensure that we remember individually and collectively the children we have lost.