Canada must address the crisis faced by aboriginal children

VancouverSun.ca – columnists – Much is needed to fix long-standing disparities between them and other children
Published: Monday, November 07, 2011.   Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun

Among the advocates’ 40 recommendations are that Canada establish an Aboriginal Children’s Institute for Research as well as a monitored and evaluated national aboriginal children’s plan aimed at reducing poverty.

They also recommend: improved health infrastructure in remote communities; a national aboriginal educational framework; a national commission to examine child trafficking, sexual exploitation and homelessness; targeted programs promoting Internet safety.

Legislation that perpetuates discriminatory practices including the denial of aboriginal rights to children whose mothers married non-aboriginal men must be amended.

And more must be done to ensure that provinces, territories and the federal government live up to their commitment that the government of first contact will provide for the health and welfare needs of any aboriginal child. In addition to their own recommendations, both the council of advocates and UNICEF Canada support another report done by the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children.

Key among its recommendations are: developing a rights-based lens for reviewing and amending provincial and federal legislation; establishing systematic monitoring of legislation and programs; abandoning proposed changes to the juvenile justice act.

The justice act changes will have their greatest effect on aboriginal youth. Shockingly, as the advocates note, an aboriginal youth is more likely to be sentenced to youth custody than to graduate from high school.

More than 27,000 aboriginal youth were sentenced to custody in 2007 and 2008. Another 47,000 were put on probation. Those numbers are almost certain to rise under the proposed legislation because of the emphasis on incarceration and mandatory sentences which don’t account for special circumstances such as fetal alcohol syndrome.

Canada has much to do for all children to meet the UN Convention’s minimum standards. But of greater urgency is paying specific attention to aboriginal children, who are the most vulnerable of all.

dbramham@vancouversun.com

. The council’s report is available at http: //tinyurl.com/3d7dl7v and the text of the Convention on the Rights of the Child can be found at www2. ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm

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