Suffer the little children

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Looking back on the events of 2014, it becomes clear this has not been a great year to be a child. Not in Winnipeg. Not in Canada. Not globally. Despite the firmly held belief childhood is a wonderful time in a person's life, statistics reveal a much darker reality, and it's something to which we should be paying attention.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/12/2014 (2956 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Looking back on the events of 2014, it becomes clear this has not been a great year to be a child. Not in Winnipeg. Not in Canada. Not globally. Despite the firmly held belief childhood is a wonderful time in a person’s life, statistics reveal a much darker reality, and it’s something to which we should be paying attention.

Canada has the highest rate of children in care, when compared to other industrialized countries, and Manitoba has the highest rates compared to the rest of the country. Eighty-five per cent of kids in care are aboriginal and 7.5 per cent of Manitoba kids under the age of seven will have been taken into care. These are the leftovers from racist state policies and programs that made child-welfare intervention for First Nations kids a multi-generational fact.

The numbers are staggering.

More staggering is the realization the Manitoba government — an NDP government — uses low-paid, private workers to care for these kids in hotel rooms in a bid to save money and balance its budget. At one point, 65 kids in care were being housed in hotel rooms, with reports they were being exposed to prostitution, drug use and violence. One of those kids was Tina Fontaine, the 15-year-old found slain, her body dumped in the Red River in August. This is not a statistic any government can take pride in.

Being a child in Manitoba may also mean being hungry. Winnipeg Harvest feeds 27,000 kids a month. In 2001, it fed 5,500 children. Manitoba is consistently the No. 1 province for food bank usage.

It becomes clear we are not ensuring kids in this province have access to basic fundamental needs such as food. As a city, we should be horrified. While it’s easy to sit back in our warm homes and blame the parents for the situation, the bottom line is, we’re failing children.

Statistically, children in Canada fare relatively well compared to other wealthy nations. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund in a report published in 2013, Canada sits about mid-way when compared to other wealthy countries in terms of providing for children. The four Nordic countries and the Netherlands are the clear leaders in ensuring kids are safe, well-fed and well-cared for. Where we fall down is in the category of infant mortality, and again, Manitoba can be singled out as doing a particularly terrible job in this dimension.

Of the three richest nations in the developed world, Canada along with the United Kingdom and the United States are in the bottom third of countries for low infant mortality rates. Manitoba has the highest rate of all the provinces in Canada, while Nunavut has the highest rate in the territories. For UNICEF, high mortality rates for infants can be read “as a measure of commitment to maternal and child health for all.” Clearly, our commitment is lacking.

Globally, it also has not been a great year to be a kid.

UNICEF called 2014 a “devastating year for millions of children.” Executive director Anthony Lake said: “Children have been killed while studying in the classroom and while sleeping in their beds; they have been orphaned, kidnapped, tortured, recruited, raped and even sold as slaves. Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such unspeakable brutality.”

According to UNICEF’s annual report, as many as 15 million children are caught up in violent conflicts, and an estimated 230 million children currently live in countries and areas affected by armed conflicts.

In Canada, we reconstructed our concept of childhood beginning in the mid-19th century to remove the requirement for children to work and to provide kids with a period in which they could be nurtured. In the era following the Second World War, Canadians took a certain sense of pride in how well we cared for our children.

Frankly, in 2014, in Winnipeg, in Manitoba and globally, we really need to hang our heads in shame. These figures indicate we have a lot of work left to do.

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