A new UNICEF report released today highlights the challenges that high-income countries like Canada face in meeting global commitments for children. Canada does comparatively well in some aspects of child and youth well-being, but lags farthest behind other countries in concerning indicators of child health and violence.
In Oh Canada! Our Kids Deserve Better, the Canadian Companion to the global report, UNICEF digs deeper into the data around child well-being in Canada, busting many of the myths commonly held about what it’s like to grow up in Canada.
UNICEF’s global report, Report Card 14: Building the Future, reveals that Canada ranks 25th out of 41 rich nations when it comes to child well-being. When compared against 21 indicators related to progress towards the global Sustainable Development Goals for children and youth, Canada ranks in the middle – a place it has held for more than a decade. Of these indicators, seven have improved over time but more have worsened.
“I’ve spoken to so many Canadians from across the country who believe ours is a great country for our kids to grow up in, but it’s time to face the facts: too many of our children are unhealthy, unsafe and unequal,” said David Morley, UNICEF Canada President and CEO. “This is not a picture of difficult lives for a few, but of a country with the potential to create better lives for many children and youth. This report shows us not only where we rank, but also how we can get to the top, and build the Canada all of our kids deserve.”
Child homicide, suicide, bullying at alarming levels
Canada has the fifth-highest rate of bullying at 15 per cent, ranking 27th out of 41 countries. Unlike many of its peers, Canada has been unsuccessful in bringing bullying rates down over the past 10 years. Canada’s child homicide rate is higher than average, ranking 33rd out of 41 countries. Canada also ranks 31st out of 41 for teen suicide.
“The findings of this report are tragic because they paint a picture of Canada that many of us don’t want to see,” said Morley. “Yet we must confront reality: our kids are being pulled down by the weight of too many pressures, and they’re not getting the support they need. It’s our shared responsibility to look at the facts and resolve to do better.”
Air quality barely below safe levels
Canada’s air pollution is just barely below the safe level set out by the World Health Organization. In fact, air quality hasn’t improved in Canada in the past 10 years, placing it behind the United States.
“When we can’t even promise our children clean air to breathe, we have to really stop and ask ourselves, as a country, what are our priorities? When did it become OK to put our kids’ health at such risk?” said Morley. “We are hoping this 150th year of Canada’s Confederation is the baseline to move the needle. It’s time to get to the top of these league tables, to a Canada where children are at the heart of not only our values, but our actions too.”
UNICEF Canada calls on all levels of government to:
- Invest more and earlier in children. All levels of government need to cooperate to put in place universal, progressive policies and programs for the early years combined with a capacity to identify those falling behind.
- Make data-driven decisions to prioritize efforts to improve child well-being. Improved monitoring and measurement of child well-being will ensure investments are made wisely and policies put in place with greater positive impact – focusing on the measurable indicators where Canada is lagging.
- Develop a Global Goals strategy. Engage in the development of a pan-Canadian strategy to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, which incorporates key targets for children’s rights and well-being.
UNICEF Canada also calls on Canadians to:
- Dream for Canada’s children. Start a conversation in your family, community and workplace about what you want for your children, and take action to keep those dreams alive.
- Engage your communities and cities. Agree to tackle specific lagging indicators of child well-being and challenge each other to improve your rankings, or beat the national average.
UNICEF Report Card Key Findings:
- Overall, Canada ranks 25th out of 41 rich nations in child well-being.
- Most areas of child well-being showed no improvement or worsened in Canada over the last decade.
- 22.2 per cent of Canada’s children are living in relative income poverty, placing Canada 32nd out of 41 countries.
- Canada ranks 29th of 41 countries when it comes to unhealthy weight of children. Nearly 25 per cent of young people are obese, above the average of 15 per cent.
- Canada ranks 27th out of 41 countries in bullying, with the fifth-highest rate of 15 per cent.
- Canada ranks 33rd out of 41 countries in child homicide, with a rate higher than the average.
- Teen mental health has been declining: 22 per cent of adolescents in Canada report mental health symptoms more than once a week. Canada ranks 31st out of 41 countries in the teen suicide rate.
- 90.8 per cent of 15-year-olds in Canada achieve baseline competency in reading, mathematics and science, the fourth best result.
- 71 per cent of 15-year-olds report being aware of at least five or more environmental issues.
Learn more by visiting UNICEF Canada.