Introduction to child poverty in Canada
Many people have made the mistake of assuming that only people living in third-world developing countries face the challenge of child poverty. However, sadly, in reality, it is not so. Canada, which promises equality to its entire population, has been facing the problem of child poverty, which has become worse in recent times. “In Canada, minimum-wage earnings do not provide people with a fair income. In fact, minimum-wage earnings fall well below the poverty line.” (Raphael, 2006, 164)
It has been estimated that one in six children in Canada has to face poverty even though Canada is among the richest countries in the world. Canada has been ranked 17th by UNICEF to be among the developed countries facing child poverty. This is very unacceptable as Canada prides itself to be one of the best countries to live in. Child poverty has become a major issue in Canada, as more than 1.5 million children there have to live in poverty.
Children who have single parents or are of aboriginal origin have had to suffer the most. There are a lot of shelters and houses in Canada for the people but still, the children face a lot of challenges and end up having to live on the streets. They barely get to eat adequate food let alone proper meals every day and have to live on the clod streets without warm clothes. This ultimately leads to their death at very young ages. Thus, it is important for the Government to indulge more in welfare for the benefit of these children. (Ismael, 2006)
Child Poverty is a major issue
The province of British Columbia has the highest child poverty rate in Canada and after that comes Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In addition, about 44% of the children facing poverty live in Ontario making it the center of child poverty in Canada. The government has made numerous promises to reduce the total number of children living under poor conditions but has failed to keep each one of its promises. The analysis made by Statistics Canada remarked that there are more than 345,000 children who have to live in poor conditions in Ontario constituting the 44% of the total number of poor children all over Canada. This is a huge figure. A number of appeals have been made to the provincial government of Ontario to set a real target and timeline for reducing poverty finally and to make it their topmost priority.
Recently in order to fight against poverty in Ontario, for the first time, a bold step was taken in the history of Canada. Last year the provincial government of Ontario announced its very first poverty reduction strategy, which had real-time limits and targets for reducing poverty levels in Ontario. This reduction strategy aims at reducing the total number of kids who are surviving under extreme inhuman conditions in the next 5 years by around 25%. The lives of almost 90000 children will be saved as a result and benefits will be provided to the families with low incomes for enhancing their education. According to the plan, an additional investment of almost $1.3 billion will also be made annually for the Ontario Child Benefit Plan. (Galloway, 2007)
In 2000, the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centers or OFIFC had also issued a report on the families and children of aboriginal origin living in Ontario. This report gave us the real picture of the poor conditions of these families and children who had to live off reserves and made a number of suggestions on how to improve their situations. It was found that about 52.1% of the aboriginal children were all poor and they had a disability rate, which was two times more than their national average. Recent studies have also indicated that aboriginal children and families are the most likely people to experience hunger than all the other Canadian ethnic groups.
They do not have even the basic food supplies like milk, bread, or cereal for almost half a month. As they do not obtain adequate nutrition, their bodies become weak and they have poor physical and mental development. (Sumamo, 2007)
The aboriginal families are also not able to afford proper clothes to keep them warm in the winters. Most of them live in low-income and subsidized houses and have almost no access to medications and supplies for the infants. The children suffer from poor health problems and most of them die even before reaching adulthood. They have learning disabilities, long-lasting ear infections, dental problems, anemia, iron deficiency and numerous other problems. Their performance in the schools is very poor and this increases their suicide rates as they suffer from hopelessness, shame, frustration, intimidation, lack of self-confidence, anger, depression and low self-esteem.
The provincial government has undertaken a few unilateral activities, which has only increased the deteriorating conditions of the children and families of aboriginal origin. Social assistance has been cut down by almost 21.6%; elimination of more than 14,000 childcare grants, there has been a reduction in the child welfare funds and the mental health funds services for the children. Nevertheless, the biggest drawback for these aboriginal children and families is the clawing back of the National Child Tax Benefit from the various recipients of social assistance. (Ismael, 2006)
Causes of Child Poverty
The main reason due to which child poverty has become a major issue in Canada is due to the impact of the parents. It has been evaluated that almost 51.6% of women who are responsible for raising a family on their own are themselves poor. Even if they have a proper job, the wages received by 83% of the women and children are not sufficient to help them break through poverty. They are paid a very small wage that is not enough for the whole family. This has led to an increase in the number of children facing poverty by 45% since the year 1989. (Sumamo, 2007)
Other reasons include unemployment and violence in the families. Most of the adults who as a child were faced with poverty have very little educational qualifications, they face problems of unemployment; have poor health, and violent tempers leading to family violence. Furthermore, unemployment and violence in the household lead to bullying of the child who then becomes a member of some gang and takes part in brutal behaviors. Thus, the same pattern repeats itself in the family. Around 30% of the poor children belonging to working parents. However, they too are not paid enough to support a family even though they work at well-known large companies. Thus, they need to be paid a proper living wage so that they can support their families.
In addition, to understand the poverty situation of Canada we need to focus on her history. In the last 300 years, Canada has gone through two major economic structural changes, which have affected its societies hugely. The first was the Industrial Revolution and the second the more recent Information Revolution. Information revolution brought with it globalization. Thus, in the past 30 years due to improvements and increased distribution, transportation, and communication, there has been a growth in trade between the nations.
Foreign companies entered Canada and the local market faced increased competition making the Canadian companies reduce their total cost of goods production. Most of the companies were not able to face the competition and ultimately closed down. As a result, a huge number of people lost their jobs and were replaced by modern robotic technologies. This caused massive layoffs. People were forced into taking up low-paying jobs to support their families. (Corak, 2006)
Involvement of Canadian Government and other organizations
The government of Canada needs to implement different programs and address the present issue of child poverty to raise awareness among the people and reduce the challenge of child poverty. The Constitution of Canada includes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which ensures the security of the person to every Canadian citizen. However, the women and children who have to face poverty do not enjoy the right of security of the person. Living on the streets without food and shelter affects their health and endangers their lives. As they are homeless, they have no mental or physical security too. Thus, poverty simply means that the people are not getting their basic human rights.
Thus, it is the duty of the government and various organizations to take proper steps to completely eradicate poverty from the face of the country. It has been noted by the UN Human Rights Committee that the total number of food banks in Canada increased from a meager 75 in 1984 to almost 625 in 1998. Still, it is not enough and needs to increase a lot more. They have also observed that Canada has adopted certain policies, which have increased homelessness and poverty among its people during their strong economic growth.
According to the federal government, the Child Tax Benefits are meant to help the poor children, but the benefits granted are very meager and also most of the poorest kids are barred from obtaining them. Sometimes the benefits are even taken away by the provincial government. This needs to be stopped, as it is completely wrong. As said earlier children are mainly poor as they belong to a disadvantaged families. Thus, the best way to end their poverty is by allowing their families to support themselves in a proper way. (Westhues, 2006)
The children of single mothers face the worst kind of poverty, as almost 81% of them with children not even 7 years old have to live on the streets. Help needs to be provided to these single mothers so that they can take care of themselves and their children. The federal government and the provincial government need to make laws increasing the minimum pay of the workers. They have to be paid a minimum living wage, which enables them to take care of their families since; considering inflation, the wages that they get today is almost 30% lower then what it used to be 20 years ago. (Vleminckx, 2001)
The Canadian government has however, approved of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child or UNCRC and has agreed to provide the children their basic human rights. However, even though the Convention compels the Canadian government to provide its children with a proper standard of living, thousands of people have to visit the food banks as they have nothing to eat and almost half of these people are small children.
The Buen Inicio or Good Start is a local organization formed by the church that works with the poor parents, children and families in Canada. UNICEF not only provides their funds but also directly trains the members of the organization. They help to promote the development of the children right from their birth until they are about 3 years old. The organization provides a variety of services, like health checkups, nutrition for the younger children and hygiene.
They more specifically identify and locate young children and pregnant women so that various services are provided to them, like vitamin A supplements, iron supplements and oral rehydration salts (ORS). They also visit the families and provide them with person-to-person psychological counseling and advice. The services provided by them have helped more than 500 families in their locality. They have also developed local information programs using the community newspaper and local radio programs. (Moraes, 2006)
A campaign was introduced in Canada called the Campaign 2000 in 1991. It was mainly designed for the federal government in order to reduce child poverty by around 25% in five years and its double in ten years. It was started due to the lack of concern of the government towards the issue of child poverty. It aimed at raising the common person’s awareness of child poverty and to fulfill the requirements of the Canadian citizens satisfying the right of security of the person.
When the results of Campaign 2000 was released in Ottawa the Federal Government had to cancel its subsequent one percentage point GST cut so that the money could be used for eliminating child poverty. The report said that even though the House of Commons in 1989 had decided to stop child poverty, but even after 18 years and a 50% increase in Canada’s economy, the rate of child poverty is still 16.8%. In 1989, when the commitment to eradicate child poverty from Canada was made, the rate of child poverty in Canada was around 14.5%, which amounted to 936000 children. (Suárez-Orozco, 2008)
However, ten years later, in 1999, the rate of child poverty has soared reaching almost 18.5% or almost 1298000 children were living under extremely poor conditions. Thus, rather than obtaining a substantial drop in the rate of child poverty which everyone expected after such a public commitment, we, on the other hand see a massive increase. According to the report child, poverty rates are even higher among those families who face barriers of discrimination. In addition, 50% of the children of immigrant families fall under the poverty line. (Pagani, 1999)
The Campaign 2000 also urged Ottawa to launch an elaborate plan in order to tackle the issue of poverty. It also proposed some measures like raising the lowest wage of the people to $10 per hour, increasing the federal tax credits to around $2400 annually and increasing the National Child Benefit Supplement so that a child benefit plan for the families with low incomes can be created at about $5,100 per child annually. This will also help the parents to raise their children from the money that they receive. (Corak, 2006)
Even after so many reports were made to determine the rate of child poverty in Canada and help the Canadian government to eradicate it completely, the Canadian Federal Budget of 2009 does very little for the people who need many help to even survive. The budget was meant to propose an immediate plan of action required handling the situation of poverty but the pitiful way in which it has been presented makes it clear that it will not be of any help. However, it is reported, “success is apparent in reducing child poverty as a result of the government’s tax and benefit reforms.” (Raphael, 2006, 358) Logically, this success is not enough.
The government of Canada needs to take up more strategies to make sure that not every dollar, which is spent for supporting the children and families with low incomes, is wasted. It also needs to guarantee the review of their social assistance so that barriers are removed and opportunities are created equally for all Canadians. They particularly need to focus on those people who are seeking employment from the social assistance. They need to properly align their social assistance plans with other important initiatives and programs to increase the opportunities available to the individuals. Many children, who are homeless and are living in extreme conditions of poverty, need constant assistance from the government in a number of ways.
Thus, the government needs to undertake certain programs that have a person-oriented approach and can provide the people with improved understanding so that they can address and solve their issues themselves. The government has decided to begin with the plans in this year. The Canadian government has also decided to establish the Social Policy Institute to focus on the development of social policies that are based on evidences and thus, evaluate its social policy interventions. (Moraes, 2006)
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Galloway, Tracey; 2007; Gender differences in growth and nutrition in a sample of rural Ontario schoolchildren; American Journal of Human Biology; 19, 6, 774-788; Health Sciences Program, University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, BC, Canada.
Ismael, Shereen; 2006; Child Poverty and the Canadian Welfare State: From Entitlement to Charity; University of Alberta.
Moraes, Sabrina, Joan E. Durrant, Douglas Brownridge, Grant Reid; 2006; Professionals’ decision-making in cases of physical punishment reported to child welfare authorities: does family poverty matter?; Child & Family Social Work; 11, 2, 157-169; Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology and Special Education, University of British Columbia, Vancouver.
Pagani, Linda, Bernard Boulerice, Frank Vitaro, Richard E. Tremblay; 1999; Effects of Poverty on Academic Failure and Delinquency in Boys: A Change and Process Model Approach; Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry; 40, 8, 1209-1219; Association for Child Psychology and Psychiatry; University of Montral, Canada.
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Sumamo, Elizabeth, Paul Emerson, Krystal Harvey, Matthew Burton; 2007; The Cochrane Library and trachoma: an overview of reviews; Evidence-Based Child Health: A Cochrane Review Journal; 2, 3, 943-964; Alberta Research Centre for Child Health Evidence, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Vleminckx, Koen & Timothy M. Smeeding; 2001; Child Well-being, Child Poverty and Child Policy in Modern Nations: What Do We Know?; The Policy Press.
Westhues, Anne; 2006; Canadian Social Policy: Issues and Perspectives; Edition: 4; Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press.