By Sara Austin
I was just nine years old when news of the Ethiopia famine broke in 1984. It was one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time, claiming the lives of more than one million people. I can still remember watching the first television news report on CBC with my family. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. We stopped everything, leaned in and turned up the volume.
The stark images of malnourished children challenged my understanding of the world at that time. It was hard to believe these harsh realities existed for children and their families across the globe. But the evidence was undeniably true.
This heartbreaking report sent shock waves around the world, prompting a groundswell of international support and aid. Celebrities banded together to make songs like We Are The World and Tears Are Not Enough, raising millions of dollars in support of famine relief.
It was the moment when the world moved beyond the statistics and the crisis became deeply personal. As a society, we agreed that it couldn’t continue.
Every child has the right to survive and thrive. But sometimes it takes a crisis to move people to action.
This month, we released our Raising Canada 2020 report – the third in an annual series that monitors the top 10 threats to childhood. The statistics are particularly alarming this year: One-third of children in Canada do not enjoy a safe and healthy childhood, one in three Canadians report experiencing abuse before the age of 15, one in five children live in poverty, and perhaps most startling, suicide is now the leading cause of death for children aged 10 to 14.
The health of children in Canada has been declining for over a decade, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made a bad situation much worse.
The most basic rights to life, survival and development are being violated.
The Raising Canada report, which made headlines across the country, turned up the volume on the state of childhood in Canada. More than 50 news reports picked up the story and reached the eyes and ears of millions of Canadians. Days later, UNICEF announced that Canada has fallen further behind in protecting the well-being of children: we now rank 30th out of 38 affluent nations. Again, the volume was turned up another notch.
When will we reach the tipping point in our nation when enough is enough?
In a democratic country as wealthy as Canada, these statistics are morally unacceptable and economically untenable. Now is the time to turn up the volume to increase the awareness, and turn up the pressure to get the change that’s required.
Coming up on October 1 and 6, Children First Canada (CFC) is hosting a special two-part digital series to discuss the findings of our report and how Canadians can take action. We invite you to join the conversation and to spread the word. Kids can’t wait. They need attention and support now.
My son is about the same age I was when news of the Ethiopia famine reached the public. Today, he’s pondering the same questions I had back then – except the children in jeopardy are in our own community and within our borders. Will this be the crisis of his generation that he will always remember? How will the story go?
Our tipping point will only come when we collectively say that we can’t let this continue to happen to our children and we hold our government accountable.
Together with our Council of Champions, CFC is urging the federal government to act without delay to protect the rights of children.
Please take 30 seconds today and sign the Raising Canada Call to Action below. You’ll be adding your name to the growing list of Canadians who agree that our kids deserve better.
And tomorrow we’ll be listening closely to the Speech from the Throne to see whether the government takes the bold action that’s required.
Together, we can make Canada the best place in the world for kids to grow up.
Sara Austin is the founder and CEO of Children First Canada.
Collectively, Canadians have the power to influence government decisions and improve the lives of children. We’re urging the Government of Canada to act without delay to protect the rights of children. Please join our efforts by signing the Raising Canada Call to Action.