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Statement in Response to World Health Assembly call for accelerated efforts to end violence against children

On May 29, 2021, the World Health Assembly called for accelerated efforts to end violence against children. The 74th World Health Assembly adopted a new resolution on “Ending violence against children through health systems strengthening and multisectoral approaches,” which aims to strengthen health sector capacity to prevent and respond to violence against children.

As Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, I remain deeply concerned about the rising rate of family violence in Canada, specifically the violence experienced by children and youth. I also want to express my sorrow for the Indigenous families who are grieving the discovery of 215 children found in a mass grave at the former Residential School in Kamloops. The legacy of violence and pain created by the Indian Residential School System lives on in survivors today, which is why I stand in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples who are seeking justice. In honour of these children and many others who never returned home from their schools, I am calling on all levels of government take action now to protect children and youth from violence.  

Violence endured by children and youth has increased by 7% between from 2017-2018, according to the Family Violence Report in Canada.1 Stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic have increased the risk of violence within homes. As noted in my Office’s Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on the Study of the Impacts of COVID-19 on the Justice System in Canada, the following was found:

  • A 20 – 30 percent increase of family violence since the pandemic started;
  • It is estimated 1 out of 4 children live in a violent home in Canada;
  • Family violence is often gender-based and disproportionately affects women and girls who are Black, Indigenous, and people of colour.

These numbers are alarming and require immediate action. The costs of violence are enormous on children and bring long-term negative impacts to happiness, mental and physical health, and the abilities of children as they grow up.

In March 2020, I wrote a letter to Ministers Maryam Monsef and David Lametti expressing my concerns regarding the victimization of vulnerable persons during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly women and children experiencing intimate partner and family violence. Children are among the most vulnerable groups in our society and the only group that remains subjected to physical violence for means of “correction.” At present, Section 43 of the Criminal code permits parents, caregivers or guardians and teachers the right to corporal punishment. In December of 2020, I wrote a letter to Minister Lametti, calling for the repeal of Section 43 from the Canadian Criminal Code. Section 43 allows physical discipline under reasonable circumstances; however, as I highlighted in my letter, ‘reasonable’ is a subjective term that could lead to more instances of abuse. I also underscored that upholding Section 43 does not meet the Calls to the Action presented in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As recognized and supported by the MMIWG Final Report’s Calls for Justice, I urge the federal government to establish a National Child and Youth Commissioner in order to strengthen the framework of accountability for the rights of Indigenous children in Canada. Doing so could help to address the grave reality of 15,000 Indigenous children in foster care today and the chronic underfunding of public services on reserves.

In May 2021, my Office contributed to the release of Peaceful Homes - A Guide to the Prevention of Violence in the Home during and After Lockdowns by theCanadian Municipal Network on Crime Prevention.2 The Peaceful Homes report discusses the increased risk of violence for children during the COVID-19 pandemic resulting from a host of factors, including: fewer interactions with adults, closure of or limited access to government and community services, financial stressors in the home, dealing with illness and separation of family members. The report proposes a framework for responding to family violence in the context of the pandemic; the framework is specifically focused on families that have an increased risk of conflict escalating to violence, as a result of various socio-economic factors and stressors (CMNCP, 2021) and should be implemented at the local level.

To better protect children now, governments must address the root causes of violence. This necessitates a shift in mindset from response to prevention. Investing in prevention programs, like the World Health Organization (WHO) evidence-based model INSPIRE are key to preventing the victimization of not only children, but also women, men, Indigenous Peoples, and members of the 2SLGBTQ+ communities. I am calling on the Government of Canada to honour its commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 16.2 to end abuse and other violence against children and Goal 5.2 to violence against women and girls by 2030.   

 

Heidi Illingworth
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

 

1 https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/191212/dq191212b-eng.htm

2 CMNCP. (2021). Peaceful Homes: A Guide to the Prevention of Violence in the Home During and After Lockdowns. www.safercities.ca.