Canada's children face challenges but make progress

By Allison Penney
Bishops College
St. John's, Newfoundland

Recently, a 72 page report, "The Progress of Canada's Children 1998", was released publishing a wealth of information concerning the different aspects of the lives of Canadian children according to recent studies.

This report is put together annually to measure the well-being of Canadian children. It addresses topics such as family life, physical safety, community resources, health, social engagement, learning, and labor force profile.

 One section of the report talks about family life. The divorce rate is a very troubling figure; in the past 20 years the number of children under 12 whose parents divorced has tripled. The study also shows that children who grow up in single parent families are more at risk for poor development than children who live with both their parents.

Canada's children didn't rank too well in the physical safety section of the report. Although the use of bike helmets among young people has increased, that is the only bright spot. Gun-related deaths among Canadian children rank fifth among those of 26 other developed countries. The only four ‘developed' countries with worse rates of child deaths due to gun use are the United States, Finland, Northern Ireland, and Israel.

The portion of this recent study devoted to community resources shows that university costs in Canadian universities are rising -- up by seven percent since 1997. Also, the number of Canadians using food banks has risen by more than 50% in the last decade -- many of those people are under 18.

Almost all of the news in the section on health is disappointing. Around 57,000 Canadian children under the age of 12 are hungry due to lack of food and money. The majority of these children are either aboriginal or living in single parent homes. And the statistics on teen smoking are not encouraging - between 1990 and 1996 teen smoking rates have risen by 9% and stand now at 30%. Meanwhile, a third of young women aged 20 to 24 think they are overweight. The statistics in this report show that only half that number are suffering from weight problems.  

Despite these disturbing trends, there are a few encouraging ones. Even though the number of teen pregnancies has increased, fewer teens are being diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases than in 1990. Another bright spot in the health report of Canada's youth is the rate of injury deaths among young people aged 15 to 19. This number has dropped 7.3% since 1991.

There is also a portion of this report that talks about social engagement. This part of the report showed both negative and positive results. The number of teen volunteers has almost doubled from 1987 to 1997. As well, most people aged 12 to 24, especially young women, say they have someone they can talk to and confide in. Another positive statistic is that youth crime rates and the number of charges laid against youth have dropped over the past few years. Unfortunately, statistics also show that one in seven boys and one in 11 girls bully other children. The number of missing children in Canada has risen by nearly 2, 000 as of 1997. Most children who go missing are either runaways or teenage girls.

In the portion of the report dedicated to learning, we are told that more women than ever are earning post secondary degrees, although women who study fields like engineering, applied and physical sciences and mathematics are still a minority. Canada was said to have a portion of young people with close to the best literacy skills and also a portion of young people with the poorest literacy skills, compared to other countries.

Another interesting fact brought to our attention in this section is the state of extracurricular activities in Canadian schools. The report shows that children from higher income families tend to participate in more extracurricular activities than children from lower income families. In fact, they are three times more as likely.

Another of the sections of this report focuses on labour force profile of youth. According to a study, teen unemployment is on the rise. In 1997, less than half of the teenagers in Canada had summer jobs. Most of Canada's youth living on the streets are also unemployed. The homeless teens that do have legitimate jobs make up only 39% -- the rest make money by way of panhandling, drug dealing, and prostitution.

When a study like this is conducted, it lets all the citizens of Canada in on the progress our children are making in a variety of different ways. After all, the status of the people who will one day run our country is everyone's business!


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