Statement by Minister Fantino: International day of innocent children victims of aggression

June 4, 2013

Worldwide, there are more than 250,000 child soldiers fighting in armed conflicts. Many children have been kidnapped and forced into combat; others have been driven to join rebel groups because of poverty and starvation. Millions more children are at risk of being involved in the worst forms of child labour, sexual exploitation, trafficking, and other forms of violence. Conflict can also exacerbate the effects that natural disasters have on children — as shown by the more than 130,000 children, mostly under five years old, who perished in the 2009 drought in Somalia.

Girls and young women are particularly vulnerable. An estimated 150 million girls under the age of 18 have experienced sexual violence. Because of such violence, exploitation and abuse, children are prevented from making substantial contributions to their communities, and to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

For these reasons, Canada has made the safety and security of children and youth a key part of its efforts around the world. Efforts focus on three key themes:

  • Strengthening and implementing national frameworks to better protect the human rights of children and youth, particularly girls, who are at risk of violence, exploitation, and abuse. This includes Canadian support to address the factors that make children and youth vulnerable to human trafficking. Likewise, Canadian support to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is helping both the ASEAN Commission on Women and Children and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission for Human Rights fulfil their mandates to promote gender equality and protect women's and children's rights.
  • Ensuring that schools are free from violence and abuse and are child-friendly learning environments. For example, a Canadian investment in a UNICEF program in Colombia promotes active participation by adolescents and children in the development of education programs and departmental and municipal plans that promote and protect their rights. The participation of children and young people, and peer-to-peer approaches in and outside of school, can often contribute greatly to their self-protection.
  • Supporting opportunities to engage at-risk youth as productive members of their societies, so that they have alternatives to violence and crime. For example,Canadian support to UNICEF in Sudan and South Sudan has improved access for more than 58,000 conflict-affected children to protection, education, reintegration and basic health services while more than 160,000 children affected by conflict have benefitted from psychosocial support through youth and child-friendly recreational activities. Additionally, more than 1,200 children were released from armed forces and related groups and reunited with their families, and more than 800 officers and commanders of armed forces and related groups received child-rights training.

Canada will continue to support child-protection measures around the world. Many donors, developing countries and international bodies are placing increasing emphasis on the safety and security of the most vulnerable children, particularly girls. Today, on the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression, we recognize that additional global efforts can build on this movement, of which Canada is proud to take part.

Julian Fantino
Minister of International Cooperation