Child Poverty and Canadian Economic Prosperity

“For many families, it’s very difficult to get out of poverty.  There isn’t enough money to feed the children, clothe them properly, or even enough money to pay bus fare or look for a job.”

By Victoria Chau, Staff Writer

Count to four:  1…2…3…4.

In the time it took you to do that, somewhere in the world, a child has died of hunger.

Currently, almost half of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day, while approximately 14 million children under the age of five will die from malnutrition in 2011.  When most individuals in North America think of child poverty, they conjure the televised images of children in far away countries, standing with bloated bellies and empty eyes.

While this image is certainly one of the many faces of child poverty, the majority of Canadians are unaware that child poverty exists, and is indeed prevalent in Canada.  Despite the relative economic and financial security enjoyed throughout Canada, over 15% of Canadian children live below the poverty line.  The standard criterion that determines the severity of child poverty focuses on a number of factors: a lack of access to education, inadequate access to nutritional food and a shortage of available health care.  No matter how much those in the developed world would like to be able to turn off the television to avoid the issue, it’s time to step up to the plate and encourage government representatives to strengthen focus on issues that address child poverty in Canada.

In addition to there being a social obligation to help end child poverty in Canada, there are also economic and financial benefits to reducing the number of children who lack basic resources (food, education, health care).  The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that “failure to tackle the poverty and exclusion facing millions of families and their children is not only socially reprehensible, but it will also weigh heavily on [a] country’s capacity to sustain economic growth in years to come.”

For Grant Wilson, President of Canadian Children’s Rights Council, it’s a matter of “political will” or a lack thereof, when it comes to the question of ending child poverty.  Despite ratifying the UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) two decades ago, Canada has actually experienced an increase in the child poverty rate between the mid 1990s and 2005.  Wilson notes, “For many families, it’s very difficult to get out of poverty.  There isn’t enough money to feed the children, clothe them properly, or even enough money to pay bus fare or look for a job.”  Potential measures that may help to alleviate the issue include the implementation of official government policies that address funding for on-job training, the provision of low-cost or free child-care and the introduction of tax incentives for minimum-wage workers

For further inspiration on how to alleviate the issue of child poverty, Canada (and other countries) need only look to a particular cluster of nations in Northern Europe.  The Nordic countries – consisting of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden – have rated among the top five countries with the lowest child poverty rate (under 5%) for the past several decades.  A primary reason for this low rate relates to the effective implementation of governmental policies that seek to elevate children and their families out of poverty.  These policies include generous time allocations for maternity and paternity leave, job security for families, and universal day care.


The goal of ending child poverty in Canada is both strategically possible and economically beneficial.  More than being a problem of moral significance, it is also a matter of protecting the future economic prosperity of Canada. 

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