More work to do to protect the rights of children and youth in Manitoba, advocates say

On National Child Day, two youth advocates say there’s still work to be done to protect minors’ rights in Manitoba — and across the country.

The members of the Youth Ambassador Advisory Squad through the office of the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth are working to educate kids about their rights under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child.

For Cherice Liebrecht, that work is key.

“It is so important for children to know their rights because it gives kids vocabulary and confirmation as to how they should and shouldn’t be treated,” said Liebrecht in an interview with Stephanie Cram on CBC Manitoba’s Weekend Morning Show on Saturday.

“It gives children the ability to get help, and it empowers them to recognize that they have the right to speak up and say, ‘This is what I need,’ and to work with adults who have a responsibility to get those needs met.”

Cherice Leibrecht is a member of the Youth Ambassador Advisory Squad. They want all children and youth to know their rights. (Submitted by Manitoba’s Advocate for Children and Youth)

Cleche Kokolo, who is also a member of the squad, said it’s also important to raise their voices to decision makers.

Mental health and wellbeing are issues that are close to her heart.

“A global pandemic has really, I think, highlighted the importance and the need for mental health services in the community and more specifically mental health services for youth that are … youth driven, and really put youth at the centre of how mental health providers provide resources,” she said.

Corporal punishment

One of the most fundamental rights for children — the right to bodily integrity and the right to be safe from physical harm — continues to not be respected in Canada, the advocates say.

The Canadian Council of Child and Youth Advocates is calling on the Government of Canada to repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code, which legally permits teachers, parents or person standing in the place of a parent to use corporal punishment “if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.”

The organization says Canada is lagging behind other countries because it upholds the declaration on the rights of the child for 30 years, but still allows corrective discipline of children, two things that seem incongruous.

“Children have not enjoyed the same protections against violence that are taken for granted by adults,” the council said in a news release on Wednesday.

Cleche Kokolo is a member of YAAS. She wants decision makers to put children at the centre of conversations on mental health. (Submitted by Manitoba’s Advocate for Children and Youth)

Liebrecht and Kokolo also want to see this section repealed.

“I think it is ridiculous that there is any loophole to allow child abuse to occur in this country that still allows people to hit children,” Liebrecht said. 

“We must ensure that the Criminal Code and any form of legislation puts children at the centre and ensure that children are always protected,” Kokolo added.

“When we’re talking about spanking, that is not the case, so that must be change and must be changed right now.”

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