A proposal for a bill of rights for children came before the House of Commons briefly last week and emerged with an endorsement of sorts. After a 45-minute debate, MPS agreed to a Justice committee study of a private member’s bill on children’s rights.
The bill was introduced by MP James McGrath (PC—St.
John’s East), the father of six children and an outspoken critic in the past of television advertising and violence aimed at young audiences. What McGrath is suggesting is not an ombudsman for children who are forbidden to stay up late or told to eat their spinach, but something along the lines of the United Nations’ 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child. McGrath’s bill singles out the second principle of the UN Declaration, which reads: "The child shall enjoy
special protection, and shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity. In the enactment of laws for this purpose, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount considerations.”
Such a principle, if put into law by both federal and provincial parliaments, could have the effect of prohibiting television advertising aimed at children It could also mandate governments to undertake programs to ensure that children enjoy proper diets through such devices as subsidized school lunches. Says McGrath "The Criminal Code, with its prohibition of child abuse, is purely negative ” and operates after the fact, after
the child has been abused. This g is a more positive approach.” d The government agreed to a
study of a bill of rights for children £ after some effective behind-the° scenes lobbying by McGrath.
During the actual debate in the Commons, government spokesmen expressed skepticism, but did not stand in McGrath’s way. He also received enthusiastic support from Liberal and NDP backbenchers. Stuart Leggatt (ndp—New Westminster) noted that the extended family, where a grandfather would police a father who was too rough with a child, is disappearing. Concluded Leggatt: "We in this place [the Commons] must replace it with rights, with laws.”
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