In 2014, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (FAAE) began its study on the ‘Protection of Children and Youth in Developing Countries.’ The Study is examining the role Canada can play in the protection of children and youth; with a focus on the prevention of human trafficking, early and forced marriage, the sex trade, female genital mutilation and the online abuse of children.
As part of the Study, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) was invited to appear before the Committee. On February 19th, Director of Information and External Relations, Dianne Stewart delivered a presentation focusing on child, early and forced marriage (CEFM), young women and adolescent girls, and sexual and reproductive health.
In her presentation, Ms. Stewart discussed violations of human rights resulting from CEFM without informed consent, complications from pregnancy and childbirth that lead to maternal mortality and morbidity, sexual violence, lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services, among others. Ms. Stewart highlighted UNFPA’s commitment to promoting adolescent girls right to health, specifically access to sexual and reproductive health, education and work. Ms. Steward provided the example of UNFPA focus on “interventions that delay marriage and pregnancy and that enhance girls’ autonomy, their access to social networks, and their participation in civil life; by reducing school dropouts; by creating an enabling environment that upholds the girls’ rights; and by ensuring that they have access to sexual and reproductive health and rights and HIV knowledge and practices; and also by increasing the demand for high-quality, rights-based family planning.”
Other witnesses to appear before the committee that day included Sarah Moorcroft, from Street Kids International, and Olivia Lecoufle, from Save the Children. Both witnesses discussed issues related to youth employment, highlighting recommendation for the Government of Canada. These included: adopting a holistic approach to youth livelihood programming, increasing investment in youth, ensuring adequate funding for youth and child protection in emergencies, and ensuring private sector partners are accountable for children’s rights.
Following presentations, Committee Members directed the following questions to UNFPA:
- Hélène Laverdière (MP – Laurier-Sainte-Marie): asked for concrete recommendations as they relate to addressing sexual and reproductive health, and how to implement sexuality education programs.
- Lois Brown (MP – Newmarket-Aurora): asked to discuss importance of Canada’s Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) initiatives, including its work on vital statistics and civil registration.
- Marc Garneau (MP – Westmount-Ville-Marie): in highlighting the importance of family planning, drew attention to family planning which seems to be missing from Canada’s development policy and, as such, would be important to add. Asked for practical steps toward ending CEFM.
- Ms. Brown: clarified that Canada is investing in contraception through Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation project. Would not want minutes to reflect inaccurate information.
In response, Ms. Stewart made clear that family planning is a central component to global development. Giving girls the opportunity to stay in school can lead to economic growth and therefore supporting financial incentives for families to keep girls in school are impactful. Ms. Stewart also discussed demand for reproductive health commodities including access to contraception, recognizing that UNFPA’s program to provide them is underfunded ($100 million short). Furthermore, Ms. Stewart highlighted the need for youth-friendly services for young women to access services independently and the challenges related to the implementation of comprehensive sexuality education programs are more often socio-political rather than practical. Finally, Ms. Stewart discussed the importance of census, documentation and data, especially when tracking CEFM, making the recommendation that the Government of Canada add a particular focus on adolescents in the context of MNCH and in the in post-2015 development agenda because adolescent girls have specific needs that aren’t being met.
Click here to read the full transcript
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