The latest in a series of annual reports on challenges facing children and youth in Canada is identifying climate change as a top threat for the first time.
Released on Wednesday (Sept. 7), the fifth annual Raising Canada report says the mental and physical impacts of the world’s rapidly changing climate, as well as the disproportionate effect it has on marginalized and racialized kids, now deserves greater attention.
Air quality is worsening, leading to an uptick in bronchitis and asthma among children and youth, while an increase in the occurrence and intensity of extreme weather events also puts them at risk, report authors found in their literature review. The impacts are particularly harsh for children with intersecting inequities.
For instance, 48 per cent of communities forced to evacuate due to wildfires in Canada since 1980 have been Indigenous, according to the report. Indigenous communities are also at the greatest risk of losing traditional food sources and drinking water as a result of climate change.
All of this is causing deep-rooted anxiety and stress, UNICEF Canada youth advocate and University of British Columbia student Matin Moradkhan said.
“We are starting to see what climate change really means and how it can drastically change people’s lives,” the 22-year-old told Black Press Media. When she speaks with fellow youth now, Moradkhan said they regularly bring up the state of the world and concerns about whether it’s too late to change where it’s headed.
The Raising Canada report also highlights nine other major threats facing children and youth, including: unintentional or preventable injuries, poor mental health, systemic racism and discrimination, child abuse, vaccine-preventable illness, poverty and food and nutritional insecurity, infant mortality, bullying, and limited physical activity and play.
Injuries are the leading cause of death for Canadian kids, but suicide is close behind. It makes up the second most deaths for those aged 15 to 24 and third most deaths for those aged 10 to 14. Suicide is even more prevalent among Indigenous and transgender youth.
Mental health overall is a major concern. The report found a quarter of Canadians aged two to 17 face mental health challenges. Between ages 12 and 18, half of youth are experiencing depression and 39 per cent are facing anxiety.
One in three kids report having endured some form of child abuse by the time they turn 15, and one in four say they’ve experienced sexual abuse in schools by Grade 7, according to Raising Canada’s literature review.
Rates of bullying have remained consistent over the last 12 years, the report found, with about one in three kids experiencing it. This rose exponentially for Asian-Canadian youth during the pandemic, however, with 286 per cent more incidents reported.
All of the threats were heavily exacerbated by the pandemic in fact, according to the report authors. In particular, kids who depended on school meal programs were left hungry and those who would normally get outside to play were cooped up inside.
The last year was especially dangerous for those too young to attend school as well. At four out of every 1,000, Canada has the second highest infant mortality rate out of the 38 OECD countries. This, as with many of the other threats, is likely to increase alongside climate change, report authors found.
They concluded with three major recommendations for the federal government to take on: listen to children and youth (including lowering the voting age), make a national plan to invest in kids, and measure and monitor what matters in their lives.
Youth should be part of the discussion on any issue impacting them, Moradkhan said. After all, she added, they will be the ones bearing the consequences of today’s choices.
The full Raising Canada 2022 report can be read at childrenfirstcanada.org.