COLUMN: Helping children – at home and abroad

B.C.'s child poverty rate and the ongoing devastation following Typhoon Haiyan need British Columbians' attention.

In a report card released by First Call in late November, it was revealed that B.C.’s child poverty rate is the highest in Canada.

One in five children live in poverty and the child poverty rate is a staggering 18.6 per cent – which amounts to 153,000 children in the province.  From 2010 to 2011, the rate increased by 4.3 per cent, and is 5.3 per cent higher than the national average.

In its report, First Call has advocated for a variety of new measures, including a further increase in the minimum wage, increases in welfare rates, better support for immigrants and refugees, coverage for prescription drugs, dental and eye care, and many other strategies.

Although some of the recommendations are debateable and need to be further discussed and fleshed out, the reality is our province needs some form of a provincial poverty reduction strategy, as has been advocated by organizations like First Call.

Most other provinces have developed or are developing provincial poverty reduction strategies, many of which have been effective. Such a strategy in B.C. would allow us to set specific timelines and strategies to address the issue of poverty, and begin a strong dialogue on eliminating poverty altogether.

In 2012, the provincial government began a program with seven municipalities, including Surrey, to create pilot programs addressing poverty.  While this is a positive initiative, an even stronger provincial strategy should be adopted alongside this provincial-municipal joint program.

While working to improve the situation at home, British Columbians can also send their support further afield.

As the Philippines recovers from the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan, further aid is still needed.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, 14.9 million people were affected by the Nov. 8 typhoon, and millions were displaced.

Of these affected individuals, nearly 5.5 million are children, according to UNICEF.  The Canadian government has extended its donation matching program to Dec. 23, 2013, which means that personal donations to Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts will be doubled.

As we approach the Christmas season, there is excitement in the air, and many are looking forward to enjoying the upcoming gifts, holiday festivities and gatherings, especially our children.  The holiday season is truly more about giving than receiving, and as we prepare to enjoy the holiday season, let’s also take the time to remind ourselves about the many less-fortunate individuals in society.

At both the local and provincial level, the issue of child poverty is one that deserves further attention and requires us all to increase our efforts to address this issue. At the international level, Typhoon Haiyan has led to great devastation and although millions of dollars have been collected in aid, people still need food, medicine, and other supplies. To donate, please visit http://www.unicef.ca/

Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University Surrey. He writes regularly for The Leader.

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