Harper, Baird push Canada’s UN efforts
NEW YORK—Action trumps rhetoric, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a United Nations’ panel on maternal and child health yesterday as he outlined $203 million over five years to help mothers and babies in developing countries.
Harper said Canada would back nine specific projects that will help to pay for more immunizations, provide basic health care, and set up community services to ease the dangers of childbirth and pregnancy.
“Canada is at the forefront of these efforts and I am proud that through today’s support, more women and children will benefit from better nutrition, increased food security, and access to important, life-saving vaccines,” he added.
The money detailed yesterday is part of Canada’s commitment of nearly $3 billion over five years to the issue of maternal and child health—part of the Muskoka Initiative on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health launched by G8 partners at the Muskoka Summit in 2010.
Before the maternal health panel, Harper met privately with computer billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda. Harper said their international charitable foundation is a great partner for Canada.
Harper also said Canada will host an international meeting next year to ensure program providers are accountable for the money they spend.
Helene Laverdiere, the NDP’s international development critic, was quick to slam the government not only for re-announcing three-year-old funding, but for failing to include support for reproductive health.
“Canada’s Muskoka funding should have included funding for women to access sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception and safe abortion,” Laverdiere said in a statement.
She also assailed the government for rejecting last week’s call from the UN Human Rights Council for a comprehensive national review of violence against aboriginal women.
“Under Harper, it’s clear that Canada is not a real leader on women’s health and women’s rights,” Laverdiere charged.
Continuing on the theme of protecting women and children, Foreign Affairs minister John Baird also was in New York yesterday co-hosting a panel on child, early, and forced marriage.
The practice is “an appalling violation of human rights” and Canada is committed to putting a stop to it, Baird told the panel.
Child, early, and forced marriage “robs girls of their right to education and jeopardizes their health,” he stressed.
It’s estimated that millions of girls under 18 years old—some as young as eight—are forced into marriages each year in various parts of the world, including some in Canada.
“We want to stop early and forced marriages, and I think that we all believe we can do that in a generation,” Baird said later.
“It involves a legal response, it involves changing societal values, and it involves changing customs and other practices.”
He cited as a “powerful call for action” a recent report by a Toronto-based legal aid group that found young girls from Canada are being forced to travel abroad in order to participate in forced marriages.
“I don’t think any nine- or 11-year-old girl is in a position where she should be forced to marry at that young age, particularly—as the panel discussed—marrying men as old as 45 or 55 years old,” Baird said.
Complications from pregnancy and giving birth at a young age can result in severe maternal disability or even death.
But Baird refused to say whether Canada would fund groups that provide medically-necessary abortions to girls who are forced to marry and become pregnant.