Among the theories advanced for the growing problem of youth violence is that young people are becoming increasingly independent of their parents at an ever-younger age and, therefore, less respectful of parental authority. The notion of children’s rights, which has become popular in Canada over the past decade, is seen by its critics as a key source of this alienation between parents and children.

Despite such controversy over child rights, and especially the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (ICRC), Elections Canada has accepted a UNICEF recommendation to hold a “National Election for the Rights of Youth” in this country. The vote, to be held on November 19, permits school-aged children a mechanism to voice their views on a body of so-called children’s rights developed by international officials ten years ago under the auspices of the United Nations.

The vote will be coordinated through the country’s schools, and the period leading up to it is supposed to include a substantial amount of “education,” as teachers prepare the children for the big event. UNICEF and Elections Canada have made material available for teachers to use. Over 15,000 schools, school boards and educational organizations will be receiving the voting package, says Elections Canada. (Government sponsors of the vote include: Canadian Heritage, the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the youth and aboriginal branches of Human Resources Development.)

The children will be given a list of ten rights gleaned from the ICRC and asked to vote on which one is most important to them. They include: education, family, non-discrimination, food and shelter, and health. The explanation given for the right to education includes the statement that “the discipline used in our schools must not go against our human dignity.” This is often the language used to oppose spanking.

Reform Party Family Critic Eric Lowther has criticized Elections Canada for abandoning its commitment to political independence. The agency says that the vote falls under their little known education mandate, and claims that the “key aim through the election is to promote understanding of Canada’s electoral process among youth to help prepare them to vote in regular elections when they reach 18 years of age.”

Since it overtly advances only one side of a highly charged debate, however, critics see it more as indoctrination than education. Furthermore, notes Mr. Lowther, it comes in the context of the Liberal government’s anticipated focus on a “children’s agenda” to be announced this fall. Also, a Supreme Court case challenging the legality of spanking is scheduled to be heard in the next few months. The ICRC has been used by Canadian and UN forces to condemn corporal punishment in Canada and elsewhere.

If the federal government decides to act on the results of the November vote, pro-family Canadians fear it is just a matter of time before the government decides to try to micro-manage the responsibilities of parents in the care and discipline of their children.

This would come as no surprise to Giuseppe Gori, head of Ontario’s Family Coalition Party. “The UN political agenda,” he says, “is to destroy parental authority and substitute it with bureaucratic control.”

Mr. Lowther is no less blunt: “This is an unacceptable manipulation of children by adults for political purposes, and an abuse of provincial public education systems.”

The vote is also going to be taking place in Canada’s separate schools, which has outraged many pro-family Catholics. Some of them are strategizing to determine the best way to approach these schools with the information they need to make the decision to boycott the vote. The main concern is the threat to parental rights and responsibilities, but many concerned Catholics also hope that the pro-abortion stance of UNICEF will convince some school boards to back away from the mock election.

The participation of evangelical schools will probably be determined on an individual basis. Pierre Blain of Elections Canada says home schooled children can also participate in the vote with a registration process available over the Internet. There is no mechanism in place, however, to allow children to submit a protest vote in favour of parental rights or children’s responsibilities, he says.