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Budget 2021: New resources welcome, but more needed to support the world’s most vulnerable children


On April 19, the Government of Canada presented its much anticipated – and historic - federal budget, with significant measures to address the impact of COVID-19 in Canada and around the world.

The budget promises $375 million to support Canada’s international COVID-19 response, which focuses on meeting health needs in developing countries, with $1.4 billion in additional international assistance over five years. However, much of these expenditures are targeted for this year, and there is not a clear plan for long-term increases to Canada’s official development assistance (ODA).

In the 2020 Speech from the Throne, Canada committed to increasing ODA levels, and invested approximately $1.2 billion in additional international assistance towards the global pandemic response for that calendar year. This investment sent a signal that Canada was stepping up as a leader in our global COVID-19 recovery. Our level of ambition was high. We hoped to see this budget continue an ambitious response to the urgent and unmet needs faced by the world’s most vulnerable children.

The stakes have never been higher. ODA plays a critical role reducing global poverty, improving health and education outcomes, and advancing child protection and gender equality – all of which have been drastically undermined by COVID-19. While governments around the world are facing additional financial pressures as a result of the pandemic, we cannot roll back our level of ambition to ensuring that every child realizes their rights and be educated, protected and empowered. Canadians are looking to their government to lead its own citizens through the unprecedented and devastating impact of COVID-19. But Canada also has a responsibility to show up on the world stage.

Right To Play, alongside its sector partners, has been advocating for Canada to invest 1% of its planned COVID-19 emergency response and recovery spending by 2023 in new and additional aid as a first step towards sustained increases to the aid envelope. Canada’s 2021 federal budget is a missed opportunity for bold leadership and a chance to reimagine a global recovery effort that truly leaves no one behind.

We have seen first-hand the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on already marginalized and vulnerable groups, including girls, refugees and internally displaced people. While many countries are beginning to emerge from lockdowns thanks to vaccines, many developing and fragile countries, including several where Right To Play works, struggle to access vaccines. That lack of access endangers the lives of people and threatens economic recovery. In addition to the health risks, the continued impact on children’s learning, mental health and safety cannot be ignored. COVID-19 has exacerbated the already precarious circumstances in which millions of children live, especially those who are living in conflict and crisis, putting them at greater risk of illness, child labour, violence and other forms of exploitation.

One year into the pandemic, nearly one billion learners are still out of school. Even before the pandemic 258 million children were not in school and those who were in school were not acquiring the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. Children living in crisis-affected countries were even more likely to be out of school. Numbers of this magnitude require an urgent and innovative response. A recent report concluded that more than US$50 billion is required to ensure that children in the world’s poorest and most fragile contexts can safely return to school and catch up on lost learning. We know that Canada cannot shoulder the entire global COVID recovery effort alone. However, Canada is viewed as a leader in the areas of global health, education and gender equality. If Canada invests more in these critical areas, it can call on others to follow suit.

There is still time to do more. The G7 meeting will be the next test of Canadian leadership, and an opportunity to make the necessary investments to not only “finish the fight” against COVID-19, but to build a better future where every child can realize their rights and be educated, protected and empowered.