Opinion

COLUMN: Be aware of child poverty

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With a new school year just around the corner, students are busy buying school supplies and preparing to enter a new grade.

However, as students prepare for a new school year, it is also time for students to change their attitudes towards fellow classmates.

Bullying, in any form, hurts the victim and students should consciously strive to spread kindness to others.

Students should not only change their own behaviour but also help change others who may be engaging in such behaviour.

As a student, I often observed a specific type of bullying that really disturbed me.

Fellow classmates would often tease others on the basis of their low family income and their inability to buy the nicest clothes or latest gadgets.

Although the matter might strike some as being trivial, victims of this type of bullying often feel insecure, suffer from low levels of self-esteem, skip classes, and turn to drugs and violence for comfort.

Their condition of child poverty is exacerbated by bullying and their fellow classmates are often the ones engaging in this type of behaviour.

The public has different ideologies and opinions on how to reduce child poverty, with some supporting strong government spending and others opposing government intervention.

But my main purpose in this week’s column is not to critique a specific government-created poverty reduction strategy, but to raise awareness of the issue of child poverty; a topic that many local residents, especially youth, may be unaware of.

When one thinks of child poverty, often images of starving children in developing countries may enter our minds.

In reality, child poverty is an issue that affects children here at home, too.

According to statistics from 2010, the child poverty rate in B.C. is 10.5 per cent, which equals to 85,000 of B.C.’s children living in destitution.

After Manitoba, B.C. is the province with the greatest percentage of child poverty. While there has been some improvement over the years, thousands of children in B.C. are still suffering.

These suffering children are amongst us in our classrooms and on our playgrounds.

Right here at home, the Surrey Food Bank serves nearly 15,000 people per month, 42 per cent of which are children and babies.

So as you prepare a list of goals for your upcoming school year, add a goal of being kind to your classmates and becoming aware about the topic of child poverty.

Students, who want to go the extra mile, might even want to participate in End Poverty Day: Student Day of Action on Oct. 17.

This might especially be appropriate for high school students, many of whom already hold numerous food drives and awareness campaigns through school clubs and councils.

Parents of elementary school children, in addition to helping them make a transition to a new grade, should also describe issues such as child poverty, so that their children are aware of the problems affecting our community and are respectful of others facing such a situation.

It is important to remember that as children buy new clothes, supplies and snacks in preparation of the upcoming school year, there are others who will come to school on an empty stomach.

The least that fellow students can do is stop bullying and teasing children who are already suffering in their day to day life.

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

japreet@live.ca

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