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Canada ranks in the middle of the pack for family-friendly policies among wealthy countries

NEW YORK and TORONTO, 13 June 2019 – Canada ranks 19th in paid leave available for mothers and is tied for last place in paid leave reserved for fathers or second parents, according to a new UNICEF report, which ranks 41 wealthy countries on their family-friendly policies.

The UNICEF report — Are the world’s richest countries family-friendly? Policy in the OECD and EU — ranks countries based on their national policies, including the duration and pay of parental leave and childcare services for children from birth to 6 years old.

Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Estonia and Portugal offer the best family-friendly policies among 41 rich countries with available data. Switzerland, Greece, Cyprus, United Kingdom and Ireland rank the lowest.

The Canadian companion report, Family-Friendly Policies in Rich Countries: How Canada compares, notes that Canada offers 15 weeks of maternity benefits (available exclusively to birth mothers); 35 weeks of parental benefits (available to either parent); and, beginning in 2019, 5 weeks of paternity benefits (available exclusively to the father or second parent) for a total of 55 weeks. These are paid at a rate of 55 per cent of average weekly insurable earnings to a maximum adjusted annually. To qualify, the parent must have worked a minimum of 600 hours in the last 52 weeks or $6,888 in earnings if self-employed, along with other qualifications.

“Canada’s policies on parental leave and early childhood education and care do not include all children,” said Rowena Pinto, UNICEF Canada’s Chief Program Officer. “Adopted children, Indigenous children and children in families with low-income or with parents in precarious employment are disproportionately excluded from our policies because of narrow eligibility requirements and a low rate of pay. We must make these policies fully inclusive and equitable.”

While Canada tied for last in paid leave reserved for fathers or second parents, the rankings are based on 2016 policies. In 2019, Canada introduced a “dedicated” leave option that provides 5 weeks exclusively for the use of a second parent at a pay rate of 55 per cent (or 8 weeks with a lower rate of pay at 33 per cent). This would earn Canada a middle rank of about 16th.

Quebec offers the most generous benefits. A distinct Parental Insurance Plan provides a basic plan of 18 weeks of maternity benefits; 32 weeks of parental benefits; and 5 weeks of paternity benefits for a total of 55 weeks, paid at 70 per cent, versus 55 per cent in the rest of Canada. Quebec also provides a more flexible and accessible qualifier of $2,000 in earned income, a much higher maximum benefit and no waiting period. Quebec would rank around 17th in paid leave available to mothers and 15th in paid leave available for fathers or second parents.

The report examines rates of breastfeeding at six and 12 months. In Canada, about 30 per cent of infants are breastfed at the age of six months, ranking 17th of 20 countries. By 12 months, the rate drops below 10 per cent. In Norway, the rate is more than 70 per cent at the six-month mark. Parental leave and other programs, like the WHO/UNICEF Baby-Friendly Initiative, help to clear impediments to breastfeeding.

On the measurement of early child education and care (ECEC), Canada is excluded from the overall ranking because federal, provincial and territorial governments do not collect, coordinate and report data for ECEC in the same way that most rich countries do. However, based on available data, Canada would be lagging far behind most countries in the rate of participation due to a lack of universal entitlement to affordable, high quality childcare.

In Canada, 54 per cent of children aged 2 to 4 attend centre-based early childhood education and care. But this figure hides substantial variation between the provinces and territories. The enrolment rate ranges from just 34 per cent in Newfoundland to 73 per cent in Quebec.

Thousands of children in Canada start school without the long-term advantages of early learning that could put many on a better path for school and for life. By the start of primary school, vast differences in children’s development already exist.

The global report is part of UNICEF’s first Parenting Month, and the organization’s Early Moments Matter campaign, now in its third year. This initiative is advocating for families by calling for policies that provide all young children with the encouraging atmosphere and stimulating experiences needed for healthy brain development.

Family-friendly policies strengthen the bond between parents and their children, which is critical for the development of families and socially cohesive societies. They reduce family stress, support breastfeeding and have many other social and cognitive benefits for children. UNICEF Canada offers guidance on how Canada can improve their family-friendly policies:

  • Increase the rate of income of standard parental leave from 55 per cent of average weekly earnings to at least 70 per cent, consistent with the 2000 Maternity Protection Convention;
  • Decrease the qualifying income to a minimum of $2,000 in insurable income during the qualifying period regardless of the number of hours worked;
  • Extend attachment benefits to parents of adopted children;
  • Provide for a reserve of leave time that can be taken up until the child is five;
  • To guarantee high-quality early learning and child care for all children who need it, every jurisdiction should invest 6 per cent of their budgets for children under 6, who represent 6 per cent of the population;
  • Ensure that First Nations, Métis and Inuit children have equitable access to early childcare and education and their parents to parental leave and breastfeeding support. Indigenous children have the right to equal access to services that are culturally appropriate;
  • Coordinate data collection and reporting across federal, provincial and territorial governments to see how Canada’s investments and services for young children compare to peer countries.


Notes to Editors:

The report uses 2016 data from the OECD and Eurostat to highlight the availability of paid leave for mothers and fathers at full-rate equivalent, and childcare enrollment for children under 3 and aged between 3 and school age.

About UNICEF Canada’s One Youth

From 25th to 1st place, UNICEF Canada’s One Youth is working to make Canada the best place in the world to grow up in. As the global UN agency for kids, UNICEF has worked to improve conditions for every child around the world for more than 70 years, and has saved more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization. UNICEF Canada’s One Youth brings that work to Canada, by building the new gold standard for measuring child well-being, and developing and testing innovative solutions to the challenges they face. We are calling on Canadians to take action and do better for children and youth.

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations. For more information about UNICEF Canada’s One Youth, please visit For updates, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

To arrange interviews or for more information please contact:
Emily O’Connor
Communications Manager, UNICEF Canada
Tel./Tél.: +1 416 482 4444 ext/poste 8866 | +1 647 500 4230


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