Baird celebrates International Day of Girl Child in India


FOREIGN Affairs Minister John Baird attended an event celebrating the International Day of the Girl Child at Delhi Public School, R.K. Puram. The event provided an opportunity to raise young Indian students’ awareness of child, early and forced marriage.

“The International Day of the Girl Child provides a foundation we can build on to ensure that girls get the recognition that they deserve as equal and powerful actors in society,” said Baird. “I commend Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi’s commitment to improving access to education for girls and providing equal opportunity for women. Canada is keen to collaborate with India to achieve those goals. Child, early and forced marriage threatens the lives and futures of girls and young women around the world.”

Canada has made it a foreign policy and development priority to end child, early and forced marriage in a generation, and looks forward to a continued partnership with the Indian government and local and international non-governmental organizations to make this happen.

Child, early and forced marriage was a key theme in an op-ed published Tuesday in The Hindu newspaper by Baird.



Canada and India: Friends and Collaborators


By John Baird, Foreign Affairs Minister


The film that opened the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last month captured the imagination of Canadians from all walks of life. Mary Kom tells the story of a passionate and determined village girl from Maripur, portrayed by Priyanka Chopra, who defeated all expectations to become a five-time world boxing champion.

Bollywood’s strong presence at TIFF should be no surprise. Its films are regularly shown in theatres throughout Canada, not least because more than one million Canadians can trace their roots to India. This is a personal relationship. The Indo-Canadian community contributes hugely to our multicultural society and our economic, academic and political life. The community has also brought with it a rich Indian cultural heritage.

We value the long-standing friendship between our nations. Visiting Delhi this week has reaffirmed to me that it is also a friendship based on common values. We value freedom, pluralism and respect for human rights and the rule of law. We have the same type of government in a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy, experiencing both majority and minority governments. We believe that all members of society have a role to play and a stake in the future.

Of course, the future starts with our youth. Canada is proud to host a great number of Indian students at our universities and colleges. These students are part of an exchange of knowledge, and their contributions and innovations are world-class. Together, our investment in this generation is stimulating new and creative ways of making our world better. This includes partnerships on cleaning up the historic, sacred Ganges River. It includes potential partnerships on issues ranging from the waters of Asia to ensuring Internet freedom and cooperation in space.

But this potential will always be limited if one half of a generation has fewer opportunities than the other. As someone once told me, “you cannot run on one leg.” This was a central theme of the International Day of the Girl Child on Saturday. Prime Minister Modi is committed to improving access to education for girls and providing equal opportunities for women. Canada appreciates India’s leadership on this, and we are keen to collaborate in achieving these goals. In this regard, I would like to congratulate Kailash Satyarthi, this year’s joint recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, for his tireless efforts in favour of children’s rights.

One area in particular in which we can work together is our efforts to end child, early and forced marriage. These widespread practices threaten the lives and futures of girls and young women around the world, denying their rights, disrupting their access to education and severely jeopardizing their health. They also hinder development. When girls are not able to reach their full potential, everyone suffers—girls, their communities and all of society.

We are encouraged that international momentum is building to address this issue, including promising efforts within India through state government programs like Apni Beti, Apna Dhan, which has led to tangible progress on child marriage in Haryana. Global action is required to end these practices—not just from governments, but also civil society, community and religious leaders, men and boys, and of course, women and girls themselves.

Another focus of this visit is trade. You can feel a real sense of momentum in India’s economy, and I especially welcome the renewed economic development efforts in Jammu and Kashmir, despite the constant threats of terrorism and natural disaster. My colleague, International Trade Minister Ed Fast, is leading a trade delegation here this week. Canada is a trade-intensive nation, with 60 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and one in five jobs tied to exports. But while our traditional trading partnerships have been with the United States and Europe, we are increasingly becoming a bridge from Asia to those countries. We are at the centre of a unique Venn diagram of trade—with North America on one side through NAFTA, and Europe on the other side through the new Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. Not only this, but our Pacific and Atlantic coasts are poised to be reliable ports for stable energy that will continue to unleash economic opportunity in India.

Trade opportunities remind us that both our countries are dependent on an interconnected and interdependent global society. Global trade and prosperity ultimately depends on global stability and security, both of which are feeling more fragile in 2014 than in previous years. I believe the struggle against terrorism is the biggest test of our generation, so I very much welcome the leadership shown by Prime Minister Modi on this issue at the United Nations. I am eager that we work together more on confronting our common challenges in international security, and I will be meeting with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval today to discuss this.

I am very aware that, as the world’s largest democracy in a strategically important region, India already plays a leadership role on these issues. For example, Canada and India are both key players in supporting Afghanistan in its establishment of a stable and democratic society. The establishment of a government of national unity is another milestone in Afghanistan’s transition to becoming more secure, prosperous and self-sufficient. Canada recognizes the important and constructive role that India, as a regional leader, has taken to help Afghanistan integrate into the region and to increase security and prosperity for all.

Whether it’s values, trade or security, I have high hopes for this relationship between our nations. I’m ambitious for the leadership that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already demonstrated toward paving a path toward a more prosperous future. If we can channel the indomitable spirit of Mary Kom, I’m sure we can take that relationship to even higher heights in the years ahead.