|© UNICEF/ HQ00-0739/ Pirozzi|
|A toddler laughs as he and two other children wash their hands in a plastic basin before they have lunch, at St. Bernadette's, a Catholic early childhood development (ECD) centre in Maseru, Lesotho.|
A wide body of research in the fields of anthropology, developmental psychology, medicine, sociology, and education points to the critical impact of development in the early years of childhood in the formation of intelligence, personality, and social behavior. The effects of neglect in these formative years can be cumulative and lasting.
Focussing exclusively on targeted interventions such as health and nutrition without considering the holistic nature of Early Childhood Development risks the hindrance of children’s complete growth and development. Both biological and environmental factors affect brain development and behavior. For example, young children who experience extreme stress are at greater risk for developing cognitive, behavioral or emotional difficulties. These impediments can have lasting effects on children's readiness for school and later on their performance in school. For disadvantaged children, the initial deficit of interventions for development has a multiplying effect: children raised in poverty complete far less education than middle class children, due in part to their lowered ability to learn in school. The opportunity to help disadvantaged children attain a more equal start in schooling is in the earliest years of life, when children’s brains are developing most rapidly, and the basis for their cognitive, social and emotional development is being formed. A commitment to reducing poverty and increasing the chances of success for all children requires investment in the earliest years.
The right to a child’s development has been accepted and embraced by the international community. The Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly highlights the importance of early child development, saying that a child has a right to develop to “the maximum extent possible.” (Article 6) and that “States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.” (Article 27).
Based on new research and a new understanding of the complete well-being of the child, early child development is increasingly being put on the agenda for children’s rights. Ensuring the healthy cognitive, social and emotional development of young children merits the highest priority of every responsible government, organization, community, family and individual for the sake of raising healthy children worldwide. Reaching children in a holistic manner and incorporating health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education and interventions that support their full development is crucial.
A Guide to General Comment 7: 'Implementing Child Rights in Early Childhood' The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child applies to all children under 18 - but its implementation poses particular practical callenges when it comes to young children. This book is a guide to implementing child rights in early childhood. It is based around the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child's General Comment no.7 and contains extracts from the papers submitted to the committee at the time of the Day of General Discussion and other relevant material.