|© UNICEF/ HQ99-0826/ LeMoyne|
|A woman carries her daughter home from school in the town of Ngoc Lu in the northern province of Ha Nam, Viet Nam.|
The early years of life are crucial. When well nurtured and cared for in their earliest years, children are more likely to survive, to grow in a healthy way, to have less disease and fewer illnesses, and to develop thinking, language, emotional and social skills. Yet over 200 million children under five worldwide do not receive the appropriate care and support to become physically healthy, mentally alert and emotionally secure. Because of poor health, under nutrition and poor learning environments that fail to provide enough responsive stimulation and nurturance, too many children around the world are entering school late, performing poorly at school and not achieving their full potential. The effects reach far beyond the individual lives of children and affect families, communities and the development of entire nations. The underlying cause of all this is poverty.
The Millennium Development Goals, ratified by all UN member states, provide the world’s governments with clear and tangible targets to combat poverty and raise the standard of living for the world’s people by 2015. Early Childhood Development contributes to the achievement of the goals. Seven of the eight goals directly relate to child survival, growth and development. Research has shown that the most effective interventions to improve human development and break the cycle of poverty occur most in children’s earliest years. Prevention is more cost-effective than treating a problem later.
The major challenge in Early Childhood Development is developing and implementing effective policies that reach out all the children and families ensuring that children are physically healthy, and developmentally ready for learning. The important issues are ensuring positive gender socialization, supporting parents and families and developing standards and indicators for effective planning, monitoring and documentation of the progress in Early Childhood Development.
Early Child Development: A Powerful Equalizer, prepared for the WHO's Commision on Social Determinents of Health, proposes ways in which government and civil society actors can work with families to provide equitable access to strong nuturant enviornments for all children globally. This is crucial because what children experience during the early years sets a foundation for their entire lives.