|© UNICEF/ HQ01-0180/ Pirozzi|
|Two girls learn to count in a kindergarten class at the 'Shining Star' drop-in centre for orphaned children. Botswana.|
Ensuring every child the best start in life is the foundation for fulfilling all other children’s rights. This is why investing in these early years is also the best guarantee of promoting sustainable economic and social development. A solid body of evidence shows that choices made and actions taken by parents and society in the earliest years of childhood have a powerful and long-lasting influence on both the progress of individual children and the wider progress of nations.
When children receive the best start in life, they are more likely to survive the risky first years, to grow healthily, to have fewer illnesses and to fully develop thinking, language, emotional and social skills – in sum, to survive and to thrive. When they join school, they are more likely to do well. Later in life, they are more likely to be capable and productive members of society.
Integrated approaches that address all the critical aspects of early childhood yield the highest dividends and the most sustainable gains, for children and their families, for communities and nations and for the world as a whole.In just a generation, these great gains can make significant inroads into intergenerational cycles of poverty, inequity, gender disadvantage, disease and violence – and so help secure the sustained realization of children’s rights and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and the World Fit for Children goals, pledged to by all 191 United Nations member states.
Ensuring every child the best start in life is fundamental to UNICEF’s efforts. UNICEF recognized the importance of early childhood long ago, based largely on its grassroots work in developing countries. Today, over half of the monies UNICEF spends on projects and programmes of co-operation is devoted to this critical period in a child’s life.
UNICEF has played a leading role in some of the first large-scale integrated early childhood programmes since the 1970s, including the Integrated Child Development Services in India, the Wawa Wasi (‘Children’s Homes’) and pre-school programmes in Bolivia and Peru, and the Better Parenting Initiative in the Middle East and Northern Africa. The integrated approach to early childhood merits the highest-priority attention of every government in terms of laws, policies, programmes and resource allocation.