The Progress of Nations

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 The time to sow
 
 Commentary: Early childhood care
    

The time to sow

By Carol Bellamy *
 
Copyright© UNICEF/99-0795/Lemoyne

Poverty continues to enslave huge populations, denying 1.2 billion people – 600 million of them children – good health and productive lives. To change this painful situation, the world needs to begin with children, assuring every one of the 130 million born each year the best possible start in life.

We are finally understanding how enormous our children’s promise is from the moment of birth, how well-prepared infants are to survive, thrive and learn.

They depend on us adults; they beguile, charm and demand that we give them the time, nurturing and attention they seem to know that they need.When they receive the essentials, they reward us all along the way, from their very first smile into the next generation.

The building blocks are fairly modest: Children need health care, sound nutrition (with an emphasis on breastfeeding), a safe and hygienic environment and playful and loving interaction. This is the minimum; it is neither extravagant nor exorbitant.Yet from this simple foundation, they go on to astound us with their achievements, mastering language, arts, sciences and the complexities of life.

Only recently have we learned, however, how wasteful of their talents we can be.

An exciting and expanding body of knowledge shows how the early years of life are absolutely vital, laying the ground for the child’s survival, growth, health and later accomplishments. During this time, the neural network in the brain develops, depending largely on the stimulation and care the child receives. Before a healthy child reaches the age of two and a half, millions of neural links have been forged, connections upon which physical, mental and cognitive development largely depend.



* Carol Bellamy is the Executive Director of UNICEF.

 

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