Early childhood care - a strategy for poverty reduction
Reflections by UNICEF Representative Françoise Gruloos-Akermans, on the occasion of the launch of childcare services as part of the benefits that the Social Security System provides for its affiliates.
In UNICEF we are convinced that in order to build human development we need to ensure a good start in life for Dominican children, as it is during this period that the changes that determine growth and development of the neuro-sensory mechanisms take place, until a phase during which certain cognitive skills and many of the child’s character traits are fully established.
Babies grow physically, and at the same time they develop intellectually, socially and emotionally. All the changes that take place in children interact with each other and it is important to achieve harmony between them.
But this good start in life begins long before the baby’s birth. It starts when work is done towards education in life skills aimed at preventing adolescents from getting pregnant at an early age and preventing sexually transmitted infections, HIV and AIDS; it starts when a woman lives in an atmosphere free from violence by her partner, when the care for her pregnancy and birth takes place in hygienic conditions and by trained health personnel and when breast milk is the only food the baby receives in the first six months.
It is no secret that the conditions listed above pose challenges of great relevance and UNICEF is committed to working towards them.
To mention several examples, we are concerned about underage pregnancies, maternal mortality, which is estimated at 159 per 100,000 live births and neonatal mortality that has remained steady for the last ten years at 20 per one thousand live births, and the exclusive breastfeeding rate, which is barely 7%.
We believe that it is a high priority to formulate and implement an Integrated Policy for Early Childhood geared at the child’s greater interest, and that will serve as a framework for the design and execution of programmes that combine health, nutrition and development stimulation, incorporating community based promotional and educational models, which in a simple manner will support women and their families during pregnancy, birth, during the post-natal phase and the growth and development of their babies.The fact that the Dominican Republic has a social security system in which health services, care for labour risks, pensions are offered and which recently started childcare centres, provides a challenge for the coordination and integration of these services, as it is the same mother who works, becomes pregnant, gives birth, breastfeeds exclusively for the first six months and needs a safe place to leave her baby while she is at work.
Not all women and children are able to enjoy the services that the social security system provides and we know that a fundamental reason for this is the lack of birth certificates – about 20% of the population does not possess a birth certificate. They also need quality care, it is their right, and it is our obligation to support the development of creative initiatives.
This is why it is important that programmes aimed at Childhood Survival and Development should have an integrated focus that covers and commits all the responsible actors during the first years, from parents and guardians, decision makers, social service providers and local authorities.
A number of childcare initiatives exist in the country whose characteristics, dimensions and effects need to be systematized and evaluated. However, the lack of statistical information and national research limits the potential to make reliable estimates about the level of care, of quality, effectiveness and relevance of these programmes that are being carried out by several institutions at central and local level.
The countries with the best human development indicators are the ones that have understood the importance of early childhood and have prioritized significant public investment in the first years of life, as a strategy for reducing poverty levels, achieving equality and progressing towards a fairer society!
We as UNICEF reiterate our interest and will to guarantee, together with you all an environment of protection so that children may have a good start in life.