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On Children’s Day, UNICEF urges increased investment in young children

BANGKOK, 10 January 2013 – To mark Children’s Day in Thailand, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is urging the government and public to pay greater attention to and increase investment in  early childhood development, especially for children 0-6 years of age.

“The first six years of life are a period of remarkable physical, cognitive, social and emotional development,” said Bijaya Rajbhandari, the UNICEF Representative for Thailand. “Investments made in ensuring optimal child development during these early years will pay huge dividends throughout life, while not making these investments can result in children never having the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Rajbhandari welcomed the government’s new national plan for promoting early childhood development, but noted that significant human and financial resources would need to be made available to effectively implement it.

While there has been great progress for children in Thailand over recent decades, such as in poverty reduction, access to health care and adoption of legislation mandating the iodization of salt, disparities remain, especially in remote rural areas and among marginalized populations. Data from the government and non-government organizations show that:

• Only 73 per cent of children attended early childhood development centres in 2008, while only 34 per cent of 8,276 early childhood centres in Thailand surveyed met the government minimum standard.

• About 5-7 per cent of children born each year are not registered at birth. In some areas, mainly in the north and northeast, the rate is as high as 15-20 per cent. Without a birth certificate a child does not have an officially-recognized identity and can be denied the right to free healthcare and other social welfare services.

• Only 5.4 per cent of the babies born each year are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, the WHO and UNICEF recommended period. This is the lowest exclusive breastfeeding rate in Asia and one of the lowest in the world.

• About 12 per cent of children are stunted – too short for their age – due to chronic malnutrition. In the far south, the rate of stunting is as high as 32 per cent. In addition, only 58 per cent of the households in Thailand have access to iodized salt, and the access level is as low as 35 per cent in the poorest communities in the northeastern region. This poses the serious threat of iodine deficiency disorders that can damage children’s brain and IQ development.

• Close interaction between children and caregivers is extremely important for their mental, social and emotional development. But about 17.5 per cent of children do not live with their parents, mainly due to internal migration. The highest rate is in the northeast, at 24 per cent.

• Only 44 per cent of households in Thailand have more than three children books, while only 54 per cent of fathers in Thailand participate in activities with their children. 

A large body of international research shows that investing in early interventions helps promote improved cognitive and socio-emotional skills as well as improved social mobility and reduced inequality. Other benefits include larger numbers of children continuing their education, fewer teenage pregnancies, reduced crime rates and greater workforce productivity. Studies show also that these early year interventions have much greater economic and social impact than more expensive interventions later on, such as hiring more teachers to improve the teacher-student ratio. 
 
“There is an urgent need to invest more in young children, especially since Thailand is now an aging society with fewer children being born and people living longer” said Rajbhandari. “This means that the children of today will have to be prepared to be more productive than their parents’ generation.”

For more information, please contact:

Mark Thomas, UNICEF Thailand, 02 356 9481, 081 172 9902 or mthomas@unicef.org

Nattha Keenapan, UNICEF Thailand, 02 356 9478, 086 616 7555 or nkeenapan@unicef.org

 

 
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