On Children's Day, UNICEF urges increased and sustained investment in young children
BANGKOK, 10 January 2014 – The preliminary results of a major new national survey show key progress for children, but greater and sustained investment in children is needed if Thailand is to meet the challenges of the future, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in advance of Children’s Day.
The survey, which covered some 27,000 randomly selected households across the country, found attendance at early childhood centres had increased from 60 per cent of young children in 2006 to 85 per cent in 2012, while the number of households consuming iodized salt rose from 47 per cent to 71 per cent over the same period.
The survey, formally known as the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), sampled over 100 indicators related to the well-being of children and women. The survey was carried out in late 2012 by the National Statistical Office with support from UNICEF, and its results are in the process of being finalized.
While the survey’s results showed continued improvements for most children in Thailand over the six years since the last MICS, it also found that the rate of progress for many children living in the poorest households and in rural areas is lagging behind. For example, household consumption of iodized salt, which contains an essential micronutrient needed for optimum brain development, was highest among the richest households (87 per cent) and lowest among the poorest (54 per cent).
The MICS showed only limited progress in increasing the number of infants receiving the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, which is strongly recommended by both UNICEF and the World Health Organization. The exclusive breastfeeding rate rose to 12.3 per cent, up from 5.4 percent in 2006, but is still among the lowest rates in Asia and the world. In addition, some 15 per cent of mothers in Thailand never even start to breastfeed their infants.
“Thailand can rightfully be proud of the progress it has made for its children in recent years,” said Bijaya Rajbhandari, the UNICEF Representative for Thailand. “But work still needs to be done to ensure that all children are supported and have an equal opportunity to develop to their fullest potential.”
The MICS found that some 23 per cent of children – or more than 3 million children – were not living with their biological parents, mainly due to parents migrating to find employment. In the poorest households, a third of the children were not living with their biological parents.
“It is clear from the data that there are still challenges for children that need to be addressed. Thailand has adopted an excellent policy on early childhood development, and by fully investing in and carrying out this policy many of these remaining challenges to children’s full development can be addressed,” Rajbhandari said.
Rajbhandari noted that scientific research has shown that investing in early interventions helps promote improved cognitive and socio-emotional skills, as well as improving social mobility and reducing inequality. Other benefits include larger numbers of children continuing their education, fewer teenage pregnancies, reduced crime rates and greater workforce productivity. Studies have also shown that these early interventions have much greater economic and social impact than more expensive programmes later on in children’s lives, such as hiring more teachers to improve the teacher-student ratio.
“Thailand is now an aging society, with fewer children being born and people living longer. This means that the children of today will have to be prepared to be more productive than their parents’ generation. So investing more in children, especially in the early years, makes good economic sense,” Rajbhandari said.
For more information, please contact:
Mark Thomas, UNICEF Thailand, 02 356 9481, 081 172 9902 firstname.lastname@example.org
Nattha Keenapan, UNICEF Thailand, 02 356 9478, 086 616 7555 or email@example.com