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UNICEF Executive Board

UNICEF Executive Board emphasizes the importance of early childhood development as a key catalyst to achieve the SDGs

© UNICEF/UN0312687/Sokol
Selva, 2, engages in supervised play-based learning with a caregiver at a UNICEF-supported Early Childhood Development centre in Paraguay.

NEW YORK, United States of America, 14 February 2020 ─ The 2020 first regular session of the UNICEF Executive Board ended yesterday. Over the course of two and a half days, the Board discussed topics ranging from United Nations development system reform and improving the Board’s working methods to humanitarian action and the approval of four new country programme documents.

A common thread running across the programme documents was early childhood development. Speakers emphasized how achieving the developmental potential of every child during the early years of life sets the stage for a child’s future growth and well-being.

UNICEF Executive Board President H.E. Ms. Rabab Fatima, Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Bangladesh, highlighted the importance of nurturing to fulfil children’s right to thrive, stating: “early childhood development has been recognized as a key catalyst to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and is particularly important in this last decade of action and acceleration.”

© UNICEF/UNI232068// Vincent Tremeau
Ruth Lafleussante feeds Christ-Vie at a UNICEF nursery in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ruth is a care giver at the crèche and a survivor of Ebola. After being cured at the treatment centre, she came back to take care of children, whose mothers are infected by Ebola and can’t take care of them.

Country programme documents

On Wednesday, the Board was presented with new country programme documents for Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and Paraguay. A dynamic and interactive session on the new programmes included panellists from the four countries as well as the UNICEF Regional Directors for Latin America and the Caribbean and West and Central Africa.

As a cross-cutting theme throughout the presentations related to the four new programmes, the importance of early childhood development holds true across a range of implementing contexts, from middle-income countries to contexts of fragility.

Mr. Omar Abdi, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Programmes, highlighted the importance of the first 1,000 days and the early years of life for healthy brain development. When children receive good nutrition, positive stimulation and responsive care, and are protected from harm, they are primed to achieve their developmental potential. Data confirms that early moments matter at all levels – developmental, societal and economic.

However, today too many children are still not getting the early care they need. Violence, poor nutrition and lack of stimulation, to name but a few issues, are putting at risk the development of an estimated 250 million children under 5 years of age worldwide.

Echoing Mr. Abdi’s words, the UNICEF Senior Adviser for Early Childhood Development, Dr. Pia Britto, reiterated how nurturing environments in the early stage of life pave the way for later health, learning and well-being. She explained that this is achieved when the following elements come together: “good health services, access to safe clean water, antenatal care counselling, immunization, birth registration, nutritional support, quality childcare and early learning opportunities. And at the heart of the package is early stimulation and responsive caregiving.”

Engaging communities on a voluntary basis to prepare children under five for school was the focus of remarks made by the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Cuba, Ms. Consuelo Vidal-Bruce. She emphasized the benefits of the country’s long-running “Educa a tu hijo” (Educate your child) programme, which demonstrates the scalability of early childhood development initiatives for the most vulnerable in over 20 communities in Latin America, thanks to community ownership and methodological flexibility.

In pre-recorded video remarks, Ms. Bibiche Mwika, Coordinator of the Network of Child-Friendly Journalists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, explained how UNICEF, along with the Government and other partners, has prioritized health-care, nutrition and stimulation counselling during the first 1,000 days of a child's life to ensure that all Congolese children have equal opportunities in life.

Ms. Lucia Elmi, UNICEF Representative in Mali, focused on the life-cycle approach for the new Mali country programme, from early childhood through the second decade of life, to accelerate results for children and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

H.E. Mr. Hugo Cáceres, Minister of the Delivery Unit of the Presidency, General Coordinator and Chief of the Social Cabinet and Spokesperson for the Presidency of Paraguay, joined the meeting by video. He highlighted four strategic components of the new country programme for Paraguay: early years, adolescents, evidence-generation and programme effectiveness, with a government priority on early childhood development.

Delegations commended UNICEF on its engagement and willingness to learn in regard to joint programming with other United Nations agencies, while reaffirming the need for country programmes to be aligned with the respective United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Frameworks.

In closing the session, Ambassador Fatima reiterated the crucial role played by early childhood development in a child's life: "The importance of the first 1,000 days and early years of life cannot be overstated," she said, "it provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help children have a good start in life, where they can not only survive, but thrive to their full potential and thus make meaningful contributions to their societies."

Executive Director Fore expressed her appreciation to all Member States for working together to support children, women and young people in every context. "As we begin this decade of action and acceleration, our commitment to the rights enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child remains strong," she said. "The world is not standing still for children," she concluded, "but neither are we."


The annual session of the UNICEF Executive Board will take place from 29 June to 2 July 2020. The report on the midterm review of the Strategic Plan, 2018-2021 and annual report for 2019 of the Executive Director of UNICEF, and the report on the midterm review of the integrated budget, 2018-2021 will be considered during that session.



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