Early care for growth and development
An investment, not a cost
Early childhood refers to crucial years of care and development.
The first eight years of a child’s life are defined by changes, both physical and mental. The first three years are however most significant.
It is the time when a child’s brain is most flexible and experiences rapid growth. But brain development is sensitive to experience. A child exposed to neglect or violence will very likely suffer cognitive, behavioural or emotional difficulties.
But most parents in Bangladesh are unaware of this scientific fact, which forms the core of Early Childhood Care and Development or ECCD. The approach is equipped to provide children, parents are caregivers the mandatory elements of development - early nutrition, stimulation, protection and learning.
In Bangladesh, most parents have limited knowledge on child care and rearing. Young children are deprived of proper care while their parents are at work.
Even though parents care greatly for their children’s academic success, most are unaware that absence of stimulation and safety significantly reduces a child’s classroom potential.
The scale of violation suffered by Bangladeshi children is alarming. Three in four children experienced psychological aggression, while two in three experienced physical punishment. Children are at most risk in slums, remote rural regions and in disadvantaged minority communities, where there is limited access to basic services.
Over 80 per cent children between age 1 and 8 subjected to at least one form of physical or psychological punishment by household members: MICS 2013
Only 8.8 per cent children under age five have three or more books at home to explore.
Only 13.4 per cent between age three and five attend early education
The situation is dire for mothers working in urban factories, who face challenges while balancing responsibilities of employee and parent. Around 3.2 million women are employed in readymade garment factories. The majority of urban workers are migrants from villages and half of all women interviewed for a recent UNICEF report on RMG factories said they are separated from their children.
The challenges to the early development of children in Bangladesh are intertwined – harmful norms of violent discipline, limited access to knowledge and demand for basic services. Rapid urbanisation and migration, either voluntary or forced by climate change, also pose threats to parental care.
The Bangladesh government has formulated a national policy for Early Childhood Care and Development. But realising the policy’s aim of prioritising and investing in children’s development urgently requires coordination of multiple sectors and adequate funding.
Without willingness to invest and provide better services for early care and development, Bangladesh will continue to lose massive economic potential, despite the young demographic.
Without early development care, children are likely to face poor educational attainment, economic dependency, increased violence and crime, greater substance abuse and depression
UNICEF had several roles behind the formulation of the government’s Early Childhood Care and Development policy.
UNICEF continues to popularise the concept, demonstrate the principles, provide technical facilitation and collaboration besides strengthening networks and partnership.
An effective plan to provide growing children with essential elements for development requires common goals from all sectors, from health to community development.
UNICEF Bangladesh has the advantage of convergence set in the structure of its 2016-2020 programming, implemented in partnership with the government.
Parents and caregivers of children less than three are often just occupied with health and nutritional needs, but they should urgently prioritise stimulation to ensure development.
Care for children over the age of three is limited to just play, education and nutrition and health. But protection from violence along with sanitation and hygiene should not be neglected.
Social services being delivered through a network of 4,000 Para Centres supported by UNICEF at the Chittagong Hill Tracts, serve as replicable models for early development facility
UNICEF plans focus mostly on disadvantaged children, and their families or caregivers, concentrating at geographical locations and communities lacking access and knowledge of basic services.
Early Childhood Development services are delivered in comprehensive packages as part of UNICEF’s efforts to raise the quality of social services to communities living in urban slums, Tea Estates and Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Childcare and breastfeeding rights are among the standards UNICEF demands for mothers working in factories and corporate offices.
The concept is one of the most cost-efficient investments in human capital that leads to a country’s sustainable development, according to evidence from UNICEF’s work across the world.