Early childhood—from conception to under age 6—is a crucial period in a child’s life. This period is a critical time for a child’s brain development and is key for the child’s future social, emotional, cognitive and physical abilities. If a child’s brain fails to receive what it needs in this period of development, it takes tremendous effort, both financial and time, to set it back on track.
Investing in early childhood development (ECD), by ensuring children receive adequate and appropriate nutrition, stay in good health and grow in hygienic and safe environments, can be one of the most cost-effective ways to improve the lives of children, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.
Notable achievements have been made for children in Cambodia in recent years. Between 2000 and 2014, the under-five mortality rate reduced from 124 in every 1,000 live births, to 35 in every 1,000 live births.
Despite increased child survival, challenges remain in improving the situation of children to develop and reach their full potential in life. With 23 per cent of children living in poverty and many more just above the poverty line, Cambodia is struggling to provide children with the best start in life.
Efforts to improve ECD can start even before a child’s birth—at conception. Women who attend routine check-ups during pregnancy significantly decrease their chances of risks at birth for the mother and child. Despite this, only a proportion of women receive routine check-ups during pregnancy or deliver in a health facility, as they have limited knowledge of the benefits or cannot afford it.
Children who are not born in health centres are less likely to receive health care during their most critical years of development. It is often these same children who lack access to safe drinking water, clean toilets and adequate nutrition. This can prevent young children from developing properly and may lead to lifelong damages in their health and education.
Alongside water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), health, and nutrition factors, early childhood education provides positive stimulation for children that lays the groundwork for them to learn over a lifetime.
Recognizing the long-term positive impacts of investing in the early years of a child, the Integrated Early Childhood Development (IECD) programme brings together nutrition, WASH, maternal and child health, child protection, early childhood education (ECE), and community development components to meet the holistic needs of children to develop and reach their full potential in life.
For more information about UNICEF’s IECD programme, download this file.