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Early Childhood

The big picture

© UNICEF/Bangladesh/Lalonde
Two mothers talk while their babies await their turn for vaccination.

Children are central to sustainable development. Because of poor health, under nutrition and poor learning environments that fail to provide adequate responsive stimulation and nurturance, too many children around the world are not developing their learning capacities, entering school late, performing poorly at school and not achieving their full potential. In 2012, over 200 million children under five years of age worldwide did not receive the appropriate care and support to become physically healthy, mentally alert and emotionally secure. The effects reach far beyond the individual lives of children and affect families, communities and the development of entire nations.

The Millennium Development Goals, ratified by all UN member states, provide the world’s governments with clear and tangible targets to combat poverty and raise the standard of living for the world’s people by 2015. Early Childhood Development contributes to the achievement of the goals. Seven of the eight goals directly relate to child survival, growth and development. Research has shown that the most effective interventions to improve human development and break the cycle of poverty occur in children’s earliest years. Prevention is more cost-effective than treating a problem later.

As more and more children are surviving, ECD is becoming increasingly important to ensure that the children who survive are able to reach their full potential and become productive members of society. The same factors that influence survival also influence development in the continuum of life. ECD is intricately linked to sustainable development and is therefore critical for the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

The important pathways to ECD are building, developing and implementing effective ECD policies, supporting parents and families, increasing access to quality early childhood care and education, and developing standards and indicators for effective planning, monitoring and documentation of the progress in Early Childhood Development.



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