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In Armenia, parliamentarians commit to invest in early childhood development programmes

© UNICEF Armenia/2011/Ghazaryan
Delegates from 10 countries gathered in Armenia's capital, Yerevan, to discuss how to better ensure the development and protection of vulnerable children.

By David Ponet

YEREVAN, Armenia, 21 June 2011 – More than 40 parliamentarians from Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEECIS) gathered for a three-day regional conference in Armenia.

They were there to discuss the urgent need to invest in early childhood development policies and programmes, and to step up efforts to reverse the trend of institutionalization and violence that afflicts the region’s most vulnerable children.

Stagnated reforms

The conference, hosted by the National Assembly of Armenia and organized by the Inter Parliamentary Union and UNICEF, also enabled delegates to identify ways to enhance their oversight role for children’s rights.

Speaking on behalf of UNICEF CEECIS Regional Director Steven Allen, UNICEF Representative in Armenia Laylee Moshiri noted that children do not get the best start in life by being placed in State-run residential care institutions.

“In fact it is just about the worst,” she said. “The CEECIS region has the highest number of children in residential care in the world – more than 600,000. And despite many reforms, this figure has remained static.”

© UNICEF Armenia/2011/Ghazaryan
Ara Babloyan (right), Armenian parliamentarian and Head of the Standing Committee on Health Care, Motherhood and Childhood of the National Assembly of Armenia visits 'Arbes' Health and Day Care Centre during the CEECIS Regional Parliamentary Conference in Yerevan.

Discussion focused on how the institutionalization of young children under the age of three is a serious concern because its negative impact on physical and cognitive development, emotional security and attachment, cultural and personal identity and developing competencies can be irreversible.

Investment in early childhood development for the poor and most vulnerable children is especially critical as it can break the cycle of poverty and enable children to enjoy healthy, productive lives. But when adequate family or family-like care is missing early in life it often leads to delays, disabilities, and psychological problems into adolescence and adulthood.

Early childhood a crucial phase

“Early childhood is a period which determines children’s future. It is therefore our priority to provide necessary opportunities for the development of our younger citizens,” said Deputy Chairman of the National Assembly of Armenia Samvel Nikoyan.

Parliamentarians heard from experts and shared their own experience and knowledge on how investment in parenting skills, health and nutrition services, community-based preschool services, and family support services result in both economic and social gains.

© UNICEF Armenia/2011/Ghazaryan
Gagik Baghdasaryan, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe representative from Armenia, delivers a speech at the CEECIS Regional Parliamentary Conference.

Participants also visited several projects in and around the capital, Yerevan, and saw first-hand the critical value of early childhood development programmes. Trips included going to health, day and support centres for children that feature a range of services – from health and psycho-social assistance to education, skills development and crime prevention – and provide a necessary alternative to residential facilities.

Throughout the conference, participants were interviewed by child reporters who posted blogs, interviews and analysis online as the conference unfolded.

Pledge to Action

At the close of the conference, parliamentarians adopted an outcome document in which they committed to a number of actions including to:

  • Strengthen or develop parliamentary mechanisms to address child rights and support the establishment and functioning of an ombudsperson for children
  • Invest in early childhood development as a priority, prevent institutionalisation of children under 3 years old, and invest in quality alternative care and support

“As members of parliaments, you can make sure that child rights remain high on the political agenda in your country and are addressed as a matter of priority,” concluded Anders Johnsson, Inter Parliamentary Union Secretary-General.

He added it was their responsibility to raise questions in parliament and speak out publicly to ensure national visibility.

“You can also set targets, develop national action plans and hold your government accountable to them,” he said. “You hold the strings of the purse and can make sure that sufficient funding is available.”



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