COVID-19 in Ecuador has left 6 out of 10 families without access to early childhood services
QUITO/PANAMA CITY, 31 August 2021 - In Ecuador, only 4 out of 10 households with children under 5 have had access to child development services, including pre-primary education, during the pandemic, said UNICEF today after Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Jean Gough, concluded a five-day field mission in the country. Most of those children have received the services remotely or through periodic home visits.
Over five days, the Regional Director visited UNICEF-supported projects in Quito, Cayambe, Otavalo and Tulcán, where she met with government and local authorities, as well as leaders of indigenous communities and implementing partners. She learned about the devastating impact of the measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 on children and adolescents, especially young children under the age of 5. Last Wednesday, Gough participated in the launch of the results of the Survey on the well-being of households in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ecuador (Encovid-Ec).
“I spoke with caregivers, mothers and children. I could see how important it was for them to play and interact with each other especially in times of lockdown,” said Jean Gough. “Learning to grow physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually all starts at a very early age. As opportunities for social interaction are more limited today, providing adequate and quality childhood care is more important than before the pandemic. This type of service is simple and affordable but makes a major difference in children’s lives forever.”
The first years of life have a great impact on a child's future: on their brain development, their health, their happiness, their ability to learn in school, their well-being, and even the amount of money they will earn as an adult. In this formative stage of life, a baby's brain can form more than a million new neural connections per second; a rhythm that it never reaches again.
During the pandemic, the closure of early child development services limits the access of many young children to complementary feeding programmes. In Ecuador, only 50 per cent of households with children under the age of 5 who attend public child development programmes have received complementary meals. The measures have also affected childhood vaccinations: 14 per cent of households with children under 5 years of age have fallen behind on routine vaccines.
Mothers have also been affected by the closures. In 3 out of every 4 households in Ecuador, women exclusively take care of their children. The burden of care for women is even higher in lower-income groups. This reality hinders their own access to job opportunities and advancement, creating further challenges for them, not only based on a decrease in their income.
“Helping parents care for their children in the first few years of life is critical. We welcome the Government of Ecuador’s commitment to end stunting in young children, and early childhood services are crucial in this fight,” said Gough. "Ensuring more and more Ecuadorian children receive care, nutrition and learning opportunities at an early age will be a decisive step towards a more prosperous and healthier Ecuador post-COVID-19."
UNICEF encourages the Ecuadorian government to invest in early child development services, especially during the pandemic, as it is both cost effective and a valuable investment in young children.
UNICEF works in some of the world's toughest places, to reach the world's most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/lac.