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More than half of young children deprived of play and early learning activities with their fathers - UNICEF

© UNICEF Argentina/2013/Haar

On Father’s Day, celebrated on Sunday 18 June in 80 countries

Launch of new analysis drawn from UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey program in 74 countries, including 14 in Latin America and the Caribbean

NEW YORK, PANAMA,16 June 2017 - More than half  -or 55 per cent- of children aged between 3 and 4 years-old in 74 countries – approximately 40 million – have fathers who do not play or engage in early learning activities with them, according to a new UNICEF analysis.

“What these numbers show us is that fathers are struggling to play an active role in their children’s early years” said Laurence Chandy, UNICEF Director of Data, Research and Policy. “We must break down the barriers that prevent fathers from providing their babies and young children a conducive environment for them to thrive, including love, play, protection and nutritious food. We must ensure that all parents have the time, resources and knowledge they need to fully support their children’s early development.”

The UNICEF analysis, which uses Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) data on parenting behaviours, looked at whether children aged 3 and 4 engaged in any play and early learning activities with their fathers. The activities include having their father read to the children, tell them stories or sing with them; taking them outside, playing with them; and naming, counting or drawing with them. The MICS is the largest collection of comparable data on parental behaviours in the world.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, UNICEF statistics show that only between 6 per cent and 36 per cent of children aged between 3 and 4 years old have fathers who engage in play and early learning activities with them, while the proportion of children of the same age group who have mothers whom engage in these activities is much higher, and varies between 31 per cent and 82 per cent. In households affected by poverty in the region, only 4 per cent to 22 per cent of the fathers are involved, while in the richest quintile households this involvement reaches 39 per cent, which greatly favours the integral development of children.

Public investment in Early Childhood Development is crucial

The Lancet’s Series, Advancing Early Childhood Development: from Science to Scale, launched in October 2016, revealed nearly 250 million children under 5 were at risk of poor development due to stunting and extreme poverty. The Series also revealed that programmes promoting nurturing care —health, nutrition, responsive caregiving, security and safety, and early learning— can cost as little as 50 cents per capita per year when combined with existing health services.

In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) figures show that young children are more at risk of death, malnutrition, or obesity. In the region, a child under five dies every three minutes, mostly from preventable causes. Around 50 per cent of these under-five deaths take place in the first 28 days of life. Six million children under the age of five are chronically malnourished; whilst nearly 4 million children under five are overweight. Around 1.6 million boys and girls are not enrolled in pre-primary education, meaning only 60 per cent of young children are receiving early childhood education. Two out of every three children between 2 and 4 years old are subjected to violent forms of discipline in the home.

"We urge governments and the private sector to decisively incorporate a human rights perspective, prioritizing the best interests of the child, in their investment decisions and in the implementation of policies, to achieve full development of children,” said María Cristina Perceval, Regional Director of UNICEF for Latin America and the Caribbean. "This is the best investment to build prosperous, peaceful and equal societies."

"Starting from the beginning of life, children benefit when both mothers and fathers lovingly assume the responsibility of caring, protect their children, and stimulate their brains with play and early learning,” said Perceval.

Advances in neuroscience have proven that when children spend their earliest years in a nurturing, stimulating environment, new neural connections can form at a once-in-a-lifetime speed of 1,000 per second. These connections help determine children’s present and future health, ability to learn and deal with stress, and can even influence their earning capacity as adults.

Research also suggests that exposure to violence and a lack of stimulation and care can prevent neural connections from forming; and when children positively interact with their fathers, they have better psychological health, self-esteem and life-satisfaction in the long-term.
UNICEF works with governments, civil society, health care professionals and the private sector to support families and communities and increase access to quality early childhood care and education.

UNICEF launches "Super dad" campaign

To encourage more fathers to play an active role in their young children’s development and highlight the importance of love, play, protection and good nutrition for the healthy development of young children’s brains, this month UNICEF is inviting families to post photos and videos of what it takes to be ‘super dads,’ using the hashtag #EarlyMomentsMatter on their Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Photos and videos of UNICEF ambassadors and supporters who have got behind the campaign are being posted on UNICEF’s Instagram and Twitter, and featured on the campaign’s gallery, to inspire families across the world to share their ‘super dads’ moments.

Notes to Editors:
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do.  Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF and its work for children visit www.unicef.org, www.unicef.org/lac.

For more information, please contact:
Marisol Quintero, UNICEF Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, mquintero@unicef.org, Mobile: +507 6569- 2718
Georgina Thompson, UNICEF New York, Mobile: + 1 917 238 1559, gthompson@unicef.org 



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