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Malawi First Lady spotlights Early Childhood Development

UNICEF Malawi/2011
© UNICEF Malawi/2011
The First Lady Mrs. Callista Mutharika talks to caregivers at Lwitiko Community-Based Child Care Center in Karonga, Malawi.

Karonga, Malawi, 7th February 2011: The First Lady of Malawi, Madam Callista Mutharika, was on Monday installed as the Eminent Advocate for Children at a colourful ceremony held at Mlare Primary School in the northern district of Karonga.

Mrs. Mutharika said she accepted the position because it was a culmination of her long-cherished dream to raise the profile of children in the country.

“Children’s issues are a challenge because children remain largely invisible. They are left out of many critical decisions that affect their lives yet they have to bear the brunt of the decisions and actions they were not a part of,” she said. “I commit myself to serve the children with due diligence and compassion. It is in my interest to continue engaging the President into thinking about children as his priority just as he has already demonstrated time and again.”

In particular, Mrs. Mutharika said she will devote her time to raising the profile of Early Childhood Development in Malawi because it was linked to the work she was already doing as Ambassador for Safe Motherhood.

“This role [safe motherhood] focuses on survival. Nevertheless, survival alone is not enough. Our children need to grow and develop to realize their fullest potential in life. This new role is therefore in line with and compliments the safe motherhood portfolio that I have. I am here to encourage and provide support and advocate for the care and protection of children in their tender age so that they grow up healthy morally, physically and intellectually.”

Early Childhood Development in Malawi is offered by communities and the private sector. At community level, there are about 7,000 Community-Based Child Care Centers (CBCCs) providing ECD services to about 500,000 under-five children. A 2008 survey found that most CBCCs are located in rural areas where they cater mostly to poor and vulnerable children. 88,000 orphans and 16,000 children with special needs were registered in these centers.

The centers are manned by 23,000 volunteers, three-quarters of whom are women. They provide water, minimal health care, a meal, and play and recreation to the children. In 2008, there were 20 children for every caregiver.

UNICEF Malawi/2011
© UNICEF Malawi/2011
The First Lady Mrs. Callista Mutharika helps a child get on a swing at Lwitiko Community-Based Child Care Center in Karonga, Malawi.

Malawi’s ECD programme has been lauded for being truly community-based. The programme however faces numerous challenges which the First Lady pledged to address. These include:

  • Inadequate centers. Only 32 per cent of children aged between two and five years attend some kind of ECD center, meaning 68 per cent of children who enter primary school each year are ill-prepared; 
  • The buildings in which children learn are poor and inadequate. Many centres are characterized by poor ventilation, dusty rooms, poor lighting, temporary dilapidated structures and lack child-friendly sanitary facilities;
  • There is no accreditation system for the volunteer caregivers. As a result, the quality of teaching and care they provide leaves a lot to be desired;
  • ECD suffers from chronic under-funding and low priority. Most government ministries do not have structures for ECD and some are unable to pinpoint how much of their budgets are spent on ECD. There are encouraging signs however that the government is gradually increasing its budgetary allocations to ECD. In 2009, only 800,000 Malawi Kwacha was allocated but the figure rose to 25 million Kwacha in 2010.
  • There is a lack of support for ECD from development partners. The programme receives support from PLAN Malawi, Feed the Children and UNICEF which has spent $3 million in the last three years on ECD activities. In 2010, the World Bank provided a grant of $2 million.



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