EU and UNICEF: Early childhood development to be a national priority

The EU and UNICEF are joining forces in supporting Montenegro to develop an effective early childhood system, which will improve the health and wellbeing of children whilst also supporting caregivers.

UNICEF Montenegro
A mother and a baby
UNICEF Montenegro / Duško Miljanić / 2018
28 October 2020

PODGORICA, 22 OCTOBER 2020 – Investing in early childhood care means providing children with the best start in life and giving them the best prospects for the future. It means reducing child poverty and nurturing future citizens who are caring, capable and responsible. For this reason, through a new 3-year initiative, the Delegation of the European Union (EU) in Montenegro and UNICEF will support Montenegro to make early childhood development a national priority.

A father and a baby
UNICEF Montenegro / Duško Miljanić / 2018

The EU and UNICEF are joining forces in supporting Montenegro to develop an effective early childhood system, which will improve the health and wellbeing of children whilst also supporting caregivers. The 3-year programme will last until July 2023. It is being funded by the European Union with €1 million and is being implemented by UNICEF, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.

The first years of life have a profound effect on a child’s future – on brain development, health, wellbeing, their ability to learn in school and even their job prospects in life. The price of not investing in early childhood is there being children with poorer health, fewer skills and reduced earning potential. This means that a country will have a weaker economy and a greater child poverty and so, there will be a greater burden on the health, education and welfare systems. Therefore, the evidence is clear: early childhood development must be a national priority. UNICEF, together with the EU, will support Montenegro in this area.

Juan Santander, UNICEF Montenegro Representative

The EU Delegation in Montenegro also recognizes early childhood development as a global and national priority. For this reason, it finances the Program of support to early childhood development in Montenegro.

The early years are essential in that they greatly influence individuals’ prospects concerning education, employment and integration later in life. High-quality services are essential for improving education outcomes and for giving a fair start to all pupils, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The EU wants to guarantee that all children will realize the right to affordable early childhood education and good quality care. We are delighted to fund this initiative, helping Montenegro to care for its youngest and give them the best prospects in life. It is one of the best investments a country can make.

Oana-Cristina Popa, EU Ambassador and Head of the EU Delegation

Governments all over the world have already pledged to support early childhood development within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They now need to back up this pledge with action and place early childhood development at the top of their economic and political agendas.

Good early development is every child’s right. Making sure that all children in Montenegro realize this right will be a priority in order to ensure sustainable development and acceleration of the EU accession process.

Aleksandar Drljević, Chief Negotiator for Montenegro's Accession to the European Union
A mom and a child
UNICEF Montenegro / Duško Miljanić / 2013
A father and a child
UNICEF Montenegro / Duško Miljanić / 2013

This EU and UNICEF joint initiative will include cooperation with the health, education and social and child protection systems. In the area of health, awareness-raising campaigns will be implemented to increase breastfeeding and immunization rates. The programme will also work with educational institutions and parents to improve preschool enrolment rates. In regards to social and child protection, the initiative will ensure that the needs of the poor and most excluded young children are taken into consideration in policy development.

Through this initiative, the EU and UNICEF will help the Montenegrin authorities to develop and implement a national strategy on early childhood development, thereby also raising the overall awareness of the importance of early child development. The capacities of health, protection and education services to deliver appropriate services to families and young children, including children with disabilities, will be increased. Finally, parents and caregivers will be provided with opportunities to acquire new knowledge and skills, which will enable them to provide their children with positive, responsive and nurturing care more easily.

A father and a child
UNICEF Montenegro / Duško Miljanić / 2013
A father and a child
UNICEF Montenegro / Duško Miljanić / 2013

Background information


A UNICEF survey from 2018 showed that only one in five babies in Montenegro are exclusively breastfed during the first six months of life, even though the World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding during this period. According to the Institute of Public Health, less than one half of Montenegro’s children (42%) got their first dose of the MMR vaccine in 2018. Measles can spread easily without proper immunization, putting lives at risk. The MMR vaccine has saved almost a million lives per year over the last two decades.


According to MONSTAT, 73% of children aged 3–6 were enrolled in preschool in Montenegro in 2019, with the lowest rates displayed in the north of Montenegro. Attendance to preschool of children from Roma families is as low as 16%. Last year, the total number of children with disabilities attending preschool was just 66. Scientific research shows that children who attend preschool have better results in school later on and develop stronger social and emotional intelligence. Preschool education can significantly contribute to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty.


According to UNICEF research from 2018, while most mothers (84%) engage with their children in activities like reading, singing and playing, less than half of all fathers (44%) engage their children with these activities. At the same time, over 70 percent of children aged 3-4 were exposed to physical and psychological punishment at home. Being a parent is probably the most challenging task in life. Greater support for all parents to cope with this responsibility effectively will be ensured through different parenting programmes throughout the country.