MANILA, 8 December 2018—Child Rights Network (CRN), the largest alliance of organizations and agencies pushing for children’s rights legislation in the Philippines, expresed relief as the “First 1,000 Days” Bill, which seeks to expand the country’s nutrition and health programs to cover children from the first day of the mother’s pregnancy to the their first two years, gets signed into law.
The bill, which has already been approved by the bicameral conference committee last August, was signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte last November 29. The bicam-approved bill, which is now Republic Act No. 11148, was a reconciliation of Senate Bill 1577 and House Bill 5777, which both chambers of Congress say aim to “fix a gaping hole on social protection” in the Philippines.
Why is the first 1,000 days of child development important? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 5.9 million children under 5 years old worldwide die due to malnutrition. Data from the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) gravely complements this WHO figure, with the agency disclosing that almost one in three Filipino children aged 0-2 are marked as malnourished in 2013.
The FNRI also reveals that stunting, or the impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition and repeated infection, is prevalent in the Philippines, with one in three children under five becoming stunted, and 11 of the 17 regions in the country reporting high stunting occurrences. Meanwhile, one in four pregnant women in the country were recorded as “nutritionally at risk” by the FNRI.
If implemented fully, the First 1000 Days Law will provide government support to children in their first 1,000 days starting conception up to a child’s second birthday, a period that has been recognized by various scientific researches as one of the most vulnerable and critical periods in child development.
Now that the government has another powerful weapon in its arsenal to protect and nurture the welfare of children, we call on the government to fully maximize this law that provides an essential tool to protect children and their mothers from getting malnourished or sickly during the critical period of first 1,000 days.
There could be no better way to extend the government’s mantle of social protection than to focus on the first 1,000 days of child development. Such focused government support will ensure that proper nutrition, care, and medical needs are given to those who urgently need it at the most pressing time.
This new law could prove to be economically beneficial in the long run. According to a joint cost research released by the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the National Nutrition Council (NNC), every $1 (P53) invested in interventions to combat child malnutrition and accompanying problems can save around $12 (P639) in foregone earnings or health expenditures – equivalent to a 12:1 benefit-cost ratio.
Beyond the economic benefit, it should be the administration’s moral imperative to fully implement the “First 1,000 Days” Bill, as it would equip concerned government instrumentalities with all the resources they need to ensure that mothers and their babies are at optimum health at this important juncture in their lives.
Under RA 11148, a full slate of health and nutrition services will be provided – from the pre-natal period, to the immediate postpartum period, the newborn period, and up until children reach two years of age. The bill also sets a strategy to prioritize mothers and children in areas with a high prevalence of undernutrition, as identified by the National Household Targeting System.
The immediate implementation of this essential law marks the beginning of a new era wherein the government – and the Filipino people – can proudly declare how much our nation values the Filipino life right from the beginning.
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 in the Philippines, visit www.unicef.ph.