Early childhood

Early childhood development


Early childhood development

© UNICEF SA Photo by R Simmonds
Young children in their dance class at the Lapeng Child and Family Resource Service in inner city Johannesburg.

In South Africa, children from birth to four years old, some 4,45 million of them according to the latest census data, represent almost 10% of the country’s total population. Three of the four provinces - KwaZulu Natal, Gauteng, Eastern Cape and Limpopo, where UNICEF focuses its Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme are among those with the highest number of children in this age group. The lives of children in these provinces, especially in the deep rural areas, are directly affected by HIV and AIDS, unemployment and grinding poverty.

UNICEF is supporting the development of a National Integrated Strategy for Early Childhood Development and to increase national, provincial and local understanding of IECD in a practical and accessible manner.  Special focus is being given to the development of materials for primary care-givers focused on the psycho-social support of 0-3 year-old children and to promoting skills development at community level for these groups, particularly child-headed households.

Inter-sectoral collaboration values the contribution and role that different service providers play in ensuring the well-being of children. An approach that is holistic places the child at the centre of a protective and enabling environment that brings together the elements needed for the full development of that child.  Parents, or primary caregivers and the family, need access to basic social services such as primary health care, adequate nutrition, safe water, basic sanitation, birth registration, protection from abuse and violence, psychosocial support and early childhood care.

One of the main policy documents impacting on early childhood development is the Ministry for Social Development’s White Paper on Social Welfare. This guides the ministry in terms of service provisions in the social development sector. Key points include:

  • provision for children 0-9, with a special interest in the 0-3 year old age group;
  • placing early childhood development within the family environment, especially for those children under the age of 5 years.  There is recognition of single parent families and families caring for children in especially difficult circumstances; 
  • it calls for an inter-sectoral national Early Childhood Development Strategy bringing together other government departments, civil society and the private sector;
  • it emphasizes service delivery in early childhood development targeting all care givers, parents and social service professionals; 
  • the registration of early childhood development services.

© UNICEF SA Photo by G Pirozzi
Access to social grants is the key to life-saving support for many young children and their families.

In addition, the Child Care Act 1983, as amended, provides for the regulation of early childhood facilities for children and the payment of subsidies/grants to early childhood facilities. These provisions are being reviewed within the new Children’s Bill that is being developed under the auspices of the Department of Social Development. The Department is the main body responsible for the payment of the child support grant for young children in situations of extreme poverty.  It is also assigned a key role in the care and support to orphans and vulnerable children in terms of the National Integrated Plan for Children affected and infected by HIV/AIDS.

Another important policy document, the Child Care Act 1983, as amended, provides for the regulation of the country’s day care facilities for children and the payment of subsidies or grants to day care facilities. These provisions are being reviewed within the new Children’s Bill currently before Parliament. Within this policy environment UNICEF South Africa is working to strengthen and formalise relationships with key government stakeholders such as the Department of Social Development to ensure that access to the Government’s child support grants for children in situations of extreme poverty; and with other government and civil society partners to ensure that the health, education, water and sanitation, social services and protection needs and the well-being of very young children are met.

Read more

A combination of UNICEF, UN and other resources to build knowledge to Unite for Children. Unite against AIDS

UNICEF South Africa publications on Early Childhood

Partners and links

Department of Social Development

SABC Education

Department of Education

Department of Health

Active Learning & Leisure Libraries

Early Childhood Development in Africa





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