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New Lancet series strengthens economic case for investing in early childhood development

Significant progress made in South Africa but many children still left behind

27 September 2011 – New findings published last week by the academic journal The Lancet reveal that increased investment by countries in early childhood development has the potential to contribute to long-term growth and significantly reduce inequalities in low and middle income countries.

The authors argue that early childhood is the most effective time to prevent inequalities before disparities widen, particularly for the poorest children. By investing in early childhood, there are lifetime consequences not only for individuals but for the wellbeing of societies.

These findings emanate from a two-part series by the Child Development Group focusing on early childhood development. This series analyses new evidence on the causes of inequality in child development, assesses the effectiveness of current early child development interventions, and calculates the cost of failing to invest in the developmental potential of disadvantaged children.

The series looks at many case studies from South Africa, particularly in examining the effectiveness of home visit interventions; nutritional interventions; reducing maternal depression; support for families affected by HIV; barriers faced by children with disabilities; and challenges in scaling-up services.

“South Africa has made progress,” says UNICEF’s Representative in South Africa, Aida Girma. “But more investment is needed in quality parenting programmes and organised early learning centres for the most disadvantaged children. These services should be better integrated into existing community-based programmes across a broad range of sectors including health, nutrition, education, water and sanitation, and protection.”

Over the past five years, the number of children enrolled in early childhood development in South Africa centres has risen from 16% to 43%. However the majority of children still do not have access to quality, integrated early childhood development services. The low and inequitable access to early childhood development partly explains the high repetition and lower completion rates which are evident later in the education system, especially at the secondary level.

To access the full text of the papers published in The Lancet, Vol. 378





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