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ECD -The first step

Being registered at birth is the first step on life’s path.”

- Unity Dow, The Progress of Nations 1998








A boy sick with malarial fever waits in his mother’s lap to be treated at a health post run by the international NGO Médecins Sans Frontières in Chokwe, Mozambique.


So why not?

Programmes that work, outstanding returns on investment, ways to meet legal and moral commitments all beg the question: If early childhood care is such a far-sighted and wise choice for countries, why the failure to invest adequate resources to guarantee every child the best possible start in life?

Standing in the way of ECD are the unanswered calls for economic and social policy reforms in both industrialized and developing countries that would allow the financial resources for developing countries to increase their investment in children in general and early childhood in particular.

Commitment to the 20/20 Initiative. Early childhood care for survival, growth and development is just an empty phrase unless governments in developing countries allocate sufficient resources from their national budgets to basic social services, and donors do the same. The 20/20 Initiative sets the indicative share for both funding sources at 20 per cent. Few countries invest the amounts needed in basic social services, and few donors direct more than 10 per cent of their aid budget to these services. In more than 30 countries the average investment is between 12 per cent and 14 per cent of the national budgets — far short of adequate. The Initiative not only recommends increased spending on basic social services but it also specifically argues for spending that is efficient and promotes equality. In many instances, the richest fifth of the population receives, on average, twice as much support in health and education as the poorest fifth.62 As a result, a family’s poverty is passed from generation to generation, and the same is so for a country’s stalled development.

An additional investment of $80 billion per year — less than a fifth of 1 per cent of global income and an amount available through the 20/20 Initiative — would ensure every baby a good start in life. It would secure for every child the basic social services that are critical: clean water and sanitation, primary health care and basic education. It would give every child the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. The international community cannot wait until poverty is eliminated to invest in children. Investment in basic social services and early childhood care is a government’s best strategy for eliminating impoverishment in its next generation.

Debt relief. Many countries spend more money on debt servicing than on basic social services.63 In Tanzania, nearly 50 per cent of the budget goes to external debt and approximately 10 per cent to social services. With so little of Tanzania’s budget available for education, it is unlikely that Febronia and Damas’ children will finish primary school. Heavy national debt is stealing basic care from children. The Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, launched in 1996 by IMF and the World Bank, brought together creditors to reduce the debt burden of these countries. By 2000, the Initiative had provided debt relief for four countries: Bolivia, Guyana, Mozambique and Uganda. Changing debt liability to investment in children is key to ending poverty. Uganda, the first country to receive HIPC support, has led the way by using its debt dividend to expand primary education, enrolment and care for AIDS orphans.

Needed now more than ever. All sectors of the international community have made the case for budget restructuring and debt relief and argued for it repeatedly. There is little new in the arguments — but for the ever more urgent needs of children and women as generations and continents are lost to disease and violence. In the face of the realities of life for millions of children, the failure to respond as is needed seems an increasingly callous stance for governments to take.

Country profile: Philippines


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