National Integrated Early Childhood Development Policy of Uganda launched

Investing in the early years of Uganda's children

By Catherine Ntabadde Makumbi
A man holds up policy booklets
UNICEF Uganda/2016/UNICEF Uganda
11 December 2016

Kampala, 2016 - Uganda’s first ever National Integrated Early Childhood Development (ECD) Policy and Action Plan have been launched. 

Implementing the policy will cost government and its partners about shs 1.2 trillion. The NIECD Policy and Action Plan will ensure integrated services for children from conception to 8 years of age in the form of health, nutrition, education, protection, water and sanitation and parenting support services; representing one of the most cost-effective ways for Uganda to achieve more sustainable socio-economic growth in the future.

Launched at an interactive event that was live screened on three of Uganda’s major televisions, the policy will provide avenues for young children in Uganda to develop the foundation required to realise their potential wellbeing and success throughout their lives.

The 2nd Deputy Premier Rt. Hon. Kirunda Kivejinja represented President Yoweri Museveni at the launch on September 15th, 2015 at Imperial Royale Hotel.  

Endorsing the role of integrated ECD services for every child in Uganda as a critical and fundamental strategic step towards achieving Vision 2040, the President Mr. Museveni called for the setting up of at least one quality ECD centre in every village across Uganda by 2020. “I would like to see that every Universal Primary Education school has a quality ECD centre,” he explained.  

Citing his age at 81, Hon. Kivejinja noted that he is a good example of early childhood development adding that he considers himself a “specimen of what today’s children should be in future.”

To realize the aims of the policy, President Museveni in a speech read by Kivejinja called for “a massive up-front investment in integrated ECD services from the Government, Private Sector, and Development partners” and urged all to capitalize on the Government’s imminent transition towards Programme Based Budgeting (PBB) and fully integrate comprehensive ECD in the new national budget architecture”.

UNICEF’s Chief of Communication Jaya Murthy presented an introduction to ECD and the need to investment more in ECD.

Responsive care and stimulating experiences enhance brain development. The environment shapes the brain.

Murthy encouraged parents, caregivers and guardians to regularly engage and play with their children noting that early interactions impact learning outcomes. 

On the return on investment, Murthy said the highest returns are between 0-3 years, calling upon stakeholders to invest more in the ECD integrated programs.

UNICEF Representative in Uganda Aida Girma said the policy and action plan represent a pivotal milestone for Uganda’s overall socio-economic development, especially as the country intensifies its pursuit of sustainable wealth creation and inclusive growth in order to achieve Middle Income Country status by 2020 and become an upper Middle Income Country by 2040. 

Girma highlighted five key areas where UNICEF will support government to implement the policy:

  • Scaling up a national programme for Quality Early Childhood Development where every young child in Uganda has their right to the full development of their capacities and skills realized.
  • Building the capacity of the ECD workforce to deliver quality ECD services to all young children across the country.
  • Strengthening national data and evidence generation on ECD to improve the delivery of ECD programmes.
  • Supporting sustainable finance for ECD services, including supporting the Government’s imminent transition towards Programme-Based Budgeting (PBB) in order to fully integrate comprehensive ECD in the new national budget architecture.  We also look forward to supporting the Government to establish an innovative Public-Private Partnership financing mechanism that enables a major up-front investment to immediately scale up quality ECD services across the country.
  • Supporting with communications, advocacy and partnership building to foster a movement for Early Childhood Development across Uganda.   Girma added that in conjunction with the launch of the Policy and Action Plan, UNICEF is already supporting the Government to launch the #BestStartInLife campaign with key media partners to highlight all of the actions parents and care givers of young children across Uganda can take to stimulate the optimal development

Global evidence shows that for every dollar spent on early childhood interventions, there is at least a $7 return on that investment, making investments in Early Childhood Development one of the best investments any society can make.

Situation of young children in Uganda

Today, with 56% of its population under the age of 18 – 20 million of its 35 million citizens – Uganda is one of the youngest countries in the world.  And with six children born to every woman of reproductive age, on average, Uganda’s population is set to double in the next 25 – 30 years.

  • 55% of Uganda’s 3.7 million children under the age of 5 are living in poverty. 
  • Only 48% of pregnant women make the recommended minimum of 4 ante-natal care visits
  • Under five mortality rate is 90 deaths per 1,000 live births.
  • On a daily basis, 52 children die of Pneumonia, 42 die from Malaria and 33 die from Diarrhoea
  • Under nutrition accounts for 40% of under 5 deaths
  • 2.3 million children are chronically undernourished
  • Only 10 per cent of children enrol in pre-primary school
  • Nearly 490% of children have experience physical violence
  • 11 per cent of children are orphans

The Country Director of Plan International Rashid Javed who spoke on behalf of civil society organisations called for adequate allocation of budget and resources for the effective implementation, enforcement and reporting on the policy.

Representing the private sector, Gideon Badagawa Executive Director of Private Sector Foundation Uganda also emphasised the need to invest in ECD noting that “Children are our consumers in the private sector and have a stake in investing in young people. It is time the private sectors pays more attention to ECD.”  

John Ssekamatte-Ssebuliba from the National Planning Authority said the effective delivery of ECD services demands the adoption of an expanded vision of programme planning and budgeting processes

Moving forward

The policy provides guidance on the implementation arrangement. The desirable goal of having children develop to their full potential will be attained starting with effective coordination of efforts and resources by Government, private sector, communities and families. 

The strategies to achieve this include strengthened Policy and legal frameworks, effective resource mobilization, strategic planning and decision making based on clearly defined outcomes and indicators that can be rigorously monitored and evaluated. Families as primary providers also play a critical role in leading and extending the services to children. All this support of empowering communities and families play an instrumental role in leadership, planning, decision making to the extent that it will lead to the holistic development of the child.

To symbolise the policy and action plan launch, children in the ages of 1-8 years showcased their skills by taking guests through play items while others sang an ECD song alongside two artists, Bebe Cool and Lilian Mbabazi. In addition, different stakeholders showcased their work in the area of ECD through exhibitions.