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Global Action Week: rights from the start

Today marks the start of Global Action Week on Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) – ‘Rights from the Start’.

A child’s first days, months and years – from prenatal until the age of eight – are crucial.

A child from a pre-school in Rubavo, Rwanda participating in the Rwandan Global Action Week.

Focusing on those years is vital to guarantee that a child survives beyond the age of five and develops fully. Ultimately, this period will shape the rest of their childhood, adolescence and adult life.

Worldwide, more than 200 million children under five don’t reach their full developmental potential due to the absence of early childhood care programmes and a lack of nutritious food.

Those who do reach primary school often lack the basic skills to develop or learn in a classroom setting. This leads to high numbers dropping out, never reaching even first or second grade.

Tackling inequality holistically

ECCD combines interventions that respond holistically to children’s needs, rather than compartmentalising children into sectors.

It’s one of the best investments governments can make to secure an equal start for all children, and has the biggest effect on the poorest and most marginalised children.

“A child cannot be divided into sectors: working together is the only way,” said Theoneste Niyonzima, the Early Childhood Development expert in Rwanda’s Ministry of Education, who has been instrumental in developing the country’s holistic ECCD policy – adopted in 2011.

He addressed this comment to senior officials in Rwanda’s government, as well as the First Lady of the Republic of Rwanda, at a joint UNICEF, Save the Children and Imbuto Foundation seminar last week.

Often seen to be strictly an education intervention, there are some myths to dispel here:

  • ECCD combines key child survival and education interventions.
  • If implemented properly, ECCD brings together Ministries of Health, Food and Agriculture, Education, Gender and Child Welfare and in some cases, Justice.
  • It takes an integrated approach, taking into account pregnancy, nutrition, health and developmental milestones.

Why ECCD must be implemented jointly:

  • Increasing pre-school enrolment rates to 25% in every low-income and middle-income country could yield an estimated US$10.6 billion through higher educational achievement. A 50% increase could generate US$33.7 billion.
  • Improvements in educational efficiency alone are calculated to pay back close to 85% of the costs of ECCD interventions.
  • Malnourished children will struggle to reach their potential, physically and mentally.

Firmer commitments needed

It may only be a week of action led by civil society, but many governments need to take ECCD seriously and this week should remind them of the importance of guaranteeing children’s rights in the early years.

They have to move from recognition to action, which means policies and budgets need to be in place to provide children with the best foundations.

ECCD is an investment governments cannot miss.

For more information take a look at our most recent report Laying the Foundations: Early Childhood Care and Development

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