UNICEF and Goodwill Ambassador Shakira urges leaders to join early childhood revolution
Sept.23, Geneva: The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its Goodwill Ambassador and international pop star Shakira urged global leaders to invest heavily in early childhood development in the wake of new science that is creating a revolutionary shift in understanding the lasting effects of deprivation and stress on the developing brains of young children.
More than 100 million children are out of school and 159 million boys and girls under five are physically and cognitively stunted due to a lack of care and proper nutrition.
“Every year that passes without us making significant investment in early childhood development and initiatives that address these issues, millions of kids will be born into the same cycle of poverty and lack of opportunity,” UNICEF said.
According to UNICEF, brain development is most intense during early childhood, with nearly 1,000 neural connections happening every second. These early synaptic connections form the basis of a child’s health and wellbeing, including the lifelong capacity to learn, adapt to change, and handle adversity.
Yet nearly one-third of all children under five years of age in lower- and middle-income countries are reportedly growing up in environments and situations that can interfere with this period of rapid growth and development.
Meanwhile, new scientific research shows that the developing brains of young children are as affected by environmental factors as they are by genetics. Inadequate nutrition, lack of stimulation, and toxic stress all can have a negative impact on brain development.
But it also shows that early, cost-effective interventions, such as encouraging breast feeding, or reading and playing with young children, as well as formal early education programmes, all support healthier brain development.
Evidence increasingly points to investment in early childhood as one of the most cost-effective ways to achieve sustainable development. A study on increasing pre-school enrolment in 73 countries found higher future wages of $6 - $17 per dollar invested, indicating potential long-term benefits ranging from $11 to $34 billion.
The event preludes this week’s adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will officially include early childhood development as part of the transformative agenda for 2015 and beyond.
UNICEF is highlighting that early childhood development provides a natural link between the new global goals, producing a multiplier effect that can help address poverty, improve health and nutrition, promote gender equality, and reduce violence.
The Oslo Times