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After one year it is too late

Showing how rapidly the brain’s ability to be stimulated regresses after age one, Dr. Chris Desmond from the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa stressed that the provision of a comprehensive package of services for Early Childhood Development requires a cross-sectoral involvement of all government departments, civil society organisations, religious groups, commerce, agriculture and environmental services combined to improve the reach, quality and success of IECD systems.

Despite positive gains, many children still face enormous inequality. Poverty affects 34% of all children, while one in three children is stunted, 13% of primary school aged children are out of school, with an increasing dropout rate at secondary level, and alarming levels of socially tolerated family violence and child abuse.  According to the 2011 Population and Housing Census, only 13.9% of children between birth and age four, have passed through an Early Childhood Development programme and many children with disabilities do not benefit from early intervention programmes.

At a meeting to discuss the absolute necessity of Early Childhood Development earlier this week in Windhoek, participants agreed that making investments in Early Childhood Development is a fundamental cost effective way to improve the cognitive, social and intellectual development of children and set the course for a child’s lifelong health, productivity, education level, good citizenship, successful parenting and better job prospects. These early interventions include health care, protection and welfare, early stimulation and positive parenting, and pre-school education. “Promoting early learning is one of the invaluable components of an integrated Early Childhood Development programme,” said UNICEF Representative, Micaela Marques de Sousa. “There is also an urgent need to complement and support early learning opportunities with access to adequate nutrition, protection and social inclusion services to eliminate the social and economic barriers that inhibit the most vulnerable, hardest to reach populations from enjoying equitable and quality development programmes that may reduce their exposure to risks.” Riding in a sling on the back of the mother may be positive for bonding and convenient for nourishment, but it leads to an extremely limited exposure to external stimuli. One of the strategies recommended by the fourth National Development Plan is to transfer the existing Infant and Early Childhood Development centres from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare to the Ministry of Education. NDP4 further advocates a series of IECD centres acros the country to make early development an educational priority as opposed to a health consideration. Key components for the success of an Early Childhood Development programme are “community outreach programmes, parenting and family support as well as home visitation programmes,” said Ms. de Sousa.

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