World Bank, UNICEF call leaders to invest more on child programs

World Bank and UNICEF says millions of children under age of five are at risk of never reaching their full developmental potential, calling world leaders to invest more on child programs

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

Malnourished Malawian children sit with their mothers at a feeding centre at the Zomba Central Hospital 60 km's north of Blantyre May 26, 2002.

World leaders should invest in nutrition and early childhood development programs -- important foundation for development and economic growth – the World Bank Group and UNICEF said on Thursday.

Noting that millions of children under age of five are at risk of never reaching their full developmental potential, a joint statement by the organisations stressed that one out of four children under five years of age -- 159 million – around the world are "stunted" due to poor nutrition, while almost half of three- to six-year olds don’t have access to pre-primary education.

While those numbers are significantly higher in some parts of Africa and South Asia, the statement noted that 80 percent of children in sub-Saharan Africa are not enrolled in pre-primary programs.

"The time has come to treat childhood stunting as a development and an economic emergency,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said in the statement.

“How will countries compete in what will certainly be a more digitalised global economy in the future if a third or more of their children are stunted?,” he asked rhetorically.

“Our failure to make the right investments in early childhood development is condemning millions of children to lives of exclusion."

New neuroscience and economic studies show that early childhood experiences have a profound impact on brain development and later on learning, health and adult earnings.

Children who are poorly nurtured are likely to learn less in school and earn less as adults, according to the statement.

"What we are learning about all the elements that affect the development of children’s brains -- whether their bodies are well nourished, whether their minds are stimulated, whether they are protected from violence -- is already changing the way we think about early childhood development," said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.

The World Bank Group and UNICEF said they try to make early childhood development a global policy in order to give all children services to improve their health, nutrition, learning ability and emotional well-being.

They invited governments, civil society and the private sector to take part in early childhood development through investments.

TRTWorld, AA