The early childhood period is considered to be the most important developmental phase throughout the lifespan. What happens to the child in the first few years of life is critical for the child’s developmental trajectory and life-course influencing their mental and physical health, education and future economic participation.
To track global progress on early childhood development (ECD), WHO, UNICEF and partners have launched a new expanded 2020 ECD Countdown to 2030 country profiles. The updated profiles cover 42 ECD indicators and 197 countries, including 60 high-income countries, encompassing 99.8% of the world’s children younger than 5 years.
The 2020 profiles reveal substantial threats to the world’s youngest inhabitants:
- Fewer than half of infants younger than 6 months are exclusively breastfed in most countries with data
- At least 25% of children younger than 5 years are stunted in about a third of the countries
- Fewer than half of young children in a third of the countries receive the benefits of early stimulation and responsive care by adults in their home
- More than three-quarters of children aged 1–4 years experience violent discipline by their caregivers in almost half of the countries.
The Countdown to 2030 country profiles on ECD are an important step in establishing a global monitoring and accountability system for early childhood development, and prompting further advocacy and action to advance ECD. However, data in several critical areas remains a challenge.
Among countries with available data on ECD indicators, fewer than half have data on crucial indicators such as child poverty, or whether young children receive a minimally acceptable diet or attend early education. Rights-based advocacy has helped to raise the availability of data on duration of paid maternity leave and birth registration to above 90% in countries included in the country profiles, but few have data on important indicators, such as early education or home stimulation.
Under the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, many families have become the sole providers of the nurturing care required for young children’s development. While much is unknown about the pandemic’s impact on children’s development, ECD data collected before the start of the pandemic will provide countries with useful baselines to assess the potential effects of health and societal disruptions on young children and their families in the years to come.
Today, urgent action and investment in ECD by governments and national and international organizations are needed, as well as a global definition of responsive caregiving that can be standardized and compared across cultures and contexts.
WHO, UNICEF, the World Bank, and multidisciplinary experts are moving forward with defining measures of responsive caregiving, and working to strengthen questions on children’s health, learning, nutrition, and family environment in standardized household surveys.