Sept 21, Colombo: The United Nations agency for children, UNICEF says Sri Lanka must have basic national policies for early childhood development if it wants to build a knowledge-based economy as it has envisioned.
The UNICEF says Sri Lanka must have the three critical policies - two years of free pre-primary education; paid breastfeeding breaks for new mothers for the first six months; and adequate paid parental leave - to support children's early brain development as the country's bold vision to build a knowledge-based economy, will be driven by the people's intellectual capabilities.
Only 15 countries worldwide have three basic national policies that help guarantee the time and resources parents need to support their young children's healthy brain development, UNICEF said today in a new report.
According to the report, Early Moments Matter for Every Child two years of free pre-primary education, paid breastfeeding breaks during the first six months of a child's life, and six months of paid maternity leave as well as four weeks of paid paternity leave help lay a critical foundation for optimal early childhood development. These policies help parents better protect their children and provide them with better nutrition, play and early learning experiences in the crucial first years of life when the brain grows at a rate never to be repeated.
The report notes that Cuba, France, Portugal, Russia and Sweden are among the countries that guarantee all three policies.
In the case of Sri Lanka, whilst the country does provide paid breastfeeding breaks during the first six months to women working within the government sector, women in other sectors and especially those employed in the 'informal' sector have little or no provision. Further parental leave is not uniform, if provided at all, and as yet two years of free pre-primary education is not provided nationwide.
"Earlier this month Sri Lanka set out a bold vision to build 'a knowledge-based economy, which will be driven by our intellectual capabilities'. Achieving this will depend, in a large part, on ensuring our children and young people can reach their full intellectual potential - and this means caring for their brains especially in early childhood, when the science shows that their brains and their futures are being rapidly shaped," said UNICEF Sri Lanka Representative Tim Sutton.
"Family friendly policies - including paid parental leave, breastfeeding breaks and free access to pre-school - that enable parents and caregivers to support children during this period are therefore critical. For Sri Lanka to progress at the pace we want, this report shows that we must move policy in this area."
Officially launched by UNICEF at a high-level United Nations General Assembly side event, to be attended by the Deputy Minister of Social Empowerment, Welfare & Kandyan Heritage Ranjan Ramanayake, the report also highlights that millions of children under five years old are spending their formative years in unsafe, unstimulating environments.
Failure to protect and provide the most disadvantaged children with early development opportunities undermines potential growth of whole societies and economies, the report warns, citing one study that revealed that children from poor households who experience play and early learning at a young age earned an average of 25 per cent more as adults than those who did not.
The report calls for governments and the private sector to support basic national policies to support early childhood development, including by:
- Investing in and expanding early childhood development services in homes, schools, communities and health clinics – prioritizing the most vulnerable children;
- Making family-friendly policies, including two years of free pre-primary education, paid parental leave and paid breastfeeding breaks, a national priority;
- Giving working parents the time and resources needed to support their young children's brain development;
- Collecting and disaggregating data on early childhood development and tracking progress in reaching the most vulnerable children and families.