A Child’s First 1000 Days: Crucial to Development
Every child deserves the best start in life. No matter where they live. However, UNICEF’s latest report on child nutrition, launched at the Dublin Conference on Hunger – Nutrition – Climate Justice hosted by the Mary Robinson Foundation and Irish Government, revealed that every year 2.3 million children under the age of five still die of malnutrition and 165 million children are stunted as a result of not receiving enough nutritious food within the first 1000 days of life.
This report demonstrates the vital link between development and the importance of the first 1000 days of a child’s life. It is in these crucial first years that nutrition interventions make the biggest difference in a child’s physical, intellectual and emotional development. When a child is stunted school attendance and performance suffers. This then makes it harder for them to get a decent and fulfilling job. Undernourished mothers have a greater chance of giving birth to an underweight baby increasing the likelihood of neonatal death. Addressing stunting can break the cycle of poverty and have significant social and economic impacts on the development of nations. However, at the moment the scale of stunting means that more than one quarter of the world’s children cannot reach their full potential.
Children in poor communities are more than twice as likely to be stunted, and more than 90% of the world’s stunted children are in Africa and Asia. Last year I was in Chad and I saw for myself the devastating impact of hunger and malnutrition. Even in a ‘good’ year in Chad too many children don’t get enough to eat, leaving them malnourished and their growth stunted.
This global injustice needs to be tackled. The evidence is clear both in the UK and internationally that investment in the earliest years makes the biggest difference to a child’s development – physically, intellectually and emotionally – giving them a head start to living a fulfilling and productive life. Investing in these first 1000 days is also the most cost-effective way to make a difference to reducing chronic malnutrition. UNICEF has identified 13 simple but key interventions from breastfeeding to Vitamin A supplements than can tackle child malnutrition and according to the Copenhagen Consensus 2012, every $1 spent to reduce chronic malnutrition has at least a $30 payoff. These interventions along with preventative action to provide safe water, promote hygiene and prevent diseases are essential. This evidence should surely be applied to the poorest, most disadvantaged children in every society.
This year the UK has a unique opportunity to show global leadership on this issue. The UK is hosting a Hunger Summit in June ahead of the G8 meeting of leaders. The World Bank has estimated the funding shortage to address child malnutrition is $10.3billion a year; the UK’s contribution would be $232million. The Government has honoured Labour’s commitment to spend 0.7% of our national income on aid and development, and as this budget increases there is a compelling case to contribute more finance to nutrition. The UN’s Millennium Declaration states that children’s development is the starting point for reducing the burden’s of poverty across the globe, so investing in children will help us to achieve our development objectives faster.
Beyond the G8 this summer, the UN will continue its deliberations on what should replace the Millennium Development Goals when they reach their deadline in 2015. I believe that there should be a strong focus on children and central to any new development framework should be an integrated approach to the early childhood years bringing together nutrition, immunisation, maternal health, parenting, and education. Early years development is essential and that is why I have asked Tessa Jowell supported by Sarah Brown to lead a global campaign to ensure this is part of the new post-2015 framework.
A changing world requires a radical new development framework that focuses on ending poverty and reducing inequality by building capacity within developing countries to enable them to deal with the structural causes of poverty. In January I set out Labour’s vision for a new post-2015 development framework which should be underpinned by three pillars: social justice, with an explicit focus on tackling inequality; growth which is sustainable; and good governance as applied not only to developing country governments but also donors, multinational companies and multilateral organisations. Giving every child, regardless of where they live, the best start in life is the surest way to achieving poverty reduction, more vibrant societies and greater equality. UNICEF’s report will do a great deal to draw the world’s attention to the importance of investing in children, and I hope the Hunger Summit and G8 special event on tax, trade and transparency will take big steps towards ending extreme poverty, starting with our children.
This article first appeared on the Huffington Post on Tuesday 16th April 2013. View it here.