The first five years of a child’s life are the most crucial for their healthy development. In fact, 90% of brain development happens when you are young. What a child experiences during this time deeply affects brain development, and can cause long-term damage to health, learning and behaviour.
In short, what happens to you before you are five years old has everything to do with how you will be as an adult.
Children of conflict are especially vulnerable to these issues, a Theirworld report published in September 2016, says. “In 2015 alone, UNICEF estimated that as many as 16 million babies were born into conflict settings, and according to UNHCR, half of the world’s refugees today are children.”
The report outlines how these children face exploitation, the risk of physical harm, psychological trauma; younger children can suffer intensely from the effects of stress and physical deprivation. This goes without mentioning the obvious strain, and in some case obliteration, of any cognitive and socioemotional developmental support.
“The impact these traumatic experiences can have on a child’s long term development means that babies and toddlers absolutely cannot afford to wait for the end of a crisis to learn, play, and receive holistic care.”
Over 200 million children under the age of five fail to reach their full developmental potential, the report claims, as access to Early Childhood Development (ECD) services are critically limited. This does not take in to account the additional stress put on services in emergency situations, where “family and social networks are torn apart and social service delivery is interrupted.”
The U.N. mediator for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, stated that whilst the Syrian ceasefire appears to be holding, humanitarian aid is still not being able to access besieged areas where food supplies are critically low, Reuters reported yesterday. If services are unable to access those who need them even to provide basic necessities such as food, then it is no wonder so many children are growing up without ECD care.
There also remains issues concerning a chronic lack of funding for active humanitarian response meant that over halfway through 2016 only 37% of required funding had been received. Additionally, large-scale ECD remains grossly under-prioritised in emergency response, and whilst the youngest children are “almost always” identified in targets, these interventions fail to include a ‘whole child’ approach which considers the cognitive and psychological needs of a child, and not just the physical.
The report has outlined a number of recommendations as methods to curb the crisis, which include:
“Establish “Safe Spaces” for pregnant women, mothers and caregivers, and babies and young children (0-5) in emergencies where their physical, cognitive and psychosocial needs can be met.”
“Increase donor prioritisation and funding of ECD in emergencies.”
“Create national level “whole child” strategies in both education policy and emergency response.”
To support this cause, Theirworld have launched a ‘#5for5‘ campaign demanding that by the end of 2017 world leaders allocate funds to support ECD programmes.
Featured image: September 11, 2016 © Ameer Al-Halbi / Stringer