By Chioma Umeha
With Nigeria in the list of ten countries with the largest number of children at risk of poor development, a report of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched in Abuja Tuesday, has said alerted that the Nigerian child is at risk of under-development.
The UN agency for children further explained that this is because of critical national policies which are not providing adequate foundation for children’s growth.
A statement which was jointly signed by Doune Porter, Chief of Communication and Geoffrey Njoku, Communication Specialist, both from UNICEF Nigeria, said, “Nigeria is putting its children at risk of under-development, both physically and mentally, because critical national policies are not providing adequate foundation for their growth.
“During the first years of a child’s life, the brain grows rapidly; providing good nutrition, loving care and appropriate playing opportunities provide solid foundations for a child’s learning – and eventual contribution to economic and social growth.”
The UNICEF report, titled – Early Moments Matter for Every Child, outlines three policies that can give parents the time and resources needed to support their young children’s healthy development.
The recommended policies according to the report are: two years of free pre-primary education; six months of paid maternity leave; and four weeks of paid paternity leave.
However, the report noted with regret, “Nigeria currently has just three months of paid maternity leave, only one year of free pre-primary education and no paternity leave at all.
“Only about one in every 10 pre-primary children are enrolled in early education activities.”
According to the medical journal, The Lancet, Nigeria ranks among the ten countries with the largest number of children at risk of poor development.
A 2016 national survey also indicated that 31 per cent of children under the age of five are moderately or severely underweight in Nigeria. Stunting as a result of malnutrition can cause irreversible physical and mental retardation.
Even though exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life has clearly been shown to improve physical and mental development, the same survey revealed that only 24 per cent of Nigerian children are exclusively breastfed for six months.
Recommending paid maternity leave, the report said, it will help to increase the number of children exclusively breastfed.
“What we call Early Childhood Development, which includes physical and cognitive support, has a strategic place in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Mohamed Fall UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.
“Investing in Early Childhood Development including services to support caregivers, quality pre-primary education and good nutrition will help to secure healthy and productive future generations in Nigeria,” he added.
As well as supporting exclusive breastfeeding, having good Early Childhood Development policies in place will help to improve the overall health and nutrition of a child, enable parents and caregivers to be more responsive to children’s needs and provide greater safety and security. It will also provide improved early learning.
With 90 per cent of a child’s brain development occurring before the age of five, early childhood experiences can have a profound impact on a child’s development can ultimately impact a country’s growth.