Early Childhood Development Forum
Organized under the High-Level International Conference on International Decade for Action “Water and Sustainable Development”
19 June 2018
Opening Remarks by
Dr. Pratibha Mehta,
UN Resident Coordinator in Tajikistan
Honorable Dr. Saida Hayrat, Deputy Minister of Health
Honorable Dr. Naziri, Deputy Minister of Education
I am very honored to welcome you all to this Early Childhood Development Panel discussion taking place at the onset of the High-Level International Conference on Water and Sustainable Development hosted by the Government of Tajikistan in collaboration with the United Nations to discuss the implementation of SDG6 and the UN General Assembly resolution on International decade of action for water for sustainable development.
Some have asked me what is the rationale for a panel discussion on Early Childhood Development in a Water conference. While water is source of life throughout the life cycle of living beings, it is extremely important in laying the foundation in the early childhood phase of physical, emotional, neurological and cognitive development. Without addressing the problems of water, sanitation and hygiene, children’s rights to an adequate standard of living, attainment of quality health and nutrition, education and overall wellbeing, as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of Child, cannot be entirely fulfilled.
While the MDGs implementation, during 2000 -2015, contributed in vastly reducing child mortality and increasing school enrolment, there is still an unfinished agenda, especially with regards to reaching all the poor, vulnerable, marginalized and children with special needs. It is estimated that nearly 1.5 million children below the age of five years still die due to water borne diseases such as diarrhea; but those who die are not the only children affected. Nearly 50% of child malnutrition is associated with safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.
Normally, school and childhood must go hand in hand but many children living in poor and low-income communities with no access to safe water and sanitation cannot attend school because they are sick with diarrhea or, spend substantial time, particularly girls, in walking long distance to help their mothers fetch water for their families. But situation for children who are at pre-school and school is no better. Globally, nearly one third schools do not have safe water supply or adequate sanitation, children get dehydrated and lose their attention span affecting their ability to learn and play. They are forced to use inadequate toilets or to go out in the open with no provision for washing hands.
Hydration, hygiene, nutrition, schooling, stimulation and nurturing are some fundamental enablers for brain’s development in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life which improves children’s capacity to learn and thrive thus increasing their productivity in adulthood. Investing in holistic development of children in the first 1,000 days of their lives is one of the best ways to break the vicious cycle of poverty and inequality and ensure that the future generation would enjoy greater well-being and will be better equipped to contribute in the national development as adults.
Tajikistan made significant progress on several MDGs including in reducing infant mortality rate from 74 to 39 per 1000 live births and child mortality from 93 to 45 per 1000 live births, achieving more than 95% immunization coverage, improving antenatal services through primary health care, covering 80 percent expecting mothers and 61 percent of newborn babies with postnatal check-up within two days of delivery. There are also improvements in social protection and school enrolment and retention.
However, Tajikistan still has one of the highest stunning rates in the region, there is low prevalence of pre-schooling and trend of girls dropping out of school is a matter of growing concern. Investing in early childhood development is securing a bright future for the nation. I would like to commend the government of Tajikistan for prioritizing early childhood development in the National Development Strategy for 2016-2030 which also incorporates the SDGs.
An integrated and multi-pronged approach is needed to improve overall conditions for early childhood development of boys and girls, including investment in improved child feeding practices, increased number of preschools at accessible distance and affordable cost, improved quality of teaching, easily accessible safe drinking water, clean sanitation and hygiene. We hope that the recently approved Action Plan to follow up on the recommendations of the Convention on Child Rights committee will serve as the basis for an integrated and coordinated implementation which will also contribute in meeting the SDGs.
In conclusion I would like to thank UNICEF and all partners for organizing the children’s water forum and putting the spotlight on Early Childhood Development. I hope that the outcome of the Children Forum will help make a compelling case in the High Level International Conference on Water for urgent action to improve provision of safe water, adequate sanitation and hygiene to all women, men and children in families, communities and schools, especially located in remote, rural hard to reach areas, as an investment in early childhood development and achievement of SDGs.
I would like to wish you all very productive discussion.