Every child has the right to a standard of living that meets their physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.

- Article 27, Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989

Early childhood is the most critical time for growth and development and sets the foundation for the rest of a child’s life. When loved, nourished and cared for in safe and stimulating environments, children develop the skills they need to embrace the opportunity and bounce back from adversity.

Nearly 43% of children under 5 in low- and middle-income countries are not getting the nutrition, protection and stimulation they need. This diminishes both the child’s potential and sustainable growth for society at large.

The good news is that early childhood presents an incomparable window of opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life. The right interventions at the right time can counter disadvantage and boost a child’s development. 

Across the world, UNICEF’s early childhood development programs combine early learning, health & nutrition, water, health and sanitation, protection and support parents, caregivers and communities – to help vulnerable children get a fair start in life. We promote the inclusion of marginalised groups, in particular children from ethnic minorities, children with a disability and focus on the impact of gender, so that every child is reached.

UNICEF Australia currently supports the following early childhood development programs:

  • Holistic Early Childhood Development in Papua New Guinea
  • Improving Early Learning and Child Development in Lao PDR (supported by the Australian Government)
  • Supporting Integrated Approaches to Early Childhood Development in Cambodia (supported by the Australian Government)
  • Support to Early Childhood Development in Guadalcanal Province of the Solomon Islands (supported by the Australian Government)
  • Ready to L.E.A.P – Learn, Engage, Achieve, Progress in Timor-Leste

Program snapshot: Early childhood development in Papua New Guinea

What happens in a child’s first years stays with them for life. In Papua New Guinea, few children enrol or finish early learning and primary school. Many don’t have access to regular health services and up to 40 per cent are malnourished and stunted. To stop these children falling behind, UNICEF and our partners are meeting their health, nutrition, early learning and child protection needs at early childhood centres.

We’re reaching the most remote children with a community-based approach and making sure the centres are accessible and inclusive for children with disabilities by training teachers in holistic early childhood development. The centres provide early childhood education and keep children safe with regular screenings for illness, disability and malnutrition as well as treatment and referrals when appropriate. Regular preventive treatment such as Vitamin A supplementation, deworming and routine immunisation is provided for all children under five in the local community. Parents and caregivers also receive education around all elements of early childhood development so they can help them grow up safe and healthy.

Jade has had neonatal jaundice and cerebral palsy since she was born. When community-based rehabilitation health workers first visited her home, she couldn’t stand or walk far by herself, play with other children or leave the house to go to preschool. The health workers created an action plan with her parents and after two years of physiotherapy sessions and play therapy, Jade is running, playing, learning and laughing with other children at her preschool. UNICEF Australia is supporting this approach to early childhood development to help more young children like Jade get the support they need today to reach their full potential.