General Comment No. 7

Indicator Set 5: Early Child Development

General Comment No. 7 issued by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child states: “Article 6 refers to the child’s inherent right to life and States parties’ obligation to ensure, to the maximum extent possible, the survival and development of the child. States parties are urged to take all possible measures […] that promote the well-being of all young children during this critical phase of their lives. […] The Committee reminds States parties (and others concerned) that the right to survival and development can only be implemented in a holistic manner, through the enforcement of all the other provisions of the Convention, including rights to health, adequate nutrition, social security, an adequate standard of living, a healthy and safe environment, education and play (arts. 24, 27, 28, 29 and 31), as well as through respect for the responsibilities of parents and the provision of assistance and quality services (arts. 5 and 18). From an early age, children should themselves be included in activities promoting good nutrition and a healthy and disease-preventing lifestyle” (CRC/C/GC/7/Rev.1 20 September 2006, para. 10).

James Watson, in Starting Well: Benchmarking early education across the world, states that the intentional allocation of time “to stimulate young children’s development is a relatively new phenomenon…as economies shift towards more knowledge-based activities, awareness about child development…continues to grow.” Specifically, there is a heightened awareness to recognise the need to improve children’s social awareness, confidence and group interaction skills in order to increase their school preparedness (Watson, The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2012, pp. 5-6).

Starting Well also reports that “high quality [ECD] programmes [not only] improve children’s readiness for school and life, […but also] save society significant amounts of money over time", through multiple avenues such as helping to “facilitate greater female participation in the workforce”, which in itself strengthens economic growth. Further, “[e]arly childhood development is also a major force in helping overcome issues relating to child poverty and educational disadvantage” thus interrupting the cycle of inter-generational poverty (Watson 2012; also see Kagan, OECD, 2006).

It is noteworthy to mention that Starting Well finds that while “the Nordic countries perform best at preschool, and European countries dominate” the top of the chart, “many high-income countries rank poorly, despite wealth being a major factor in a country’s ability to deliver quality preschool services.” Existing data confirm that the countries ranking high in provision of quality ECED programmes are those with “a comprehensive early childhood development and promotion strategy, backed up with a legal right to such education.” Furthermore, several countries do unexpectedly well, delivering extensive preschool services, even though their average per-capita income is lower than their peers (Watson 2012).

Lastly, in their report, “Early Child Development: a Powerful Equalizer,” to the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health, Irwin, Siddiqi and Hertzman (2007) indicate that “comprehensive, inter-sectoral approaches to policy and decision-making work best for ECD.” A strong commitment to ECD requires structural (policies and laws) and procedural (programmes and initiatives) elements to both implement and reinforce that commitment. Evidence suggests that “a commitment of 1.5–2.0% of GDP to an effective mix of policies and programmes […] can effectively support children’s early development” (Irwin, Siddiqi, and Hertzman, 2007, p. 12).

Key Question: With respect to obligations under articles 6.2, 18, 23.3, 27, 28, 29, 31 and 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, what measures have been taken to develop, implement, assess and report on the efforts to maximise developmental outcomes for all young children and particularly those from marginalised or otherwise excluded groups?