SWO Wants 1% of GDP for Early Childhood Programs

SWO Wants 1% of GDP for Early Childhood ProgramsSWO Wants 1% of GDP for Early Childhood Programs

The State Welfare Organization (SWO) is seeking a higher share in the GDP for crucial programs to monitor the growth and development of children in the forthcoming five-year economic development plan (March 2016-2021), said Habibollah Masoudi Farid, deputy for social affairs at the SWO.

“The SWO has proposed 1% of the gross domestic product to be allocated to competent organizations for comprehensive child development programs,” he said at a function on “Brain Awareness Week (February 27-March 4)” in Tehran, IRNA reported.

“In developed countries, 2-4% of GDP is allocated to nurturing children under the age of 8, but it is only a meager 0.4% in African and Asian states,” Masoudi Farid rued.

“That is to say the per capita difference in child development and growth in developed nations is 20 to 30 times greater than African or Asian countries.”

Early childhood development (ECD) is considered to be the most important phase in life and determines the quality of health, well-being, learning and behavior across the life span. It is a period of great opportunity, but also of great vulnerability to negative influences.

In recent years, Iran has registered remarkable achievements in the area of child health, with high primary health coverage and lowered child mortality rates. Pre-primary care and education services have increased considerably, with rural children in disadvantaged areas a major target for development.

Nevertheless, the country faces many challenges in meeting the full range of children’s needs, particularly those vulnerable to poverty either because of long distances from central services and/or unemployment of caregivers.

  Lack of Access

There are 7 million children under the age of six in Iran. Fewer than 10% have access to integrated early childhood development. Of about 60,000 villages in the country, only 1,400 have rural welfare services and that too of poor quality. There is a need for more information, technical capacity and experience in this area, says

Community-based Rural Child Care Centers (RCCCs) have been set up in the most deprived provinces after the success of the 42 pilot centers. With government support the numbers were expanded and now there are around 3,600 RCCCs in operation.

Communities are mobilized to monitor and promote improved nutrition, birth registration and early childhood development. Information and communication materials are designed around an integrated set of messages, aimed directly at parents. But rural ECD services are still limited in terms of resources and geographic coverage.

  Improving Care

The WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health has recognized the importance of ECD to equity, adult health, wellbeing and productivity. Improving care for young children is fundamental to achieving the UN agenda on Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Early childhood is a critical stage of development that forms the foundation for children’s future well-being and learning. Research has shown that half of a person’s intelligence potential is developed by age four and that early childhood interventions can have a lasting effect on intellectual capacity, personality, and social behavior.

Integrated programs that target children in their very early years are critical for their mental and psychosocial development. Failure to invest in ECD can result in development delay and disability as well as inhibit the optimal development and performance of children throughout their lives.

“This is why we have proposed a higher percentage of GDP to be allocated to early childhood development programs,” Masoudi Farid stressed.

There are currently ECD screening centers in major cities, including Tehran, Tabriz (East Azarbaijan Province), Shiraz (Fars Province), Isfahan (Isfahan Province), and Khuzestan (Khuzestan Province).

  National Document

In October, head of the SWO Anoushiravan Mohseni Bandpei had stated that a document laying down the strategy for development and growth of vulnerable children was ready and that negotiations were underway with the Education Ministry to establish its secretariat.

Implementation of the plan would provide an opportunity for 180,000 to 200,000 children from vulnerable sections in remote areas to attend kindergarten and have one hot meal a day.

The development of the national ECD policy focuses on improving access to an integrated package of ECD services including care, health and pre-primary education for the most marginalized children.

In the area of nutrition, enhancing nutrition security policies and systems to develop a model for promotion of healthy nutrition and physical activity for children and adolescents is on the agenda. It is also aimed to improve the quality of nutrition care services for prevention and treatment of children who are either under-nourished or over-nourished within the health system.