Over six million children in Nigeria under the age of five are stunted due to malnutrition, the United Nations Childrens Fund, UNICEF, has said.
According to the global agency, about 60 per cent of the 22.2 million children in that age bracket in the country face risk of poor development due to lack of early childhood development support.
The UNICEF Country Representative, Mallick Fall, said this on Tuesday at the 2017 National Early Childhood Development (ECD) Conference.
The conference, with the theme: “For Every Nigerian Child, Early Years Matter”, was organised by UNICEF, World Bank and Global Partnership For Education.
“Nigeria is putting its children at risk of under-development, both physically and mentally, because critical national policies are not providing an adequate foundation for their growth,” Mr. Fall said.
“A 2016 National Survey indicated that 31 per cent (about six million), of children under the age of five years 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.”
Mr. Fall warned of the implications of the development for Nigeria.
“With 90 per cent of a child’s brain development occurring before the age of five years, early childhood experiences can have a profound impact on a child’s development and can ultimately impact a country’s growth”.
“During the first years of a child’s life, the brain grows rapidly. Providing good nutrition, loving care and appropriate play provide solid foundations for a child’s learning – and eventual contribution to economic and social growth.”
To achieve this, Mr. Fall recommended two years of free pre-primary education, six months of paid maternity leave and four weeks paternity leave for parents in Nigeria.
In a presentation on Early Childhood Education in the Sustainable Development Goals, Rebello Britto from UNICEF said 60 per cent (13.3 million) of Nigerian children are not achieving their full human potentials.
She identified nutrition, protection and stimulation as the basic needs of any child.
“Sixty per cent of Nigerian children are not achieving their satisfaction. Nigeria is losing 60 per cent of its human capital right from the start,” she noted.
“It takes political commitment and investment to achieve the three basic needs of children between the ages of zero and five years.”
World Bank representative, Rachid Benmousada, said the Bank was committed to supporting the Nigerian government in ensuring that each child reaches its full potential.
The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Sunny Echono, said five per cent of the 2017 Universal Basic Education Fund was committed to the development of Early Childhood Education.
He said the federal government had given approval to the Universal Basic Education Commission to conduct an audit of UBE schools, both public and private schools.
Mr. Adamu said the huge number of out of school children in Nigeria remains a challenge that must be addressed.
“This conference will create new path for the development of Early Childhood Development Education,” he said.