Policy & Stakeholders

Brain and mental health

Early care for child development and Sustainable development goals

Building on the achievements of Millenium development goals (MDGs), on September 25th 2015, the United Nations took the historic step to adopt the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development —an action plan for people, planet and prosperity (1). Leaders from 193 countries endorsed the sustainable development goals (SDGs). In the SDGs there are 17 goals and 169 targets. The SDGs have widespread approval and endorsement by a large number of countries and promoted by prominent international agencies including UNICEF (2) UNESCO (3) WHO (4) UNDP (5) the World Bank (6) and prominent financial institutions (7). These transformational goals have added new dimensions to the global developmental agenda. For the first time early childhood development (ECD) is a key part of many SDGs.

Early childhood development and SDGs

Goal 4: “Ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all.” It is specifically mentioned in Target 4.2 of SDG.

Path breaking research during the last five decades or more has provided compelling evidence in support of ECD and provided evidence to justify its inclusion in the agenda (8). WHO has termed ECD to be a great equalizer (9). It is important that the implementation of SDG should address the numerous challenges of equity across the world. Adressing the equity gap would benefit at least 200 million children who are not able to reach their full potential (10). This leads to an estimated loss of about 25% productivity. If implemented successfully, ECD has the potential to contribute to improved survival,  thriving and transformation agenda of the SDGs. Early childhood development is based on strong scientific research that has shown the impact of an ongoing interaction between nature and nurture throughout life.    

Advances in neuroscience should be the drivers for including ECD in the core portfolio of all the concerned stakeholders. We are learning at a very rapid pace about the impact of positive and negative experiences in early childhood and the close interplay between genetics and environment on the developing brain. These developments have significant implications for the future of millions of the world’s most disadvantaged children and their societies (11). Care for early childhood development provides for every child – a good start that lasts a lifetime and builds our society. (12)

Prominent Quotes in support of early childhood development

“Every year that passes without us making significant investment in early childhood development and initiatives that address these issues, millions of kids will be born into the same cycle of poverty and lack of opportunity.” (Shakira the famous Singer and ambassador to UNICEF 22 September 2015). (13)

All the SDGs come down to education’ – Malala Yousafzai Nobel Laureate (2015). She opines that all the agenda of SDG are achievable through promotion of education. This statement is intriguing. This would also help in reducing poverty and improving maternal health (14)

 “The Sustainable Development Goals recognize that early childhood development can help drive the transformation we hope to achieve over the next 15 years.” Ban ki Moon Secretary General UN (15)

Majority of the SDGs would be enriched enormously by a focus on early childhood development in the portfolio of concerned stakeholders. The relevance of ECD to the goals is summarized in the table along with the concerned ministries and departments as well as centrally sponsored schemes by the Government of India.

Table: The 17 SDGs the relevance of ECD and concerned stakeholders in the Government

As summarized in the above table, there is strong contribution of early childhood development which requires a special focus in the portfolios of all the concerned stakeholders.


  • Universalization of ECD is a daunting task since it has to address the day to day needs of an annual cohort of about 27 million infants, about 80 million children below 3 years age and many million pregnant women. It is important to note that for ECD to succeed, pregnant women need basic nurturing comprising of a good diet, health care in a good environment and violence free pregnancy.
  • Strategies are required to ensure the adoption of an integrated approach along the continuum of care to obtain best results from ECD efforts and to bring numerous stakeholders on the same platform.
  • Although ECD is simple and everyone’s business its success depends on intensity, persistence, quality and equity at the family level.
  • Science based support is required at all times to the families to be able to practice an integrated continuum of care for at least 1000 days to lay the foundation for improved survival, thriving and transformation.
  • There is a great diversity of stakeholders at various levels of service delivery and a myriad of social support system that offers social security and equity. This is a difficult proposition from the perspective of implementation.
  • Monitoring progress would be a challenge in which accountability would be a critical issue. Success may be achieved through simplifying the monitoring.

Ten key considerations for policy action

  • Constitute multi-disciplinary committees at national state and district level for implementation of ECD
  • Form working groups to review the work, monitor progress and report to the state and national committees on an ongoing basis (at least quarterly). Coordinate with ECD partners and give your voice for ECD.
  • ECD champions need to be identified early and engaged actively on SDG implementation at the national and state level as well as local level.
  • For health, nutrition and development, strengthen the current ICDS program with a focus on children (below 3 years), their mothers and pregnant women to upgrade the quality of interaction between the mothers and babies.
  • Expand the scope of home visitation by ASHAs beyond one month age (presently recommended as a part of home based post-natal care by GOI) and constitute voluntary parents groups where the community can take the initiative and innovate locally.
  •  MCP card brings it all together, it should be used widely to monitor progress and empower the families to practice quality ECD
  • Generate evidence to showcase the numerous benefits of multi-disciplinary approach that is focused on the family and community in an equitable way.
  • Map available data and data sources for ECD indicators. Advocate for a strong system at national levels to monitor progress towards targets, including the appropriate disaggregation of ECD indicators by age, ethnicity, location, gender, disability status, migration status, and home environment.
  • Advocate and disseminate evidence on ECD- Generate and share evidence to inform policy. Support the assessment of existing ECD policies and programs and their inter-linkages and advocate for clear alignment to achieve global targets and commitments.
  • Undertake sustained media engagement to promote ECD as a driver for development in the 21st century.


  • United Nations (2015), Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/1 post2015/transforming our world/publication
  • UNICEF, Early Childhood Development, http://www.unicef.org/earlychildhood/
  • UNESCO, Early Childhood Care and Education, http://en.unesco.org/themes/early-childhood-care-and-education6 Young, Mary (2014), “The Case for Investing in early childhood, UNDP, http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/case-investing-early-childhood7
  • WHO, Early Childhood development, http://www.who.int/social _determinants/themes/early development /en/8 ECD in SDG  Development
  • UNDP policy and programme brief UNDP support to the implementation of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development January 2016 www.undp.org/../SDGs/SDG
  • World Bank, Early Childhood Development, http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/earlychildhooddevelopment
  • Inter-American Development Bank, Early Childhood Development, http://www.iadb.org/en/topics/education/early-childhood-4 development-ecd-in-latin-america-and-the-caribbean,6458.html
  • Oates, J, Karmikoff Smith, Johnson MH.: http://bernardvanleer.org/app/uploads/2015/12
  • Lori G. Irwin, Ph.D., RN Arjumand Siddiqi, Sc.D., MPH Dr. Clyde Hertzman, MD, M.Sc., FRCPC, Early Childhood Development: A powerful equalizer. Final Report for the World Health Organization Commission on Social Determinants on Health WHO June 2007
  • Grantham McGregor S et al., and the International Child Development Steering Group (2007). Developmental potential in the first 5 years for children in developing countries. Lancet, 369:60-70
  • Building better brains : New frontiers in early childhood development. www.childrenandaids.org/../2014.
  • Care for early child development package. Early childhood. UNICEF WHO www.unicef.org/earlychilddevelopment/index 2012
  • UNICEF (2015), “Shakira and UNICEF call for leaders to join early childhood revolution”, http://www.unicef.org/media/2 media_85587.html  World Bank, Early Childhood Development, http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/earlychildhooddevelopment
  • Malela Yousafzai urges world leaders at UN to promise safe quality education. www.un.org/../unsummit 2015
  • Why early childhood development is the foundation for sustainable development. http://blogs.unicef.org/2015
  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – Draft Mapping, Development Monitoring and Evaluation Office, NITI Aayog, New Delhi. http://niti.gov.in/content/SDGs.php as of 4.4.2016.

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