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Early childhood development holds key to nation’s future: Ahsan Iqbal

Islamabad, August 22, 2016 (PPI-OT):Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reform Ahsan Iqbal urged all stakeholders to make wellbeing of children a central point for national development strategy. The Minister announced setting up of a National Working Group to push the issue of early childhood development in the centre of national discourse and collaboration among interventions by provinces for greater impact. He urged all stakeholders to collaborate with each other and come up with recommendations within 90 days to address the contemporary challenges faced by Pakistan in terms of early childhood development.

These views were expressed by Ahsan Iqbal while addressing a seminar on ”Bringing Early Childhood Development to the Public Agenda” at the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform . The roundtable was attended by government officials, experts, development partners and members of civil society. Minister said that Vision 2025 is seeking to correct some of the structural weakness of Pakistan’s socioeconomic framework. He mentioned that Pakistan has made improvements in macro-economic indicators but social indicators are worst and lagging behind. The government is focusing on social sectors to create a balanced socio-economic platform for development.

The Minister said, there is a dire need to reduce and eventually eliminate child-malnutrition from Pakistan. Historically governments have focused on economic growth based on trickle down economic policies but results didn’t come. The poor and marginalised became more vulnerable. This government prioritizes inclusive growth policies by focusing on disadvantaged and marginalized segments of society. He emphasized that Vision 2025 sets development of human and social capital as the first pillar towards sustainable and inclusive growth.

He said ”a healthy nation is pivotal to economic and social development and Vision 2025 prioritizes resource allocation to health and education sectors in partnership with provinces because after 18th amendment these sectors have fallen with provinces ”. He emphasized that government looks forward to collaborate with the civil society and development sector to create awareness among people about the importance of early childhood to raise healthy future generations. ”Today is the age of knowledge economy which requires superior human resources and brain power to do innovation and critical thinking and that requires physical and cognitive development of children to their full potential”, he said.

Minister noted that first time in the history of Pakistan, UN charted SDGs were internalized as national development goals. Mr. Iqbal noted that after 18th amendment, poverty and nutrition falls under provincial governments but federal government cannot surrender the role of coordination and facilitation among provinces for inclusive and sustainable growth. He said that first 1000 days of a child are most important and any damage during this phase is irreversible.

He said that our future is in present of our children and it is our collective responsibility to produce a healthy and a prosperous nation by investing in early childhood development of children. Panellists noted that it is of paramount importance to impart awareness to every mother that her pregnancy and first two years of her child’s life will determine lifelong health outcomes of her child and ability to learn in school. Any insults to development during this phase are irreversible.

Pakistan has third highest percentage of stunted children under the age of five. Stunting leads to weak immune systems and susceptibility to endemics. Physical, intellectual, social and emotional infirmity and high mortality is the consequence. Chances of survival of a newborn child increases when breastfed within an hour of birth. According to UNICEF and WHO, out of ten less than two mothers engage in early breastfeeding in Pakistan and this is one of the lowest rate of breastfeeding in the world. Malnutrition costs the country Rs. 200 billion every year (equivalent to more than 5% of GNP) in lost lives, disability and productivity.

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Haji Ahmed Malik
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