Iraq launches, with the support of UNICEF, the National Strategy on Early Childhood Development.
The Government of Iraq, in collaboration with UNICEF, has launched the National Strategy on Early Childhood Development (ECD).
The Strategy represents a comprehensive and coherent approach to ECD and acknowledges different stages in child development up to age 8 years. It puts accountability on relevant authorities, providers, and communities to ensure the promotion and protection of the needs of young children.
During the launch, UNICEF OiC Representative, Janet Kamau noted that:
"The new National Strategy on ECD is closely aligned with the global Nurturing Care Framework, developed by UNICEF and other partners, and will be key for benefiting Iraqi children in two ways: first in relation to early life influences on their health during the critical first 1,000 days, from conception and continuing through at least the first two years of life, and second through a stronger focus, up to age 8, on maintaining growth, ensuring psychosocial and physical well-being and early childhood education (ECE)."
In recent years, Iraq has made progress on key child survival and nutrition indicators, but progress on access to ECE and sensitive child-rearing has been slower. Participation in formal ECE programs such as kindergarten is below 10%, and almost 90% of children aged 1-14 years have been exposed to some type of violence.
This new ECD Strategy represents a major milestone on the road to develop the "thrive agenda", with a focus on healthy development and well-being for Iraq's children in a safe and stimulating environment, giving them the strongest foundation for educational achievement, successful socialization, and a long and productive working life.
The Strategy is based on the vision of a safe, stable, and happy childhood within a supportive family, society, and a safe environment to ensure the best opportunities for children well-being in Iraq.
In addition, the executive framework of the ECD strategy has been developed covering the main five areas related to the rollout of the Strategy: management and planning; quality; curricula; training; family, children, and community participation. The framework also includes the adoption of basic goals for each field linked to the ministries involved in this strategy.
This new strategy will need to be matched with new investment to overcome related challenges. For example, while there is a national network of primary health care facilities and high rates of skilled birth attendance and immunization, the ECE network remains scarce, and limited priority is given to early stimulation at domestic level.
UNICEF acknowledges the additional efforts of the Government of Iraq in the National Development Plan 2018-2022, but the goal of increasing ECE coverage to 30% by 2031 is ambitious and will require a higher budget share in coming years.
To ensure access to ECD services for all children, UNICEF, WFP, and the ILO, funded by the European Union, are working to ensure that children from the most vulnerable groups are prioritized through social protection programs, aiming to improve access to early child education (ECE).
With the additional support of other partners like the World Bank and Germany, and in coordination with UNESCO and other UN agencies, UNICEF will work to support the Government of Iraq on the implementation of the National Strategy on ECD, from conception until 8 years of age.