By Hassan Zaggi
The United Nation Children Fund (UNICEF) has called for the introduction of family-friendly policies aimed at supporting early children hood development.
It specifically advocated for policies that will make provision for a paid paternity and maternity leave, free pre-primary education, and paid breastfeeding breaks.
In a statement in Abuja, UNICEF quoted an analysis it made which revealed that almost two-thirds of the world’s children under 1 year old – nearly 90 million – live in countries where their fathers are not entitled by law to a single day of paid paternity leave.
According to the UNICEF, 92 countries do not have national policies in place that ensure new fathers get adequate paid time off with their newborn babies.
These countries include India and Nigeria which are said to have high infant populations.
The statement quoted the Representative of UNICEF Nigeria,
Mohamed Malick Fall, as saying: “By implementing national family-friendly policies that support early childhood development, including paid paternity leave, the Government can provide parents the time, resources and information they need to care for their children.
“The Government’s recent commitment to extend maternity leave from 12 to 16 weeks indicates to me that the momentum for family-friendly policies in Nigeria is growing.
“Investments in the provision of support services to caregivers as well as quality pre-primary education and good nutrition for children are investments in healthy and productive future Nigerian generations.”
UNICEF further noted that positive and meaningful interaction with mothers and fathers from the very beginning helps to shape children’s brain growth and development for life, making them healthier and happier, and increasing their ability to learn.
“Evidence suggests that when fathers bond with their babies from the beginning of life, they are more likely to play a more active role in their child’s development.
“Research also suggests that when children positively interact with their fathers, they have better psychological health, self-esteem and life-satisfaction in the long-term,” the statement noted.
The UN body further revealed that advances in neuroscience have proven that when children spend their earliest years – particularly the first 1,000 days from conception to two years old – in a nurturing, stimulating environment, new neural connections form at optimal speed.
These neural connections help to determine a child’s cognitive ability, how they learn and think, their ability to deal with stress, and can even influence how much they will earn as adults.