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United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) creates the awareness of the plights of children in poverty, as such, issues pertaining to children are given higher priority during policies-making in international as well as national agendas.
UNCRC sets the basic standards for local governments to provide for and to protect the children in terms of basic needs like health, nutrition, education and other aspects. It was adopted by United Nations in 1989 as a tool to protect the best interest of the child and to ensure that all children have the right of life, survival and development. Since 1989, UNCRC has been adopted by all but two countries. UNCRC and every child matters (2006) states that all children have a right to life and governments must ensure that all children survive and stay healthy. As countries are obliged to make regular reports to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the state governments do have moral obligations to provide for the children. State governments are also further required to fulfill certain requirements when applying for aids from international agencies. One of the conditions may be to provide for and to protect children (UNICEF, 2005: p.30).
In addition, since the turn of the century, government bodies and international agencies have focused mostly on the rights of children. Most of the UN millennium development goals is to focus on the realization of the rights of children, such as to bring children out of poverty, rights to health, education and survival (UNICEF, 2005 :p.8).
Further to UNCRC affirmation on rights of education, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child interpret education to start from birth and is aligned to the right of development of the child. As such, much significance is given to ECEC in policies development globally.
Studies have shown intervention in early childhood may be crucial for the development of a child. Early childhood education and care (ECEC) may be referred to high quality care for young children from birth. It includes educating parents to provide and care for children in the aspects of health, nutrition, learning and development (Annan, 2001: p.63). According to Siraj- Blatchford (2009), it is believed that children who have access to early childhood care and education may fare better in their future development. Children from poor background may have equal chance to move out of the poverty cycle through early education as early interventions may have positive benefits in the long run (Heckman, 2006b as cited by Siraj-Blatchford & Woodhead, 2009).
According to Conley's human capital theory, investment in young children will bring the greatest return to society in the future. This is concurred in the human development case as explained in Siraj-Batchford and Woodhead (2009) which states that intervention in early years will prevent loss of development potential in the children.
Governments and international agencies invest in early childhood care and education on the understanding that people contribute to the nation's wealth. The economic benefits generated from investment in ECEC will churn greater gains in the future as it will lower health and social risks, like crime rates. In return, it will improve children's development which is translated to jobs skills and higher worker productivity in future (Siraj-Blatchford & Woodhead, 2009).
Another rationale for early intervention in ECEC is the social justice case. All people should be given equal chances in life. Governments and international agencies may be committed to ensure all people have the same rights to education. Moreover, it is through education that people learn the fundamental attitudes and values to do well (Siraj-Blatchford & Woodhead, 2009).
State governments and international agencies have their own agendas in committing to the UNCRC. However, in order for UNCRC to make a difference to children, government and international agencies must place priorities on the rights of children when pushing for economic and social growth. Early childhood care and education must be of primary priority as it is the child's right and not as a result of building human capital or for social-economic returns.
Studies have shown that the more effective programmes include all aspects such as health, nutrition and development as well as parental and community involvement. Arango (2009) concur active involvement from families, communities and all stakeholders are necessary to make ECEC programmes successful. This is in the case of PROMESA in Columbia, whereby the families and communities are actively involved in the programmes. As such, UNCRC does make a difference if the international agencies, state governments, communities and families are committed to promote child's right.
It may be challenging to provide quality early childhood care and education to combat poverty. The relevance of early childhood models, social and cultural context, co-ordination within families, communities and government bodies play an important role in developing appropriate intervention programme to help children in poverty reach their full potential in mental and social development (Siraj-Blatchford & Woodhead, 2009).
For example, in the case of a developed country, like USA, one of the objectives of ECEC is to enable women to have equal participation in the workforce and to enable children to learn and socialize (Penn, 2005). As early intervention to curb poverty may not be the main priority, ECEC is left to private operators which result in inequalities in quality of programme (Siraj-Blatchford & Woodhead, 2009).
Inequality of quality and access as private sectors tend to cater to the affluent and not set up in poorer regions of the countries. For example, in USA, ECEC is left to individual providers so the quality of care and education is variable and there is inequitable access to these services (Penn, 2005). Individual providers are also more likely to set up ECEC centres in urban areas and this may be incompatible with the government aim to provide quality education for all children.
UNCRC may be an international law, however, it has no legal jurisdiction in the countries which have adopted it. Furthermore, the interpretation of UNCRC may be affected by the cultural values of the countries (Maynard & Thomas, 2009). As such, the quality of early childhood education and care may be affected. As in the case of Malawi, the ECEC set up in rural areas are community-based with poor program and unqualified staff. In addition the stigma of AIDS keep some of the children ostracized and as a result did not attend ECEC (Clark & Tucker, 2010).
In the year 2000, UN millennium development goals were identified and set to be achieved by 2015. However, these goals which target mainly the rights of the child have not been achieved as yet. Children are still living in poverty and poor health. Diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria is prevalent.
In order for UNCRC to make a difference to children, state governments and international agencies must be committed placing children in first priority. All decisions in nation-building as well as economic growth should be considered with the rights of children in mind.