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Handbook of Early Childhood Development Research and Its Impact on Global Policy$

Pia Rebello Britto, Patrice L. Engle, and Charles M. Super

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199922994

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199922994.001.0001

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Global Policy Landscape and Early Childhood Development

Global Policy Landscape and Early Childhood Development

(p.65) { 4 } Global Policy Landscape and Early Childhood Development
Handbook of Early Childhood Development Research and Its Impact on Global Policy

Pia Rebello Britto

Nurper Ulkuer

William P. Hodges

Michael F. McCarthy

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

International declarations and conventions play a unique role in global development by promoting human rights through principles of equality and nondiscrimination. They establish standards and expectations for development for the world community and set benchmarks against which country-level progress is charted and compared. The science of early childhood development (ECD) is rapidly emerging as a focus of international attention. Although young children are mentioned in these global documents, no systematic examination has been made of how they are presented. In considering this question, it is important to distinguish between statements concerning children as intrinsically valuable humans, important in their own right and deserving of services, and children as instrumentally valuable, an important locus of investment due to their future contribution to society. This chapter provides a clear understanding of how rarely ECD is reflected in international declarations and conventions and how ECD evidence must be translated and effectively communicated to inform both global and national policies.

Keywords:   early childhood development, equity, convention on the rights of the child, global policy, human rights

International social, economic, and human rights declarations and conventions are powerful guiding forces on the global policy stage. They have been effective in mobilizing the world community on several vital issues. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by United Nations (UN) General Assembly, moved the world community in unanimous support to uphold human dignity and observe fundamental freedoms (UN General Assembly, 1948). Additionally, over time, this declaration has been instrumental in spawning a series of conventions across a range of social, economic, political, and civil rights. In general, international declarations and conventions play a unique role in global development by protecting human rights through principles of equality and nondiscrimination and establishing standards and expectations for development for the world community (UN Human Rights Committee, 1989).

International declarations and conventions define the global vision for universally accepted goals, which often are the benchmarks against which country-level progress is charted and compared. Furthermore, these international policy frameworks are often accompanied by very large funding and aid initiatives. For example, international development declarations define what priorities a government must adopt if it wishes to gain access to international aid (Fowler, 2003). In other words, behind these global declarations and conventions is an ethical and financial authority that often profoundly influences national-level policies, budgets, and priorities. Simply put, the importance of international declarations and conventions cannot be underestimated. Given this, it is important to know how early childhood development (ECD) is represented in these international conventions and declarations, and what impact they might have on aspects of ECD that are deemed important on the international development agenda: namely, equity, access, and quality of ECD services.

(p.66) It is commonly assumed—correctly—that young children are mentioned in these global documents, but curiously, there has never been a systematic examination of how they are presented. What is it about children that warrants their special mention? In considering this question, it is important to distinguish between statements concerning children as intrinsically valuable humans, important in their own right and deserving of services, and children as instrumentally valuable, an important locus of investment due to their future contribution to society.

The science of ECD is rapidly emerging as a focus of international attention (UNESCO, 2007). The rise in importance of ECD can be attributed to several factors, including evidence indicating high dividends on investment in the early years (Heckman & Krueger, 2003) and early childhood as a means to equity and equality in society (Irwin, Siddiqi, & Hertzman, 2007). Governments around the world are concerned with the economic advancement of their countries and in establishing equity. The scientific evidence of ECD provides support for reaching these national development goals.

The main thrust of this chapter is to provide a clear understanding of how ECD is reflected in international declarations and conventions. The first section presents an overview of the international declarations and conventions landscape. The second section presents the results of a policy analysis study examining the intrinsic and instrumental value of ECD accorded in these international conventions and declarations. The third section of this chapter discusses these results and their implications for the next generation of global policies and ECD.

International Policy Landscape

In this chapter, we consider the primary international statements of social, economic, and human rights concerns for children in two categories: declarations and conventions. Declarations are the guiding documents for international development and human rights agencies, such as the UN. A declaration is an instrument that can be used to guide and inform international and national efforts, but it is not legally binding. Adopting a declaration is not linked with binding obligations; rather, it is considered a statement of specific aspirations. Because of their nonbinding nature, declarations are often universally endorsed. A convention, on the other hand, is a legally binding treaty that comes into force when a country ratifies it (UN Department of Public Information, 1997). Ratification indicates that a country has agreed for its national laws to be aligned with those of the convention.

There is a host of declaration frameworks on the global development landscape. We focus here on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Education for All (EFA) Declaration, and the Health for All (HFA) Declaration because of their relevance to children.

table 4.1 Typology of international declarations and conventions associated with early childhood development (ECD)


Health for All (HFA) (WHO, 1978)

Focus: Protection and promotion of health

Education for All (EFA) (UNESCO, 1990)

Focus: Education as a tool for development

UN Millennium Declaration (MDG) (UN General Assembly, 2000)

Focus: Investment in economic and social development






Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (UN General Assembly, 1989)

Focus: Survival, development, protection, and participation rights for all children


With regard to the more binding conventions, there are seven core human rights treaties to consider: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Punishment (CAT); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC); and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (MWC) (Bernard van Leer Foundation, 2006). Although each of these is relevant to children, in this chapter, we review primarily the CRC because of its direct relevance to children and its status as the benchmark international convention on child rights (see Table 4.1). We now provide a brief overview of these declarations and the CRC.

International Declarations

Education for All

In Jomtien, Thailand, at the World Conference on Education, the EFA Declaration (UNESCO, 1990) was sponsored by the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Bank, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and was and signed by delegates of 155 countries, thereby signifying a global movement in recognition of education. The declaration signified a “global commitment to provide quality basic education (p.68) for all children, youth and adults,” and the participants “pledged to universalize primary education and massively reduce illiteracy by the end of the decade” (UNESCO, n.d.). By 2000, however, because these goals were far from having been reached, 164 governments met at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, and identified six goals to be achieved by 2015 (UNESCO, 2000b):

  • Goal 1. Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children

  • Goal 2. Ensuring that, by 2015, all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances, and those belonging to ethnic minorities have access to complete, free, and compulsory primary education of good quality

  • Goal 3. Ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills

  • Goal 4. Achieving a 50% improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults

  • Goal 5. Eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality

  • Goal 6. Improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all, so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy, and essential life skills

Health for All

Access to basic health care was unanimously endorsed as a fundamental human right by all countries that are members of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Alma-Ata Declaration (WHO, 1978) in Kazakhstan. Health is defined as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (WHO, 1978). This declaration formally adopted primary health care (PHC) as the means for providing comprehensive, universal, equitable, and affordable health care for all countries (Hall & Taylor, 2003). The emphasis on PHC is rooted in the scientific evidence that “it is an integral part both of the country’s health system, of which it is the central function and main focus, and of the overall social and economic development of the community.” The goals of PHC were expected to be achieved by 2000; however, several of the targets were not met.

In the wake of unmet goals, the HFA spawned several health-related resolutions. The resolution, “Health-for-all in the twenty-first century” was adopted by the 51st World Health Assembly in 1998 to accelerate achievement of HFA goals by addressing the challenges that blocked progress, the most vulnerable populations, (p.69) and governance of the declaration. Most recently, in 2010, the UN General Assembly, through a resolution, recognized that mental health problems are of major importance to all societies, are significant contributors to the burden of disease and the loss of quality of life, and have huge economic and social costs. This resolution signals a new direction for global health and one that is very important for ECD, given the association between maternal depression and child outcomes (Fernald, Jones-Smith, Ozer, Neufield, & DiGirolamo, 2008).

United Nations Millennium Declaration

In its 55th session, the UN General Assembly adopted the UN Millennium Declaration (UN General Assembly, 2000)—a vision for the 21st century based on the principles of the Charter of the UN. This declaration was signed by 191 countries in 2000 as a commitment to social and economic development to be achieved by 2015. The implementation of the declaration was proposed through a series of eight goals, the MDGs, that address common conditions that prevent countries from making economic and social progress. The eight goals are eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowerment of women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a global partnership for development. The Millennium Declaration could be considered to set the global standards for economic development and social equity.

International Conventions

The second type of international policy statement that drives the global and national policy agenda is human rights conventions. These instruments recognize the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of human beings, and obligate the state governments that ratify them to adhere to provisions within the conventions.

Convention on the Rights of the Child

This convention is not only the clearest and most comprehensive expression of what the world community wants for its children but also the most widely ratified human rights treaty. Leaders around the world realized that all persons under 18 years of age, irrespective of race, color, gender, language, religion, opinions, origins, wealth, birth status, or ability need special care and protection of their human rights. This formed the rationale for the CRC in 1989, three decades after the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. The CRC, through a set of 54 articles, is the only treaty that puts into legally binding form the entire range of child rights: civil, political, economic, social, and cultural (UN General Assembly, 1989). The four core principles of the CRC include (1) nondiscrimination; (2) the right to life, survival, and development; (3) emphasis on what is in the best interest of the child; and (4) respect for the viewpoint of the child. It spells out basic human rights that (p.70) children everywhere in the world have with respect to survival and development to the fullest and protection from harmful influences, abuse, and exploitation, as well as participation in family, cultural, and social life.

The CRC has also made a vital contribution to recognizing the importance of the family and establishing clear responsibilities for the larger community (e.g., country) to uphold standards for all children everywhere (Britto, 2005). The CRC provides an implementation framework of roles and responsibilities of all duty bearers, beginning with the family and extending to national governments, to meet children’s rights (Britto & Ulkuer, 2012). The stated responsibilities, if adhered to at the multiple levels and contexts surrounding the child, can facilitate achievement of meeting all child rights for survival, development, protection, and participation (Hodgkin & Newell, 2007). The CRC is monitored by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which is comprised of elected States Parties of the CRC. The main aim of the committee is to make sure the CRC is properly implemented in member countries and to examine progress periodically. The member countries include nations that have ratified the convention by agreeing to its non-negotiable standards and obligations.

Yet, although articles regarding the right to nutrition and health, education, leisure, and play exist in the CRC, they are not integrated sufficiently to advance ECD. In the first place, the interpretation of rights for ECD has been narrowly confined to areas such as child survival, birth registration, right to a name, and nationality. Second, reporting on the implementation of rights for early childhood has yielded mixed results, as countries appeared unsure of how to interpret the rights of young children. Due to these reasons, a General Comment was added to the CRC, namely General Comment 7 (GC7), which refers to the implementation of all rights for ECD (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2006).

General Comment 7 represents authoritative guidance to countries in fulfilling their CRC obligations to young children. For example, Article 5 of the CRC obligates States Parties to “respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention” (UN General Assembly, 1989). The emphasis here is on understanding that in the early years children make rapid advances in development and that these advances differ across the age groups defining early childhood (commonly understood to be birth to 8 years). The Early Childhood Rights Indicators Group has developed a Child Rights Indicators Manual for Early Childhood using the GC7 as a conceptual framework to guide countries in the implementation of their CRC obligations during the period of early childhood and in reporting to the monitoring committee.

October 2010 stands as a historical landmark for international early childhood advocates, for the UN General Assembly passed a resolution on implementing (p.71) child rights in early childhood (UN General Assembly, 2011). This milestone especially an opportunity to examine the impact of legally binding conventions and development frameworks on early childhood.

This brief overview of the international declarations and conventions landscape indicates that several vital global statements and frameworks could potentially address ECD. Therefore, we now turn our attention to understanding how exactly ECD is represented in them.

Early Childhood and International Declarations and Conventions

Given that international declarations and conventions can drive national legislation, policy, and international aid and funding, we conducted a content analysis study to examine how ECD is valued in these documents. In particular, we examined three questions: (1) Is the intrinsic value of early childhood expressed in these documents? (2) Is the instrumental value of early childhood expressed in these documents? And (3), are there directives in these documents that accord importance to principles of access, equity, and quality of programs and services?

The conceptualization of “intrinsic value” stems from the human rights theory that argues that the duty-bearers of human rights (e.g., governments) are obligated to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of the rights-holders, which, in this case, would focus on the inherent value of early childhood (Donnelly, 2003; Shue, 1996). Furthermore, this conceptualization stems from the normative landscape of human rights that has been fostered for decades, following the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, which recognizes the “inherent dignity” and “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” (UN General Assembly, 1948). The conceptualization of the instrumental value of children stems from the evidence-based arguments that have been made to advocate for ECD as a conscious investment by governments for national sustainable development. The economic evidence indicates that returns on investment in early childhood may include reduced school drop-out and higher retention rates, higher skilled human capital, reduced crime rates, and more responsible citizenship (Heckman & Krueger, 2003). The conceptualization of the interlinked dimensions of access, equity, and quality as necessary components of early childhood programs and services stems from the international development and program evaluation literature, where these dimensions are most closely linked with positive child outcomes (Irwin et al., 2007). The goal of equity is defined as the greatest possible opportunity to access and participate in quality programs and services that are made available to all children and families, especially the most vulnerable populations. Lacking quality, programs and services are unlikely to generate the intended child and family outcomes (Britto, Yoshikawa, & Boller, 2011).

Our rationales for ECD in international declarations and conventions thus required an examination of the CRC, MDGs, EFA, and HFA. These instruments are (p.72)

table 4.2 Sample of international policy documents

Document Family



The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)

General Comment no. 7: Implementing Child Rights in Early Childhood (2005)

Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (2000)

Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (2000)


UN Millennium Declaration (2000)

Millennium Development Goals (2000)


World Declaration on Education for All (1990)

Framework for Action to Meet Basic Learning Needs (1990)

Education for All: Achieving the Goal—The Amman Affirmation (1996)

The Dakar Framework for Action—Education for All: Meeting Our Collective Commitments (2000)

Expanded Commentary on the Dakar Framework for Action (2000)

NGO Declaration on Education for All (2000)

Regional Frameworks for Action (2000):Education for All—A Framework for Action in Sub-Saharan Africa: Education for African Renaissance in the Twenty-first Century

Education for All in the Americas: Regional Framework of Action

Education for All in the Arab States: Renewing the Commitment—The Arab Framework for Action to Ensure Basic Learning Needs in the Arab States in the Years 2000–2010

Asia and the Pacific Regional Framework for Action: Education for All – Guiding Principles, Specific Goals and Targets for 2015Regional Framework for Action – Europe and North AmericaRecife Declaration of the E-9 Countries


Declaration of Alma-Ata (Health for All Declaration) (1978)Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion (1986)Jakarta Declaration on Leading Health Promotion into the 21st Century (1997)Rio Political Declaration on Social Determinants of Health (2011)

Note: E-9 countries are Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan

often accompanied by a set of documents that provide technical background. We term this set of documents, for a declaration or convention, as a “family” of documents, and, all together, they constitute 22 objects for coding (see Table 4.2). The CRC, optional protocols, GC7, and UN Millennium Declaration were all retrieved from the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The EFA and HFA documents were retrieved from the UNESCO and WHO websites, respectively.

To properly understand the relative emphasis on the intrinsic and instrumental values of children, we needed to make one more distinction, regarding specificity of an early childhood reference. Specific reference to early childhood (EC) includes the following particular early childhood terminology, which we define as “EC Specific” codes; “early childhood care,” “early childhood care and development,” “early childhood care and education,” “early childhood development,” “early childhood education,” and “early childhood intervention,” as well as basic references to the phrase “early childhood,” which signifies an unequivocal reference to that age period (UNESCO, 2002). Other more colloquial or descriptive terms also meet this requirement, such as “young children,” “babies,” “preschool,” and the like. All (p.73)

table 4.3 Frequency of intrinsic and instrumental value of early childhood and specificity of reference in international conventions and declarations

Document Family


EC Specific



EC Specific


CRC (not including GC7)




























                      Global Policy Landscape and Early Childhood Development

figure 4.1 Coding system for early childhood development (ECD) intrinsic and instrumental reference in international declarations and conventions

other references that imply the inclusion of the early years, but do not specifically address them, we define as “EC Not-Specific” codes. For example, the CRC, taken as a whole, sets forth human rights for all children, 0–18 years of age, which is certainly inclusive of early childhood, but not specific to it. We found in an earlier analysis that among the declarations (EFA, HFA, and MDG), only the EFA family of documents featured ECD specifically (Hodges, Hilibrand, & Britto, 2011).

Thus, the coding of the 22 documents (Table 4.2) focused on three distinctions: (1) the instrumental and/or intrinsic value accorded to children in arguing for ECD; (2) the specificity (or lack thereof) in referring to early childhood; and (3) attention to principles of access, equity, and quality. Figure 4.1 illustrates the coding system used by two independent coders, using ATLAS.ti, a qualitative data analysis software tool. We did not include the codes identified in an analysis of GC7 in the results presented below because the entire focus of the GC7 is already known to be on ECD.

The results of this coding are presented in Table 4.3. Several findings are of interest. First, it can be seen that there is considerable variation in whether these international documents recognize the intrinsic value of early childhood development (first column of numbers). The EFA family of documents contains the highest number of instances of such recognition, and the HFA the least. Because the page lengths of these families of documents also vary, the density of references to ECD within each document cannot be compared to an equal standard, but it does provide an indication of the attention to the intrinsic value of ECD and where it lies. Further, in almost a quarter of the EFA’s references to the intrinsic value of ECD, it was specific to early childhood, not generic—that is, 22 of the 86 intrinsic codes identified in the EFA family of documents co-occurred with the EC-Specific code. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the co-occurrences were noted around the framing (p.74) and articulation of the first goal of the declaration, specifically according attention to expanding and improving early childhood care and development (UNESCO, 2000b). This attention has an intrinsic tone to it, in that the early learning aspect of ECD is valued for the inherent right of children to education and their social, emotional, cognitive, psychological, and physical development.

With respect to the health-related family of documents (HFA), no co-occurrenceswere noted between the intrinsic value accorded to early childhood and a specific focus on it. References to early childhood were mainly limited to examples of maternal and child health in primary health care systems; given the recent Rio Political Declaration (WHO, 2011), however, and the voluminous research in the past decade on early childhood health and development, we had anticipated a greater early childhood-specific focus. The CRC specifically accorded attention to the intrinsic value of early childhood, as opposed to just including it in the document, which was expected, given that the articles of the CRC are focused on the inherent dignity and rights of all children, although only a small proportion of the total intrinsic codes are specific to early childhood (see Table 4.3).

Finally, with respect to the MDG family of documents, where ECD was specifically addressed, the limited number of co-occurrences was due to the single topic of health and survival in early childhood. Overall, these results provide a clear understanding of the importance accorded to the inherent value of ECD in the international guiding statements and have implications for the next generation of these policies, topics that are discussed in the final section of the chapter.

We now turn our attention to understanding how the instrumental value of ECD is reflected in key international declarations and conventions. As indicated earlier, the impetus for understanding the instrumental value emanates from the evidence of ECD indicating that is a period of human development with strong results on investment. The results indicate a similar pattern to the “intrinsic” results: the EFA documents contain the highest number of instances coded, whereas the least number of codes was found in the CRC—unsurprising, given that convention’s focus on inherent human rights. However, unlike the intrinsic value, we found no instances of the instrumental value of early childhood and EC-Specific codes co-occurring. In other words, although both the instrumental and EC-Specific codes were identified (separately) in all four sets of document families, they never occurred together. The instrumental value of ECD, then, was implied in a general way, but was not specifically highlighted. For example, the MDG targets include goals for achieving universal primary education, reducing child mortality, and improving maternal health. Each goal is directly relevant to early childhood. However, none of the language or perspective around these goals specifically addresses ECD, which is understandable, considering the MDGs are broad international benchmarks to meet, as opposed to specific goals for the development of young children. We take particular note of this result and, later in this chapter, present implications for how the instrumental value of ECD could be included in future generations of declarations and conventions.

In the final set of analyses, we examined how access, equity, and quality in early childhood were reflected in these key international policy statements (p.75)

table 4.4 Frequency of access, equity, and quality in international conventions and declarations

Document Family




CRC (not including GC7)
















(Table 4.4). Because international conventions and declarations are such overarching policy statements, access, equity, and quality appear as general principles, necessary components that apply across all human rights and development goals; therefore, we did not code for EC specificity in this analysis.

The CRC documents made roughly equal mention of access, equity, and quality. Of particular importance to understanding the reasoning about ECD programs is the attention given to certain services as a human right. For example, access to child care services and facilities for working parents, and special care of disabled children are noted as essential for the realization of children’s right. The principle of equity was coded particularly through the emphasis on nondiscrimination and service to vulnerable populations. The CRC states that children living in exceptionally difficult conditions need “special consideration,” which should include equitable and accessible early childhood programs and services for those who need them most—indeed, the most vulnerable children. The principle of quality was found in discussions of standards and training of those responsible for providing services that ensure children’s rights. For example, the CRC requires governments to ensure that “the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children…conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision” (UN General Assembly, 1989). In summary, the CRC attends to the principles of equity, access, and quality from a perspective of intrinsic value for all children, without a special focus on ECD.

The EFA documents cited the general principle of quality 95 times, most commonly in phrases such as “quality education,” “basic education services of quality,” “quality basic education,” and “basic education of high quality.” The term “quality” in this context is used to accentuate the idea that, to successfully ensure the right to education, educational services must be of good quality. However, there is no detailed explanation or description of what “quality” entails. The concepts of equity and access also appear frequently throughout the EFA documents (see Table 4.4). Although the EFA initiative is concerned with education broadly, across the lifespan, it is noteworthy here that the initiative particularly emphasizes equity by urging states to ensure that children in difficult or disadvantaged circumstances (such as girls and children belonging to ethnic minorities) receive free and compulsory primary education. The principle of access is also referenced frequently and appears explicitly in the first EFA (p.76) goal, which is to expand early childhood care and education services. The principle of access also appears frequently in the context of expanding primary education (the first part of which often covers the end of early childhood) to the 113 million children without access to it (UNESCO, 2000b). It should be noted that the EFA family of documents was the only one in which these three principles—access, equity, and quality—converged into a single formulation: To ensure the fundamental human right to education, education must be of good quality and accessible to all people, regardless of their race, religion, origin, and/or status.

Access, equity, and quality are all stated as important principles in the UN Millennium Declaration and the MDGs, although, again, as broad concepts and not specific to early childhood. The later evolution of the HFA into declarations concerning health promotion (Ottawa Charter and Jakarta Declaration) and the social determinants of health (Rio Political Declaration) continue to uphold the three principles. In particular, of the 72 applications of the three codes in the HFA documents, 51 were in applied in the Rio Political Declaration alone; these were mostly focused on equity, which follows naturally from this declaration’s commitment to social and health equity within and between countries, “both for vulnerable groups and the entire population” (WHO, 2011). However, other than general references to child mortality and maternal and child health, only one explicit reference was made to ECD in the Rio Political Declaration.

In summary, this content analysis of the key international declarations and conventions suggests that, overall, ECD gets little specific attention. When it is singled out for mention, it is primarily from an education perspective, with EFA featuring ECD most specifically. We now turn our attention to the implications of these results for the next generation of global policies that will be declared in 2015 and beyond.


The global policy arena will soon be drafting the next generation of declarations, in particular the MDGs and the EFA. The analysis of the current generation of documents with respect to ECD has several sets of results that could be useful and important to consider during this stage of conceptualization. We begin this section by reflecting on these results with their implications for these forthcoming global policy statements. The second part of this section addresses the potential implications of these results for national level policies that address ECD.

If we use a historical lens to examine the association between these key declarations and conventions in connection with key scientific publications, we find a limited although effective pattern of influence. The limited nature of the influence could be attributed to the fact that information is only one of the many factors that influences policy (Weiss, 1995). We begin by noting Robert Myers’ (1992) foundational work, (p.77) The Twelve Who Survive and the events that led up to it. That publication drew on data from low- and middle-income (LAMI) countries to make a case that focusing solely on child survival was an inadequate way to address child well-being because those who survived often did not receive adequate services and programs. Taking this position, the Consultative Group (which Meyers headed at the time), along with others, pressed successfully to include in the World Declaration on Education for All a perspective highlighting that “learning begins at birth” (UNESCO, 1990). In our review, we found that, of all the declarations, the EFA had the highest frequency of ECD-specific inclusions, thus testifying to the potential effectiveness of factual presentations in influencing global institutional policy.

Although the scientific study of early childhood began in the 18th century with the writings of Locke, Kant, Rousseau, Pestalozzi, and Froebel (Wolfe, 2002), it is only in the 20th century that the science of ECD has come of age. At the turn of the century, high-income countries saw a surge in publications on ECD and the appearance of the landmark volume From Neurons to Neighborhoods (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). The decade following saw a similar spike in ECD publications from LAMI countries. More recently, we note an association between a publication and a declaration: The 2007 Irwin, Siddiqi, and Hertzman report, Early Child Development: A Powerful Equalizer, sponsored by WHO’s commission on the Social Determinants of Health, was one of the key reports to inform the Rio Declaration, which is the only document from the family of health documents that calls for “early childhood development in public policies and social health services” (WHO, 2011). However, it should be underscored that these individual publications do not stand alone; rather, they are supported by a more detailed, scientific foundation of articles, documents, and reports (such as the Lancet series of 2007 and 2011; Engle et al., 2007, 2011) that are used to advocate for ECD.

The results clearly indicated that the instrumental value of ECD is missing from the declarations although the science on the instrumental value is strong and burgeoning. This science, particularly for LAMI countries, has come of age in the past decade. Therefore, it is not surprising that we do not find it mentioned in declarations that were drafted at the turn of the century, approximately one decade ago. For the post-2015 MDG goals, such an omission will be unacceptable. The science of ECD, particularly with its emphasis on the instrumental value of early childhood, needs to be incorporated into the next generation of declarations. One purpose of the present volume is to translate the evidence concerning ECD to serve as a reference point for these upcoming global declarations and conventions.

With respect to the achievement of the MDG goals by 2015, it is currently speculated that many of these goals will not be met and new strategies will be required. Based on the science of ECD, we propose the following recommendations for the new generation of goals, should they follow the same emphasis. For example, MDG2, which currently addresses universal primary education, should move beyond schooling to include targets for learning. The data indicate that although children are being enrolled in school, they are not learning. Furthermore, drop-out (p.78) rates globally are staggering. The evidence from ECD is clear on this phase being foundational for later learning and school achievement. Similarly, MDG3 should include affordable and quality child care to become part of decent work for women, including shared child care. The rationale for this recommendation stems not only from recent economic evidence from several countries, but also from the rights upheld in the CRC.

We also propose that the implications of this volume go beyond global declarations to influence national-level policies focused on ECD. Our definition of ECD policies is adapted from the Zigler and Hall (2000) definition of a child policy. We define social policies that address ECD as a plan or course of action, supported by a publicly funded institution (e.g., government) that has an impact on the lives of young children, from the prenatal stage to 8 years of age. The plan or course of action is a deliberate strategy, with actionable activities that key stakeholders and sectors should undertake to most effectively use resources to achieve the desired ECD policy goals. The policy provides an umbrella to ensure that all program activities and projects are supported by the highest national legislative, policy, and decision-making bodies, and at more decentralized levels of government, if relevant to the governance structures in the country (Britto, Cerezo, & Ogbunugafor, 2008).

An informal analysis of a UNICEF Headquarters’ survey indicated that, in 2002, only 17 out of 150 countries stated that they had at least some kind of ECD policy (Ulkuer, personal communication). The following year, 2003, the number rose to 40; in subsequent years (2004 and 2005), the figure remained essentially the same (Babajanova, 2006). Although these are self-reported data and not actual submission of the policy—and the type of policy is often not clearly specified—these results suggest that the number of countries articulating a national statement dedicated to young children is increasing. This increase in the number of country policies suggests that this would be a good time to consider carefully how best to use evidence to influence them.

As stated in the introduction, international declarations and conventions are assumed to influence national polices due to their financial and ethical strength. Although such a causal relationship cannot be established, a small body of work suggests the influence of international policies on national policies for ECD. For example, with respect to ECD policy development and implementation in Africa, Pence (2004) notes that, prior to 1990, issues of young children were generally diffused throughout broader social policies. However, 1990 was a historical year for ECD (as the EFA declaration emphasized that learning begins at birth) and children in general, as the CRC became international law. The analyses suggest that, post-1990, the importance of ECD in national policies in several countries (e.g., Ghana, Senegal, and Namibia) can be attributed to greater governmental engagement with the CRC and the EFA Jomtien and Dakar meetings. Thus, the ability to date the change in emphasis on ECD in national documents is closely linked with the international declarations. Another example of this suggested influence is presented from Jordan. In 2009, Jordan published its comprehensive national ECD (p.79) strategy, Jordan’s Early Childhood Development Initiative: Making Jordan Fit for Children. Of the three motivating factors that led to the development of this policy, building human capital and human rights are cited as two reasons, with Jordan’s demography listed as the third (Sultana, 2009). In other words, the UN General Assembly Resolution A World Fit for Children (UN General Assembly, 2002), the UN Millennium Declaration, and the CRC were influential in the development and design of the Jordanian national policy for ECD. This literature suggests that research is required to understand the exact association between international- and national-level policies so that evidence can be used to inform national-level policies.

The literature on ECD in LAMI countries is coming of age, a new generation of international declarations is being conceived, and we are noting a great rise in national-level ECD policies. The confluence of timing for these three aspects is a clear indication that the evidence of ECD, intrinsically and instrumentally, needs to be translated and effectively communicated to inform global and national policies. The further development of global and national ECD policies, in turn, provides greater impetus for the next generation of ECD research.


We thank the Bernard van Leer Foundation for its generous support of the study on child rights in ECD. We also acknowledge the guidance of Liliana Angelica Ponguta and Adrian Cerezo in establishing the coding system.


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