At the height of nationwide lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 150 million children younger than 5 years in East Asia and the Pacific were affected. The pandemic brought service provision for young children in many of the 27 countries supported by UNICEF programmes that promote nurturing care and are essential to their optimal development to a standstill. Yet, even before the pandemic, more than 42 million children in the region were at risk of not reaching their developmental potential.
Early childhood starting from conception, especially in the first 1,000 days of life, is a period when 90 per cent of brain development takes place. At this crucial time, young children need nurturing care – good health, adequate nutrition, responsive caregiving, early learning and stimulation, physical and emotional security and safety. This early moments in life offer a window of opportunity to boost children’s physical, cognitive, emotional and social development – influencing their readiness to learn in school, to solve problems, to relate to others, and overall mental health and well-being. This ultimately has a significant impact on their adult lives, affecting their ability to earn a living and contribute to their societies.
COVID-19 threatens this precious opportunity for children in early childhood to develop healthy brains and lives through the disruption of essential health and nutrition services, the suspension of opportunities for early learning, the stress and burden on families and parenting, increased protection risks, and the severe negative impact on families’ household economies.
Using the latest available evidence, this report summarizes the impact of the pandemic on services essential for young children’s development: For example, that the number of children younger than 5 years visiting community health centres in Viet Nam dropped by 48 per cent; that in Indonesia, more than 50 per cent of households reported not being able to meet their family’s nutritional needs; or that in the Philippines, more than 80 per cent of households experienced a decrease in their household income. Households facing disadvantages before COVID-19 – those with young children, those living in rural and remote areas and low-income households – are in most cases more disproportionally affected by the pandemic.
UNICEF in East Asia and the Pacific continues to help families and their young children in these pandemic times develop to their full potential by supporting governments to provide continuity of early childhood development services. UNICEF country offices across the region continue to implement early childhood development interventions to ensure that young children have access to holistic interventions that respond to their essential needs throughout their first eight years of life.