In the earliest years of life, especially from pregnancy to three years, babies need nutrition, protection and stimulation for healthy brain development. During this brain-building process, a combination of positive life experiences such as protection, good nutrition and nurturing from caregivers help to establish the foundation of a child’s future.
In recognising this critical role of parenting in the fulfilment of children’s rights, article 18 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) says “Parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child. The best interests of the child will be their basic concern.”
This section of the CRC recognises that parents are the first to have the power to act on behalf of children based on their natural proximity to the child. Article 18 of the CRC also reminds us parents of our moral responsibility to use our role as parents as a springboard for the realisation of all the rights of a child.
Parental involvement helps in guaranteeing a child’s rights to life, the right to protection and security, the right to good nutrition, the right to clean water, safe environment & safe sanitation, the right to quality education and the right to express themselves freely and be heard.
In the month of June, UNICEF commemorated the first ever global Parenting Month to celebrate parenthood and to raise awareness on the importance of parental involvement for the overall good development of children, the family and the country.
Using the U-Report tool, UNICEF reached out to parents and caregivers in Sierra Leone to establish how much they are involved in playing and interacting with their child daily. Of the 10,442 poll respondents, 28% said they can spend only less than 30 mins a day with their child. Respondents also indicated that playing and interacting with children is often an uphill struggle because of work commitments and because they do not stay full time with the child.
Sadly, when a parent is not present to support their child through the delicate moments of development, the child risks achieving critical life moments and encounter many of life’s challenges alone. This exposes them to violence, abuse, exploitation and growth impairments.
By spending a good amount of time with our children, we can provide them with proper nourishment and stimulate their intellect and creativity. During these important moments with the child, we get to know the child better and to see where they need further help and support.
Towards committing to child rights promotion through commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the CRC on the 20th of November, it is time for parents across Sierra Leone to re-examine how to invest more time towards influencing positive early moments and experiences of our children. This investment of time and commitment has positive spinoffs for the child, the family, the community and for the nation as the child’s confidence, knowledge and critical awareness is sharpened remarkably.
The good news is that spending time with a child need not be expensive but be of good memorable quality. A moment together reading a book, singing songs or even taking leisure walks, are sufficient to provide positive early experiences, which will help the child to perform better when they are in school and to be a productive citizen in their adult life.
While parents play their role to provide the best start in life for children, UNICEF also calls on businesses and governments to invest in family-friendly policies and spaces which will allow parents to play their parental role without having to make a choice between work and the child. Investments in parenting friendly policies such as paid parental leave, breast feeding breaks, child care spaces and child grants, give parents the time they need to build their babies brains and helps parents to balance their work and family responsibilities effectively.
As the global champion for children and in committing to “walk the talk”, UNICEF has introduced family-friendly policies for UNICEF staff, including six months maternity leave for mothers and one-month paternity leave for fathers. Other policies include flexible working arrangements for parents; designated private rooms and appropriate breaks for breastfeeding and pumping; and child-care support for parents with young children.
At community level, we are working with Government to promote positive early moments for children. This intervention includes promoting parental involvement through the setting up of integrated ECD centres where parents can spend time with their children and engage in play-based stimulation activities and where they can access information and counselling that will improve their child care practices.
To date a total of 42 community based ECD centers that provide integrated ECD services to 4200 children 0-5 years and their caregivers in 32 communities have been established. The centres provide play resources, play based early stimulation and learning to children, supports holistic ECD through the provision of Water, Sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and linkages with health and child protection services.
Our collective commitment to children can help ensure that every parent everywhere provides the best start for children to fulfil their right.