Early childhood development

As part of our research on making care visible, we examined state-owned public policies and programmes in two sectors where the provision of unpaid care is indisputably a factor in determining both uptake and outcome of services - early childhood development (ECD) and social protection. A literature search was undertaken for these two sectors covering all low- and middle-income countries for the past 20 years, with reference to documentation also available on the internet. The review considered the extent to which policies and programmes in these sectors are being designed and implemented in ways that address unpaid care concerns and give the issue greater visibility. To find out more read our Thematic Review on Public Policies Related to Care and our policy brief Connecting Unpaid Care Work and Childhood Development for Gains in Women's and Children's Rights. 

Policy findings on early childhood development

Women’s rights and children’s rights directly influence each other. Childcare responsibilities, for instance, directly impact how and what paid work women are able to do. This is why a focus on ECD goes hand in hand with making positive changes in unpaid care.

  • In a review of 263 ECD policies in low and middle countries, only 40 explicitly recognised the link between unpaid care and ECD
    ECD programmes that do not recognise unpaid care are unlikely to succeed, especially if they result in an increased burden for women.

  • ECD programmes need to encourage fathers to recognise their joint childcare responsibility and to take an active role in doing their share.
    A good example is Ukraine where ‘Papa Schools’ provide training for fathers to increase their childcare role with the overarching aim of challenging gender stereotypes.
  • Recognising the role of the state and communityin ECD is crucial. 
    Public financing for quality, local childcare provision with flexible opening hours to suit working parents is essential.
We are developing a database of policies and programmes on early childhood development. The database, which will contain the data refered to in the thematic review mentioned above, will be published here in April 2016. It will highlight which policies and programmes take unpaid care work into consideration and indicates the extent to which they recognise women’s unpaid care work, reduce the drudgery associated with performing care and/or redistribute responsibilities for care (e.g. towards the state, community, men.)

The links between unpaid care, women's rights and children's rights

Early childhood development (ECD) programmes provide childcare as well as early learning; they can also improve sanitation, and provide vaccines and oral rehydration salts (ORS), which reduce childhood illnesses. Unpaid care is a clear factor determining both uptake and outcome of ECD services, and  women’s rights and children’s rights directly influence each other. However, there have not been many successful attempts to tackle the two agendas collaboratively. 
Integrating unpaid care concerns into early childhood development policies has the potential to positively reinforce both women’s and children’s rights. Addressing this challenge involves recognising the value of unpaid care work in relation to childcare, redistributing childcare responsibilities from women to men, and recognising that responsibility for children goes beyond the immediate family to the collective community and the state.