Millions of children in Rwanda are not reaching their full potential because of inadequate nutrition, lack of early stimulation and learning, and exposure to inadequate hygiene and sanitation.
The Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) says 38% of children under 5 years in Rwanda are stunted, which hinders their future productivity and for the nation.
The revelation was made yesterday at the ongoing two-day International Early Childhood Development (ECD) conference in Kigali at Marriott Hotel.
While speaking at the opening of the conference, the Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, Solina Nyirahabimana urged participants to “use their expertise and advise our continent and the whole world on how we can raise our children since conception and early birth.”
She said that lifetime behaviour patterns are formed during early years when brain development is most active. She added that what happens during these early years of a child’s life influences their growth and development outcomes as well as opportunities in adulthood.
“Rwanda recognizes early childhood development as one of the pillars of human capital development and sustainable development that provides a comprehensive approach to policies and programs for children from 0 to 6 years of age, their parents and caregivers,” the minister said.
Nyirahabimana emphasised that investment in the early years is one of the smartest investments a country can make to break the cycle of poverty, address inequality and boost productivity later in life in its citizens; the reason being of this conference.
“Rwanda targets to increase access to early childhood development services such as adequate nutrition, early learning and exposure to adequate hygiene and sanitation from 13% currently to 45 % by 2024,” she remarked.
In addition, she observed that investment in mental and emotional development of children from before birth until they enter primary school is critical for the future productivity of individuals and for the economic competitiveness of nations.
Nadine Umutoni, the Permanent Secretary at MIGEPROF pointed out that family members especially parents should make sure that children are well raised from their tender age because that is where they get integrated.
She said that MIGEPROF will continue to sensitise the public on behaviour change towards ECD services, adding that both parents need to play a role in raising children.
The sensitisation will be done from grassroots level through existing platforms such as Evening Parents’ Forum known as ‘Umugoroba w’Ababyeyi where parents are equipped with proper feeding skills, hygiene and sanitation in order to combat malnutrition and stunting.
The conference is organised under the theme- “investing in early years for optimum human capital development”- attracted about 300 delegates from the public sector, development partners, academia and civil society from Rwanda and abroad.
It is also an opportunity to present findings from local and international studies focusing on best practices to inspire and inform interventions as well as sharing expertise and achievements in early childhood development.
Rwanda and Sierra Leon have made great progress in tackling stunting and malnutrition in Africa, and Dr. Jan Low, International Potato Center Principal Scientist tells us why.