In August 2016, enchanted by his presentation, African leaders adopted President Yoweri Museveni’s paper at the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) in Nairobi. The paper is – apparently – to be used as a blueprint guide to solving Africa’s development bottlenecks.
They must have been so enthralled by Mzee’s paper that outlined 10 bottlenecks that hindered the continent’s development. I have not had a chance to address my mind to it but I can bet my bottom dollar that it is a document worthy of the attention.
That is our fort. We publish groundbreaking papers, policies etc. But that’s just all about it. Implementation is another subject. Governance questions repeatedly frustrate us from breathing life into the many, wonderful promises.
A close review of the National Integrated Early Childhood Development Policy reveals nothing less. The policy, in fact, flags one of the bottlenecks in Museveni’s paper – human resource underdevelopment.
In addition to setting out the situational analysis, the implementation framework and the institutional arrangements for implementation; the policy sets out the policy actions and guiding principles in a structured detail.
It is these two – the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ – that I find critical if the policy is to make a real difference to empower a generation and shape our future.
The WHAT: Policy actions
In what is described as the ‘main thrust of this policy,’ the framers of the policy describe action areas to guarantee holistic development for upholding the rights of children from conception to 8 years.
The first policy action is on early childhood care and education. To deliver ECD education services, government intends to ‘increase access to equitable, quality, integrated, inclusive and developmentally appropriate early learning’ to stimulate opportunities for all children in Uganda.
In a country where over 80% of the ECD education service is in the hands of the private sector, it remains to be seen how government will avail opportunities for disadvantaged children. During the launch, government committed to establishing a comprehensive ECD center in all villages in the country. Will this involve opening up day-care and nursery schools in UPE and government funded schools? Do we have enough, fully qualified ECD care/education service providers to work in these centers?
Policy also indicates that government is committed to guaranteeing food security and nutrition for all children. It is anticipated that this will be done by ‘supporting nutritious food production and nutrition care within the household.’ How will government enforce this in households that are grappling with poverty and food insecurity? How will government ensure that all children in schools access a meal at lunchtime as a bare minimum?
On child protection policy action, government intends to ‘strengthen mechanisms for preventing and responding to abuse, exploitation and violence against children and their caregivers.’ What measures are in place to deliver justice by enforcing court orders in cases of maintenance orders, domestic violence, aggravated defilement, corporal punishment, child labour, and other incidents of abuse? It is not a secret that justice is largely for sale in Uganda. The mighty, the rich, the powerful almost always have their way. How affordable and user-friendly is access to justice for children and their caregivers?
The other critical policy action areas outlined in the policy include provision of primary health care and sanitation, family strengthening and support, communication and advocacy, and finally the multi-sectoral partnerships and coordination.
These policy actions, if implemented to the letter, would transform our country.
The million-dollar question is whether we are up for the task. During the launch, government leaders expressed total commitment.
If indeed they are, the policy sets out clear guiding principles which if observed and upheld by all stakeholders, will be just a matter of time before we are able to afford all children the best start in life.
The HOW: Guiding principles
Abiding by these values will be critical for the attainment of the goals of the policy.
Overall, successful implementation of the policy hinges on the presence of good governance, respect of rights, and accountability. However, the policy further breaks this down.
For instance, the policy instructs all ECD programs must be holistic to achieve comprehensive progress. It specifically guides that the physical, mental, social, emotional and linguistic services are to be interwoven and treated as complementary and equals in importance.
It was provides guidance on how to approach perhaps the most dominant challenge to early childhood development today – the lack of equity in access to ECD services. Factors such as gender, geographical location, economic class of their families etc have created layers of discrimination. There is no way we can achieve the best start in life for all children without addressing the problem of discrimination.
Further, to address the challenge of discrimination, the policy requires that the ECD services must be context specific. It is envisioned that this will customize the services to the needs of specific children, for example, street children, children affected by HIV/Aids and other categories to meet the special needs.
Perhaps more critically, the policy guides that all ECD programs must adopt a rights based approach. It is an obligation of the state to respect and ‘promote the children’s basic right to survival, development, protection and participation.’ Designing programs while taking into account the core principles of non-discrimination and respect of the child’s interest will be key.
Other core guiding values that the policy sets out include the need to put the family and the community at the centre of ECD services to empower them and encourage sustainability, functioning public-private partnerships, and inclusive and complimentary service provisions.
The bedrock of all these guiding principles will be good governance and accountability. If there is a lack of leadership, transparency and accountability of ECD services, all these wonderful outcomes expected – as put forth in the policy – will not be achieved.
Lives that would be positively impacted
To understand this, let’s delve into the prevailing statistics to breakdown the numbers. These are the lives that will be directly touched if the policy is implemented to the letter.
In child health, children continue to die at birth and early in life for preventable reasons. For example, infant mortality rate in 2014 report was estimated at 53 deaths per 1,000 live births. Under-five mortality rate was at 80 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Malnutrition accounts for nearly 60% of infant deaths in Uganda. In a country where 8% of children are considered critically vulnerable, 43% moderately vulnerable and 4.7 million children live in poor households, the threat of malnutrition must be treated as a serious matter. These statistics mean all the vulnerable children are highly susceptible to malnutrition that may result to their death.
This threat is compounded by the state of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in the country. Approximately 77,430 OVC live in 28,800 child-headed households. Above 3,000 children live on the streets.
In 2013, 16,120 children were victims of offences. The crime of defilement was most prevalent at 26% of all crimes reported during the year. In the same year, a report indicated that about 605,000 children were engaged in child labour without attending school.
The number of children with special needs in 2015 is also high. A UNICEF report reveals that approximately 2.5 million children in Uganda live with some form of disability and hence are vulnerable to various forms of abuse.
In terms of ECD education services, 2014 household population census revealed that only 3,827,118 children between 0-8 years were attending school. The other 3,214,716 children in the same age range were not in school.
In spite of the many commendable achievements from the various initiatives by government, civil society and private sector, the situation is still far from ideal. Behind these statistics are real lives being condemned to isolation, abuse and denial of equal opportunities.
A nation that cares about its future and its people has to take all possible steps to protect and nurture its young population.