Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the event on “investing in early childhood development as the foundation for sustainable development”, today, in New York:
I am delighted to be included today in this meeting of so many great minds. You represent a growing movement to give every child a fair chance in life — beginning with early childhood.
I thank UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] for its leadership — and Shakira, for her longstanding commitment to universal education and early childhood development. Shakira has millions of fans around the world who love her music — but, to the United Nations, she is a superstar humanitarian.
Many of you here today are pushing the boundaries of our knowledge about the developing brains of our youngest children. Because of your work, we know so much more about how nutrition, stimulation, protection and loving care are essential to the healthy development of children’s brains. They help them to grow and learn, to be more resilient in adversity and to be better able to embrace opportunity.
Investing in early childhood development does not just benefit children, it benefits societies. The returns can be measured in healthier, better-educated children, a stronger workforce, and a more prosperous, peaceful future. It is one of the most important and high-return investments we can make.
The international community is beginning to act on this new understanding. For the first time, the global development agenda includes a target for early childhood development. The sustainable development goals recognize that early childhood development can help drive the transformation we hope to achieve over the next 15 years.
This is a pivotal time. Far too many children are still being left behind. Too many countries have yet to make early childhood development a priority. We need to invest more, not just in education, but in health and protection. We need to target our investments and interventions to reach children at greatest risk of being left behind. Children in the poorest communities and countries; children from ethnic minorities and other marginalized groups; children with disabilities.
And we need to build public awareness about the importance of early childhood development. Families, especially, can benefit most from this knowledge — changing the way they care for their children. But also policy-makers, donors, and the general public. We need to increase understanding of the importance of early childhood development. And we need to generate increased investment.
UNICEF is doing admirable work advocating for early childhood development — on the ground and through its many partnerships. But we all have a shared responsibility to build this movement.
Today I ask you to make this call your own. Use your influence to make early childhood development a public priority. Let’s make a commitment to Generation 2015 — to all the children born this year — to give them the best start in life. Together we can make a profound difference in the lives of millions of children today — and for generations to come.