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Child Rights International Network

Resource type:

Paper (general)

Early childhood refers to the earliest years of development of a child; however, there is no universally agreed definition of this. The Committee on the Rights of the Child defines early childhood as being from birth to the age of eight in General Comment 7, although it acknowledges that definitions vary from country to country.

The earliest years of a child’s life are of critical importance. This is when a child experiences rapid physical growth, develops emotional attachments to parents or caregivers as well as to other children, and begins to become socialised and understand the world. A child’s health is also crucial at this stage, particularly in terms of protection from childhood diseases.

Millions of children around the world die before their fifth birthday each year. To try to combat this, Millennium Development Goal number four is to reduce by two-thirds the mortality of children under five by 2015. Despite improvements on a global scale in meeting this goal, 10.5 million children died before their fifth birthday in 2004 – mostly from preventable causes. Children from poorer and less educated families are at a significantly higher risk of dying from preventable diseases.

Early childhood is also usually the period when children first enter education. Millennium Development Goal number two is to achieve universal primary education by 2015. As a result of this, net enrolment ratios in primary education have already increased to 86 per cent in the developing world as a whole.

Child Rights in Early Childhood

It is not always obvious, from the Convention on the Rights of the Child alone, how child rights should apply to very young children. The best source of information on this is in the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s General Comment 7 - Implementing child rights in early childhood (2005). This came about because the Committee felt the need for a discussion on the broader implications of the Convention on the Rights of the Child for young children. In 2004, the Committee devoted its day of general discussion to the theme “Implementing child rights in early childhood”. This resulted in a set of recommendations, as well as the decision to prepare a general comment on this important topic. Through this general comment, the Committee wanted to encourage recognition that young children are holders of all rights enshrined in the Convention and that early childhood is a critical period for the realisation of these rights.

The recommendations and General Comment 7 were designed to strengthen understanding of the human rights of all young children and to draw State parties’ attention to their obligations towards young children, and to comment on the specific features of early childhood that impact on the realisation of rights, such as the vulnerability of young children to poverty, discrimination, family breakdown and multiple other adversities that violate their rights and undermine their well-being.

Further Information

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Last updated 18/02/2008 06:19:19

Please note that these reports are hosted by CRIN as a resource for Child Rights campaigners, researchers and other interested parties. Unless otherwise stated, they are not the work of CRIN and their inclusion in our database does not necessarily signify endorsement or agreement with their content by CRIN.

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