Paternity leave vital for early childhood development, says UNICEF

UNICEF urges greater investment in family-friendly policies including paid paternity and maternity leave, free pre-primary education, and paid breastfeeding breaks.

As more than 80 countries in the world prepare to celebrate Fathers’ Day in June, UNICEF is urging governments and employers to pay more attention to the role of fathers in supporting the early development of their new-born and young children.

In Azerbaijan fathers are entitled to 14 days of unpaid paternity leave after the birth of a baby � a practice mostly upheld only in the public sector.

Fathers can – and should – play a role in supporting their children’s early development, said UNICEF Representative to Azerbaijan Edward Carwardine. Interaction with mothers and fathers from the very first moments of life help to shape children’s brain growth and development for ever, making them healthier and happier, and increasing their ability to learn.

Evidence suggests that when fathers bond with their babies from the beginning of life, they are more likely to play a more active role in their child’s development. Research also suggests that when children positively interact with their fathers, they have better psychological health, self-esteem and life-satisfaction in the long-term.

Fathers want to be part of their children’s earliest moments, but for those fathers who are working we need to make sure the policies are in place that enable them to take that time with their children, without impacting on their jobs, said Edward Carwardine. In Azerbaijan, it is essential that maternity and paternity leave and breastfeeding policies are fully implemented across both public and private sectors. alongside more investment in early learning and education programmes for children aged 2-4 years old.

There is a wealth of scientific evidence that has proven that when children spend their earliest years � particularly the first 1,000 days from conception to two years old � in a nurturing, stimulating environment, new neural connections form at optimal speed. These neural connections help to determine a child’s cognitive ability, how they learn and think, their ability to deal with stress, and can even influence how much they will earn as adults.

The Lancet’s Series, Advancing Early Childhood Development: from Science to Scale, launched in October 2016, revealed nearly 250 million children under 5 were at risk of poor development due to stunting and extreme poverty. The Series also revealed that programmes promoting nurturing care � health, nutrition, responsive caregiving, security and safety, and early learning � can cost as little as 50 cents per capita per year when combined with existing health services.