Act For Early Years: Theirworld calls for a global movement to support the youngest children

We will bring together a broad range of networks, campaigns and voices to ensure a revolution in the delivery of childcare and pre-primary education.

Theirworld has launched a campaign calling for a global revolution in the education and care of the world’s youngest children. 

Act For Early Years will see Theirworld work with partners to tackle an early years crisis that is depriving millions of pre-primary children of the best start in life and a foundation for the future. 

The campaign is aimed at bringing together governments, business, international agencies, parents, frontline workers, civil society, youth campaigners and grassroots groups behind a single banner and a powerful voice. 

It’s backed by an extensive and hard-hitting Act For Early Years report, which lays out the challenges and the case for investing in and prioritising the early years – including radical recommendations for urgent action by world leaders. 



A global survey of more than 7,000 parents and carers for Theirworld also reveals that the spiralling cost of nursery and preschool fees has forced one in five parents to quit a job or drop out of education.

Others have been forced to make major financial changes and some have reduced or stopped using childcare services altogether. 

Watch our Act For Early Years film

Ben Hewitt, Senior Campaigns Advisor to Theirworld, said: “In 2015, world leaders set a target that by 2030 every girl and boy should have access to quality early childhood development, care and education. But eight years on, too many leaders continue to promise but fail to deliver. 

“They are ignoring the evidence that shows investing in the early years is crucial for the development of children. The first five years of life is when 90% of brain development happens, setting the patterns of learning and behaviour. 

“Around the world, there are calls from parents, teachers, carers and communities for better provision of childcare and increased access to quality pre-primary education, especially for the most marginalised children.


Of parents in India have made major changes to their lives to help pay for childcare, according to our survey

“While we hear warm words there is a lack of action and investment, and often support is going into other areas instead. Leaders need to wake up and act now. 

“Only a global movement can bring together the different networks, campaigns and voices that are already urging change into the unified force needed to produce an everlasting early years revolution.” 

Join the campaign.

Here’s what you need to know about the Act For Early Years campaign. 

What is the early years crisis?

The target of access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education for every child was part of the Sustainable Development Goals. But the target is off track and there is no recognised plan in place to achieve it.   

More than half of the world’s children (350 million) don’t have access to the childcare they need, according to the World Bank. And about half of pre-primary aged children aren’t enrolled in any form of early education.  

Why are the early years so important?

The first years of childhood are a once in-a-lifetime opportunity. Research has shown that up to 90% of a child’s brain development takes place between birth and the age of five. It’s when more than one million neural connections are formed – a rate never matched again. 

Without adequate support, children are at risk of going through life with poorer physical and mental health. They face a struggle to learn and, later, to earn a living. Failing to give children the best start in life perpetuates cycles of poverty and inequality. 

Why is the Act For Early Years campaign needed now?

International and national leaders are just not doing enough, quickly enough, to tackle the crisis. 

Theirworld has been calling for increased investment in the early years for some time. There is finally some momentum, with community groups organising for change and high-profile activists and politicians calling for the early years to be treated as part of a country’s essential infrastructure.  

Theirworld Chair Sarah Brown said: “Providing for children in their early years must be treated as a public good, not a private test of a family’s financial strength. 

Several nations have put in place commitments to improve early childhood development. There have also been significant international commitments and pledges that recognise the importance of the first years of a child’s life. But delivery so far has been lacking and most commitments are non-binding.  

Theirworld wants to wake up government officials in key posts at finance and other ministries who still do not fully grasp the importance of the early years. We want decision-makers, donors and policymakers to follow the science of early childhood and start focusing on the things that will make the biggest difference for children. 

What does the campaign call for?

The main Act For Early Years demands to national and local governments are for them to: 

  • Give universal access to affordable, quality childcare, with high-quality, proven interventions available to every child – spanning education and learning, health, nutrition and social protection. 
  • Invest in a fully-trained, qualified and funded early years workforce. 
  • Deliver on the internationally agreed target to invest 10% of education funding in pre-primary education and learning and agree similar targets across all sectors. 
  • Deliver an integrated approach to early years interventions across sectors and government, with senior government leadership. 
  • Prioritise and track early years investments in all aid budgets and programmes, especially those addressing emergencies and targeting refugee communities. 
  • Stage the first International Financing Summit on the early years by 2025 to kickstart an international decade of action on the early years and prioritise the needs of marginalised children. 

What is the campaign's first action?

The first action of the campaign is to call on G20 countries to review and revitalise their pledge on early years. When they met five years ago, they signed up to promises to invest hugely in early years. But then the pandemic happened and the promises got forgotten. Now, we need to remind them to act for early years, before it’s too late for another generation of children. 

Sign our letter to leaders