Poorest African children ‘being left behind’ says nutrition and development scorecard

Early childhood development

A child plays at an early childhood development programme in Nairobi Picture: Adriane Ohanesian


Every child deserves the best start in life. Growing up with a healthy body and mind – backed by care and learning through play and at pre-primary school – are vital if they are to fulfil their potential.

But in many of the poorest parts of the world, huge numbers of girls and boys are being “left behind” because of factors like stunted growth and inadequate childcare in their early years.

The findings for 20 countries are revealed today in a snapshot scorecard produced by the children’s charity Theirworld that looks at nutrition and early childhood development in East and Southern Africa.


The report says: “The data tells a very clear story – millions of children are being left behind at every developmental milestone and those left behind are disproportionately poor.”

Early childhood development is the vitally important stage of a child’s life before the age of five when their brains develop significantly.

If conditions are unsatisfactory for the child they will not get the most from their education and fail to reach their full potential.

Kenyan children at the ECD programme in Kibera, Nairobi Picture: Adriane Ohanesian


Among the findings of the snapshot are:


  • This varies hugely, from 4% in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 6% in South Sudan to 79% in Angola and 93% in South Africa
  • The average pre-primary attendance across the 17 countries with data is just 34%
  • Of those 17 countries, 12 show little or no progress over 10 years, or are getting worse


  • The region has a high percentage of stunted children – those who fail to reach “normal” height due to poor nutrition and other health factors
  • It is as high as 58% in Burundi and 48% in Madagascar – the lowest is 24% in South Africa and 26% in Kenya
  • Stunting is rated “unequal” or “extremely unequal” between the poorest and richest children in 14 of 17 countries with data

The scorecard published by Theirworld – the charity behind A World at School – says the statistics “paint an alarming picture of early childhood development in these countries”. But it stresses there are opportunities to have a real impact.

They include targeting the hardest-to-reach children – especially the very poor, marginalised and those discriminated against – and investing in the health of adolescent girls.

The data has been published ahead of TICAD – the Tokyo International Conference on African Development – summit in Kenya on August 27 and 28. A new initiative for food and nutrition security will be launched there.

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