Snapshot: Gaps and Inequities in Early Childhood Development across Africa

Child nutrition (Early years), Childcare, Early childhood development, ​Learning through play (Early years)

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 malnutrition and inadequate childcare in their early years.

The findings for 53 countries across Africa are revealed today in a snapshot produced by the children’s charity Theirworld that looks at equity and early childhood development on the continent.

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.”

ECD is all of the things a child needs before the age of five to grow up with a strong, healthy body and brain — health care, good nutrition for mother and child, care and learning through play and stimulation, access to preschool, water and sanitation, and more. If conditions are unsatisfactory for the child they will fail to reach their full potential.

Among the findings of the snapshot are:


  • Across countries with available data, an average of more than 8 in 10 children experience violent discipline.
  • Birth registration rates range from 3% in Somalia to 100% in Algeria. Births not registered means children may be left behind or excluded from education and social services.


  • The continent has a high percentage of chronically malnourished children. It is as high as 58% in Burundi and 49% in Madagascar – the lowest is 10% in Tunisia and 12% in Algeria.
  • Chronic malnutrition prevalence is unequal or extremely unequal between the richest and poorest in 36 of 46 countries — roughly 8 in 10.
  • Access to the health care system is unequal or extremely unequal between the richest and poorest in 25 of 43 countries – roughly 6 in 10.


  • Varies hugely, from 1% in Chad and 4% in Burkina Faso to 79% in Angola and Algeria.
  • An average of just 3 out of 10 children in 48 African countries attend pre-primary school. 29 of 46 countries show little or no progress in increasing enrolment, or are getting worse.
  • Access to pre-primary school is extremely unequal between the poorest and richest in 17 of the 21 countries with data.

The snapshot 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 also opportunities to have a real impact.

These opportunities 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 the World Bank’s Human Capital Summit taking place in Washington, DC on October 6, 2016, where leaders from countries around the world are slated to share their commitments to reduce chronic malnutrition in children and expand access to early childhood development services by 2020.

Please go here to download our snapshot.

Please go here to read our methodology.

Please go here to read our mobile-friendly version.

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