UNICEF says poor nutrition affecting Sri Lankan children

UNICEF says in Sri Lanka 38% of children aged 6-23 months do not receive a ‘minimal acceptable diet’ in terms of food diversity and meal frequency, 17% of under-fives are ‘stunted’ and 15.1% are ‘wasted’, all resulting from poor nutrition.

As the world celebrates the life changing role of parents through the Global Day of Parents (1st June) and Father’s Day (16th June), UNICEF is drawing attention to the critical role parents play in a child’s first 5 years through early caregiving, socializing and disciplining practices, which can affect their child’s brain development for their whole lives, and even future generations.

Parents play a key role in ensuring children get good nutrition, stimulation and protection, known as ‘eat play and love’, yet they need more support to ensure their children reach their full potential, UNICEF said. Providing good nutrition fuels brain growth, with inadequate nutrition in the first 5 years affecting the structure and function of the brain in ways that are difficult to reverse later.

Providing play and stimulation through interaction between young children and parents positively and permanently strengthens a child’s ability to learn. Yet in Sri Lanka, 19.4% of children reported that there are no ‘child-centred’ books at home*, meaning they risk missing out on one of the most important forms of early stimulation.

UNICEF says by providing love and protection, parents can limit ‘toxic stress’ which disrupts the process of brain development and damages health, learning and behavior. However, 73.4% of children aged 1-14 years have experienced corporal punishment at home by parents.

To help parents give the best start to their children, UNICEF has today launched www.BetterParenting.lk, a Sinhala, Tamil and English website that brings together comprehensive expert information in four areas; child care, child development, food and nutrition and health, through a mix of articles, video and animation.

Supporting the launch of BetterParenting.lk UNICEF has also released a new ‘Parent Super Power’ advertising campaign, featuring renowned singer and musician Romesh Sugathapala, well-known radio personality Shaq (Riyaz Shah Jahan) and actress and former Miss Sri Lanka Sachini Ayendra, each with their own young children. Directed by Ilango Ram, the three 60 second films highlight how every parent possess the ‘super power’ to help their child develop.

“The most important people in a young child’s life are parents and caregivers” said Tim Sutton, Representative, UNICEF Sri Lanka. “A child’s development depends on good health and nutrition, love and care, safety and security and quality early learning. Every parent wants to do the best for their child. By supporting parents in their children’s early year, we can enable all children to fulfill their right to develop fully, and to thrive for themselves, their communities and their country.”

To provide nurturing care for children, families need supportive policies, programmes and services. In the last 12 months the Government of Sri Lanka has either approved or implemented several important policies in support of nurturing care, including a National Early Childhood Care and Development Policy, The National Alternative Care Policy, additional funding provided in the 2019 national budget to Provisional Councils for ECD activities and the launch of a National Public-Private Partnership Programme for Child Daycare Centers.

The ‘Parent Super Power’ campaign was produced with the support of Publicis Sri Lanka, part of the Leo Burnett Group. (Colombo Gazette)

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