Opportunities for Early Childhood Development in Arab Countries: Profile and Evolution of Inequality and Its Sources

Hlasny, Vladimir; Intini, Vito (2016). 'Opportunities for Early Childhood Development in Arab Countries: Profile and Evolution of Inequality and Its Sources' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

abstract High inequality of opportunity is a major social challenge in the Arab region. This study evaluates opportunities for early childhood development (ECD) in fourteen Arab countries using a number of indicators for mothers’ care during pregnancy and child delivery, as well as children’s access to minimum nutrition, health, parental care and cognitive developmental activities, in twenty standardized national surveys from fourteen countries. We find that children in most of the included Arab countries receive inadequate access to qualified prenatal and delivery care, many fail to be properly vaccinated or receive adequate supply of iodine. In part due to these shortfalls, disproportionately many children become stunted and underweight, or die before reaching their first birthday. Particularly significant deficiencies exist in children’s access to cognitive development, namely enrolment in nurseries and pre-school programs, cognitive stimulation at home, violent disciplining and exploitation of children for housework. Opportunities for children’s development are limited in Iraq, Mauritania, Morocco, Somalia and Sudan, with Somalia being a distant outlier. Within countries, disparities exist in children’s access to ECD opportunities across households from different wealth strata, regions and educational backgrounds, particularly for mothers’ access to qualified physicians, and children’s access to nursery and pre-school education. Over time, children’s opportunities are improving across countries and dimensions of ECD, but the improvement is uneven. Immunization, iodine intake and children’s stunting have worsened in many countries. Djibouti and Morocco have seen deterioration in many aspects of ECD. Finally, within-country inequality in opportunities is falling across many ECD indicators and countries, but these improvements have also been uneven. Inequality in child mortality, enrolment in preschool programs, engagement in developmental activities at home, violent disciplining of children, and exploitation of children for housework has worsened. Algeria, Djibouti, Morocco, Iraq and Palestine have seen deteriorating inequality across many dimensions of ECD. In light of these findings, local and national policy should target ease of access to health facilities and pre-school programs in order to promote fair access to ECD for everyone. International organizations should further coordinate support for disadvantaged families and proper investment in medical and educational infrastructure.

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