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Early Childhood Peace Consortium launched at UNICEF

By Pi James and Taleen Vartan

Experiencing violence of any kind, early in life, can have a profound impact. A consortium launched on 20 September seeks to drive progress collectively to sustained peace through early childhood development programmes. 

Read the original article on UNICEF website.

NEW YORK, United States of America, 25 September 2013 – "In every language, there is a word for peace; in every language, there is a word for children," said Senior Adviser in the Early Childhood Development Unit at UNICEF Dr. Pia Britto, opening the launch of the Early Childhood Peace Consortium on 20 September at UNICEF House in New York.

With evidence mounting as to the importance of the early years in a child's development, the Consortium brings together the United Nations, private sector, civil society and academia to drive progress collectively to sustained peace through early childhood development programmes.

A profound impact

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta welcomed the diverse crowd to the launch, which she said would serve as a forum to consider actions to advocate for investments in young children and their families as a strategy for peacebuilding.

"What brings us together is our belief – backed by emerging evidence – that violence of any kind, early in life – either experienced or observed – can have long-lasting and detrimental impacts on the health, life skills, competencies, attitudes and beliefs of young children and adults, alike," Ms. Rao Gupta said.

The full-day event featured presentations from 20 leading thinkers and practitioners in academia, civil society, the philanthropic community and international policy. The event also featured a stirring performance from a children's choir.

The group discussed how the impact of exposure to prolonged stress, violence and conflict is especially salient in early childhood.

Breaking the vicious cycle

According to United Nations High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations H.E. Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser, the vicious cycle of violence must be broken through interventions that promote peace. Conflict resolution, tolerance and forgiveness are integral to this vision – and the Early Childhood Peace Consortium will serve as a positive force in advancing peace and forgiveness.

"[A] tolerant mindset is precisely what should be encouraged through educational tools," said H.E. Mr. Nasser.

Leading neuroscientist Dr. Michael Meaney from McGill University gave an engaging presentation on scientific evidence of how differences in maternal care and environment in the early years can modify an individual's brain development and the ability to deal with stress later in life.

President and CEO of Sesame Workshop H. Melvin Ming discussed the interconnectedness of academic, emotional and social learning. "We can actually teach children simple ways to cope by introducing them to coping skills...and giving them options for how to deal with difficulties," he said.

Chief Executive of Early Years Siobhan Fitzpatrick spoke of experiences in Northern Ireland, explaining that children as young as 3 years old were developing prejudice about people who were different. Ms. Fitzpatrick said that early childhood development programmes were a means of "allowing children to unlearn hatred and break the cycle of prejudice".

Asked what is next for the consortium, Dr. Britto replied, "The Early Childhood Peace Consortium has galvanized the peacebuilding and early childhood communities to work jointly in crafting a bold agenda for change. The Consortium will advocate with national and global government to recognize the role of families and children in creating a just and peaceful world."

The Consortium is supported, in part, through the recently initiated Peacebuilding Education and Advocacy Programme, which is exploring innovative approaches to building peace through reshaping education policies and practices. As part of this programme, in countries such as Ethiopia and Liberia, UNICEF is taking a life-cycle approach and examining how the early childhood period can be an entry point for peacebuilding.

The founding partners of the Early Childhood Peace Consortium are UNICEF, Yale University, United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, The Mother Child Education Foundation (AÇEV), Sesame Workshop, Early Years, Fetzer Institute and Foundation Child.