Updated 07:53 AM EDT, Mon, Sep 16, 2019

Shakira & UNICEF Urge World Leaders to Invest in Early Childhood Development

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Colombian pop star and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Shakira called for global leaders to invest heavily in early childhood development.

"More than 100 million children are out of school and 159 million boys and girls under five are physically and cognitively stunted due to a lack of care and proper nutrition," the 38-year-old performer said in an event at the UN Headquarters in New York, as reported by UNICEF's official site. "Every year that passes without us making significant investment in early childhood development and initiatives that address these issues, millions of kids will be born into the same cycle of poverty and lack of opportunity."

She continued, "UNICEF and I have joined forces and are here today because investing early in children is an urgent matter and there isn't another moment to lose."

Shakira was joined at the UN event by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, and the Director of the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, Dr. Jack P. Shonkoff, UN News Centre reported.

According to UNICEF, brain development is at its most powerful during early childhood, with almost 1,000 neural connections taking place each second. These early connections of synapses are responsible for the child's health and well-being, which includes their ability to learn, adjustment to change, and handle challenges.

However, nearly one-third of all children below 5 years of age in lower and middle income countries "are growing up in environments and situations that can interfere with this period of rapid growth and development," the organization added.

Latest scientific research revealed that the brains of young children are both affected by environmental factors and genetics, with insufficient nutrition, lack of stimulation, and toxic stress also contributing factors, UNICEF listed on their website. But a healthier brain development can be achieved through cost-effective interventions, breast feeding encouragement, formal early education, and interacting with kids.

"What we are learning about all the elements that affect a child's brain - whether her body is well nourished, whether her mind is stimulated, whether she is protected from violence - must change the way we think about early childhood development, and how we act," said Lake, as quoted by UNICEF. "To give every child a fair chance in life, we need to invest early, invest equitably, and invest smartly - not only in education, but in health, in nutrition, and in protection."

The UN's NYC event comes before this week's announcement of the new Sustainable Development Goals for 2015 and beyond. UNICEF's goal is to highlight early childhood development's connection with addressing poverty, health and nutrition advancement, gender equality support, and lessening violence, the program's official page listed.

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