Fifteen per cent of Mexican children aged four are lagging in early childhood development, says an internationally recognized expert in community nutrition, and present deficiencies in motor, cognitive, language, psychoemotional and social skills.
While only 7% of Mexican infants are lagging in development at the age of one year, the percentage doubles during the next three years of their lives, according to Yale University School of Public Health professor Rafael Pérez Escamilla.
“Mexico is one of the regions of the world where fewer than 20% of children are at risk of poor development, but that figure remains extraordinarily high and is unacceptable given that we know what to do to prevent the problem,” Pérez Escamilla said in an interview.
He explained that there are several factors that have a negative impact on early childhood development, including malnutrition, domestic violence, lack of access to quality education and health care and poor investment in early stimulation.
In order for Mexico to correct the situation, he said, the government would have to invest two or three times more in health and education than it currently does.
Pérez Escamilla observed that those who are denied proper development during early childhood will earn 25% less during their working lives.
Historically, money allocated to such development has not been seen as an investment but as an expense, said Ricardo Bucio, executive secretary of the National System for the Protection of Girls, Boys and Adolescents, while the head of social services organization Un Kilo de Ayuda warned that the country lacks a thorough early childhood development policy.
“This explains why, despite all the efforts, we rank low in standardized tests like PISA,” said José Ignacio Ávalos.
“The high levels of criminality and delinquency are also explained by this, as is the reality that more than 50% of the population cannot break out of the poverty cycle,” he stated.
Antonio Rizzoli, founder of the neurodevelopment research unit at the Children’s Hospital of Mexico, said the federal government’s social development program Prospera allocates 246 pesos (US $12) per child per year to promote early stimulation.
According to the Inter-American Development Bank, that figure should be US $200, he said.