A lonely childhood in cities full of excuses

The pandemic. Contract news, changes in government, names and denominations. The platform, the performers. The administrative one. If those responsible for making decisions about early childhood – for example in the three main cities of Colombia – do not prioritize their basic rights, the fate of those who start life with greater socio-economic vulnerability will not be changes.

Neither for lack of tools or instruments, or consistent legislation. In addition to the constitution, laws and public policy From Zero to Forever, there is a legal framework that supports international agreements and declarations. Why are they not fulfilled?

And there’s more to take out. In Bogotá, the First Guideline for Chronic Malnutrition (Stunting) Care with a Public Health Approach was created, demonstrating that it is possible to eradicate this form of malnutrition from a holistic, intersectoral and inter-institutional perspective in public-private partnerships. What’s happening today? It is not socialized or implemented 100% to take advantage of its evidence for the benefit of children.

In Medellín, the Buen Comienzo program, another national and international indicator, is insufficient to say the least. It has the potential to show that early childhood public policy can be implemented in any territory when there is the will and determination to give children growth. But the scope and timing of care (it started in 2021 with the longest delay in 8 years) has worsened in modalities such as family care, where pregnant mothers and children under two are: the point in life when comprehensive intervention is more likely to be successful.

Until 2019, Cali generally recorded better indicators than the national average, but between 2020 and 2021, all types of child malnutrition (for children under 5) increased, the percentage of mothers attending more than four prenatal examinations decreased, the death rate from malnutrition increases and hunger gives no respite.

These are just some of the elements that form part of the alarming panorama described by the civil monitoring observatories “How we are doing” in Medellin, Cali and Bogotá in reports on the state of early childhood in these capitals, based on information reported by the respective administrations.

Overall, pre-pandemic levels, which were not even good, are not being achieved in terms of maternal and child nutrition. Let’s look at some key indicators for illustration: chronic malnutrition and birth weight in these three cities.

Boys and girls do not eat well and therefore, in addition to getting sick (due to the lack of food plus many other deficiencies such as drinking water or sanitation), they do not develop properly: chronic malnutrition in Medellin went from 7.4% in 2019. to 7.8% in 2021 (the highest in the last eight years). In Cali, it has grown from 7% in 2019 to 10.8% in 2021 (the highest in the last 6 years). Bogotá is the only one to show an improvement, going from 12.1% in 2019 to 11% in 2021. Although the national average is 10.8% (ENSIN 2015).

If a boy or girl is born weighing less than 2,500 grams, they are at risk of developmental delay early in life. In Medellin, the proportion of boys and girls born under this weight standard in 2021 is higher than what has been recorded in the last eight years. In Cali in 2019 it was 8.7% and rose to 9.9% in 2021. In Bogotá it went from 14% in 2019 to 14.9% in 2021.

So many years later, it seems that the words of Gabriel García Márquez in his cry for Latin America are still valid and sad for the Colombian children in their own country: “we had to ask very little of the imagination because the biggest challenge for us is the insufficiency of conventional resources to make our lives reliable. This, my friends, is the essence of our loneliness.”

There is no narrative or political discourse to explain why thousands of boys and girls are left adrift just when they experience the unique opportunity to fulfill their potential in the first two years of life. How long are we going to leave them alone?

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