Singer Shakira speaks on Syria and early childhood development at the UN

Shakira Says Children Should Not "Pay the Price of War"
Shakira Says Children Should Not "Pay the Price of War"

On September 22, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and two-time Grammy Award winner Shakira spoke about the current Syrian migrant and refugee emergency at a UN press conference. The Colombian singer deemed the emergency "one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time." She said:

"All of us have a responsibility today and we cannot escape it, not the leaders of the world and not us, as a civil society. We need to come together and we need to demand a just exit to this humanitarian crisis. Because the refugees deserve to have a home."

Shakira insisted that the crisis can be helped only if nations come together to find a collaborative solution. She said:

"It's not an easy problem to resolve but I'm also sure that nations coming together could find an intelligent way, and intelligent solution to this issue, this urgent issue, in the name of Aylan Kurdi and Galip Kurdi, those two boys who lost their lives."

In addition to speaking on the refugee crisis, Shakira urged global leaders to invest in early childhood development during the conference. Her plea comes in the wake of a recent revolutionary shift in our knowledge of deprivation and stress and their lasting effects on young children's brain development. During the press conference, Shakira said:

"More than 100 million children are out of school and 159 million boys and girls under 5 are physically and cognitively stunted due to a lack of care and proper nutrition. 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."

Shakira went on to explain that the early stages of brain development are the most intense and crucial as they help form children's capacity to learn, adapt and deal with adversity. Unfortunately, nearly one-third of all children under the age of 5 in lower and middle income countries do not have the necessary resources to aid such rapid growth and development. Shakira said:

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While children's brain development can be negatively impacted by a lack of nutrition and an increase of toxic stress, certain cost-effective interventions including breast feeding, playing with children and formal early education programs help support healthy brain development. Therefore, Shakira is working with UNICEF to encourage significant investment in such cost-effective interventions. UNICEF Executive Directory Anthony Lake said:

"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. 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."

Studies show that for every dollar spent on improving early child development, returns average at four to five times the amount invested. Thus, investing in early childhood development has substantial long-term benefits for investors. Shakira said:

"Turning this new understanding into action can be life-changing for millions of the most disadvantaged children. The knowledge is irrefutable. The moral argument is strong. The investment case is persuasive. The SDG momentum is with us. And the power to act is in our hands."

Shakira was joined at the press conference by United Nation Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, Dr. Jack P. Shonkoff, Director of the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, and business leaders for a private event on early childhood development at the UN in New York.

Early childhood development can help improve health, nutrition and gender equality in lower and middle income classes while reducing stress and violence.

Click through this slideshow to see pictures of Shakira at the press conference:

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Originally published