08 October 2016

How early childhood education is important to child development

Story by Heamakarn Sricharatchanya / Video by Metee Thuentap 

This story was published in Bangkok Post newspaper on 8 October 2016

CHIANG MAI, 8 October 2016 – Suchanaree Yabua (nicknamed Nong Eye) holds her father’s hand as he walks her to the early childhood development centre of Mae Jo town in Chiang Mai. As soon as she enters the school grounds and greets her teacher, her best friend takes her to a playground where they join in the laughter of their friends playing with their favourite toys.

04 October 2016

Thailand’s child support grant helps vulnerable families

Apinya Sattaram holds baby Pleang, who has to be fed through a tube
© UNICEF Thailand/2016/Jingjai N

Apinya Sattaram, 27, has two children. The oldest is eight years old. Her second, Pleang, was born in September 2015. He is small and fragile, wrapped in a blanket with a tube taped to the side of his face. A large white scar is visible above his hairline. Pleang suffocated on amniotic fluid during labour, a condition that affects his ability to breastfeed. After he was born, Apinya had to leave work to take care of him full time.

“Pleang can’t be breastfed so I have to feed him through a tube,” Apinya says. “The monthly expense for him is 2,000 to 3,000 baht.”

The family are very poor. They live in Buriram province, northeast Thailand. Their house was built by the local authorities and is in bad condition. They survive on earnings from Apinya’s husband, who works at a tools and supplies shop where he makes around 4,000 baht a month ($114 USD). They also receive a disability grant of 800 baht per month for Apinya, who has muscular weakness. It’s barely enough to feed the family.

In October 2015, the Thailand Government introduced the Child Support Grant to provide financial assistance to poor families with newborn children. Apinya’s family was one of the first to benefit. She received 400 baht per month, later increased to 600 baht. For Apinya, this makes a big difference. “I use the grant to buy diapers for Pleang, and for travel expenses when I take him to see the doctor,” she says.

In June 2016, Pleang was hospitalised and Apinya had to spend all the grant money on his medical care, while he stayed in the emergency room at the local hospital. She also had to travel to see doctors at Maharaj Hospital in Nakhon Ratchasima province, which has better facilities. “When Pleang stays at Maharaj Hospital, I have to also rent a room for myself to look after him,” she says.

Child Support Grant

Narinthip Pommarin with her children Ang Bao, 5 months, and Ang Ban in Samut Songkran province.
The family receives the Child Support Grant to help them with expenses for Ang Bao.
© UNICEF Thailand/2016/Andy Brown

UNICEF worked closely with the Government of Thailand on the design of the Child Support Grant. A study conducted by the Thailand Development Research Institute, supported by UNICEF, showed that for a small child, food expenses alone range from 579 to 812 baht a month. Initially, the grant was 400 baht for children up to one year old. In March 2016, it was expanded to children up to three years old and increased to 600 baht per month.

To qualify, families must live in a household with an income per person of no more than 3,000 baht per month. As well as benefiting individual families, the policy was designed to narrow the poverty gap in Thai society. Investing in early childhood development, up to six years old, can reap huge rewards. Children are healthier, do better in school and have higher earning potential later in life.
“The first six years of a child’s life are the most critical period for cognitive and physical development,” UNICEF Representative for Thailand, Thomas Davin, explains. “It is during these six years that investment in a child’s development is most critical and yields the highest long-term returns; not only for the individual child but for society as a whole.

“By reaching poor families of children up to age three, the expanded Child Support Grant scheme goes a long way towards reaching the country’s poorest and most vulnerable children. It is also likely to be a significant contribution to reducing child poverty and addressing inequalities in Thailand.”

South-south Cooperation

Peggy Maswanganyi and her baby Hlamlani in Mtsetweni, South Africa.
The family receives a grant of R350 [$24 USD] per month, which has been critical in helping Peggy care for Hlamlani.
© UNICEF South Africa/2011/Marinovich

Another way to address these issues is through ‘south-south cooperation’. UNICEF believes that the best solutions often come from countries that have experienced, and tackled, the same problem. When developing the Child Support Grant, UNICEF looked at basic welfare schemes that had been successfully implemented in other middle income countries such as Brazil, China and South Africa.
In 2012, an impact assessment was carried out of the Child Support Grant in South Africa. Data from the assessment clearly showed that children receiving the grant, particularly those enrolled at birth, completed more grades of schooling and performed better academically. They were also less likely to experience illness or stunting and more likely to have their growth monitored by a health professional.

In May 2012, UNICEF organized an international study visit that took nine Thai Government officials to South Africa to see a well-established child support grant program in operation. They were accompanied by high level government officials and the influential Thai economist Dr Varakorn Samakoses.

Christina Popivanova, UNICEF Thailand Chief of Social Policy, calls the visit a “turning point” in UNICEF’s efforts to win support for the policy from the Thai Government. It was led by the government’s planning agency and included several line ministries that would have responsibility for developing and implementing a Child Support Grant in Thailand.

“During the study visit, government officials and UNICEF staff worked together for 12 hours a day, talking about these issues and seeing a highly sophisticated payment system working in a very concrete way in a country at a similar level of economic development,” Christina says.

Dr Samakoses became a key ally. After the trip, he wrote several media articles and promoted the child support grant plan in his weekly radio program. “His support really was instrumental,” Christina continues. “When you get prominent figures like that who become advocates, they have their own networks of influence and those people in turn also become supporters of the idea. This can make all the difference.”

UNICEF hopes that the Thailand Child Support Grant will now become an example for other countries in Asia-Pacific. On 7-9 November 2016, governments from across the region will meet in Malaysia to discuss further south-south cooperation in a range of areas including child protection, social welfare and universal healthcare.

Monluck's Story

Monluck at home with her parents in Chiang Mai province.
© UNICEF Thailand/2016/Metee Thuentap

Another child to benefit from the Grant, Monluck, was born in November 2015. She is the third child in her family. Her father holds her in his arms on the porch of their traditional wooden house. Her mother Mhee learned about the Child Support Grant when she went to a public health centre for antenatal care.

“I was so happy when I heard this news,” Mhee says. “Before, I didn’t have money to take my children to see doctors. When my first two children were very sick, I didn’t have money to take them to district hospital. There were costs for transport to bring them to hospital and if we want to stay overnight to look after them.”

The family earns a living from strawberry farming. “We just have a small piece of land,” Mhee says. “After harvest, I work in other people’s farm and earn 200 baht a day. But I don’t have work every day. One month after giving birth to Monluck, I went back to work to help my husband on the farm.”
Mhee’s hope is that Monluck can stay in school until Grade 12. “Although there are no school fees, there are other costs like school uniforms and transport,” she says. “I want to save this money for Monluck when we have urgent needs.”

In the first 10 months since the scheme began, more than 117,000 children like Pleang and Monluck have been registered to receive the Child Support Grant.

“The Child Support Grant is an important milestone in Thailand’s efforts to protect the country’s most vulnerable children and support their development in the first years of life,” UNICEF Representative Thomas Davin says. “It’s also a smart, long-term investment towards a prosperous economic and social future for Thailand.”

The authors
Heamakarn Sricharatchanya, UNICEF Thailand, and Andy Brown, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific

08 September 2016

What’s up Mobile Library!

Story by: Murni Hoeng

Remember our Mobile Library programme? We brought you the fresh update all the way from Mae Hong Son! If you kind of forget it already, please read our "Bring books to children in remote areas" blog. 

It was almost noon when the Mobile Library arrived at Hui Shan School, Mueang district, Mae Hong Son. All the students, of Lahu ethnicity, were getting ready for lunch. It was noodle soup prepared by the more senior students early in the morning. Our two animators too took this opportunity to have their meal and rest after 2.5 hour drive the winding road across mountainous terrain of northern Thailand.

28 June 2016


Story by Vicky Juat

BANGKOK, 28 June 2016 – In August 2013, I received a strange phone call from a person very concerned about a boy hanging around the Victory Monument Bridge, one of the busiest commuter spots in central Bangkok. This concerned person travels the same way to and from work every day, and every day he sees the same boy aimlessly hanging around the area. Worried about this boy’s safety, the concerned person called UNICEF, hoping that UNICEF could do something for the boy. I immediately called one of UNICEF’s partners, Friends-International Peuan Peuan, knowing that this NGO works in the area and hoping that they might have some contact with the boy. The Peuan Peuan Rescue team of Friends-International was immediately dispatched to look out for the boy.

28 April 2016

Preparing for school – preparing for the future

In Nepal, UNICEF helps restore education of earthquake-affected children 

By Mallika Aryal

Kathmandu, Nepal – It is 6 a.m. in Kavresthali, a small village nearly 10 kilometres north from the city centre and 16-year-old Ranjita Bhandari has been up for over an hour. She is dressed in her school uniform – neat blue shirt with a navy blue pullover, a striped tie, a pleated navy blue skirt, black leggings and polished black shoes. She has tied her long thick hair away form her face. She is standing nervously outside her house, a small hut made of tin and tarpaulin.

Ranjita Bhandari, 16, is hugged by her mother inside their makeshift temporary shelter before she heads out to take her School Leaving Certificate (SLC), a national examination taken by Nepali students at the end of their tenth grade.
Photo by Kiran Panday for UNICEF.

Ranjita is appearing for the School Leaving Certificate, a national-level examinations all tenth graders in Nepal have to take before they graduate to the last two years of high school. This year, over 600,000 children all over Nepal are appearing for the SLC examinations, often called the ‘iron gate’.

Back on her feet, Akriti is now going to school

A young girl’s story of a new life from a near-death malnourishment

By Naresh Newar

Lalitpur, Nepal – It has been nine months since UNICEF came into four-year-old Akriti Banskota’s life. Her story is an example of how community nutrition can make a huge difference to reduce severe malnutrition in the country.
Akriti Banksota, 4, is seen with her friends inside an early childhood development (ECD) centre in Chapagaun, Lalitpur,
Photo by Narendra Shrestha for UNICEF

Akriti was identified as suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) as part of UNICEF-supported emergency nutrition program that was started in her community two months after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on 25 April 2015.

“It feels great to hear her laughing and talking and running around,” said Kriti KC, a young health professional working with UNICEF partner Social Development Promotion Centre (SDPC). She recalls how quiet Akriti had been when she first met her.

“She was too weak to say anything or move around,” she said.

27 April 2016

In Nepal, UNICEF helps heal earthquake’s mental wounds

By Mallika Aryal

Kamala Rai (left) works in the kitchen in her makeshift temporary shelter in Nuwakot, one of the 14 most earthquake-affected districts in Nepal. Kamala lost her newborn son when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on 25 April 2015. 
Photo by Prakash Mathema for UNICEF. 

Nuwakot, Nepal - Kamala Rai, 27, and a mother of four, had just woken up from a nap with her new born son late morning on 25 April 2015 in Charghare, Nuwakot, east of the capital Kathmandu.  Saturday is laundry day in the Rai household, so she left her sleeping baby inside the house and went out to gather her three girls so they could help her wash dirty clothes.  Suddenly, the ground started shaking violently. Her first thought was her sleeping baby inside the house. She screamed and ran inside.
“After that everything went all dark,” Kamala said, as she sat inside her makeshift home on a late winter afternoon.

Her temporary shelter has tin roof and tarpaulin for walls. The floor is cold and it is dark inside as she chops vegetables for dinner.

“When I gained consciousness at the hospital, they told me that my little baby boy was gone,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “He was taken by the earthquake.”

Following the earthquake, Kamala spent several weeks in the hospital with a head injury.

“I just didn’t feel right, I had no will to live,” she said.

Returning home provided no comfort either.

25 April 2016

Growing up at the Epicenter

In Nepal’s quake-affected village, a young mother struggles to raise her daughter born on the day of earthquake.

By Avinashi Paudel

Amita Gurung holds her 11-month-old daughter Arpita, Photo by Chandra Shekhar Karki for UNICEF.

Gorkha, Nepal- “I love my daughter the most in the whole world,” said Amita Gurung, holding her baby daughter Arpita tightly in her arms. "But when I think of the day she was born, I feel like crying."

That  was the day when a devastating earthquake shook central Nepal in April last year. Amita's village was at the epicenter of the quake.

It was a dull Saturday noon that day. Nine-month pregnant Amita was lying lazily on bed watching television. Suddenly she heard a rattling sound and heard her sister screaming ‘Earthquake!

Earthquake!’ How the heavily pregnant Amita dragged herself out of the collapsing house when the whole world seemed to be rocking still feels like a bad dream for this young mother.

In her Snan village of Barpak Village Development Committee (VDC) many people had gathered together and were retreiving foodstuff from the rubble of a village shop. A couple of hours after the earthquake, Amita felt stomach ache. She told her father-in-law about the pain, and he immediately reckoned it as labor pain. Soon enough Amita was taken inside a cowshed.

08 March 2016

International Women’s Day: 10 quick facts on girls

NEW YORK, 7 March 2015 – To mark International Women’s Day and the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on women’s empowerment, UNICEF presents a statistical snapshot of progress and trends for girls and women.

Water and sanitation
  • At least 500 million women and girls lack a private place to change their sanitary protection during menstruation. This is equivalent to every female living in developed countries. 
Child protection
  • Close to half of all girls aged 15-19 worldwide, around 126 million, think a husband is sometimes justified in hitting or beating his wife. 
  • Globally, 1 in 4 young women alive today were married in childhood versus 1 in 3 in the early 1980s. In the Middle East and North Africa, the percentage of women married before age 18 has dropped by about half during the last three decades. 
  • The overall chance that a girl will undergo Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting today is about one third lower than it was three decades ago.