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The Obligation to End Preventable Deaths and a Stunted Childhood Is a Responsibility We All Bear

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Today I will be addressing a number of Member States at the UN in New York and presenting a cross-party global petition calling on the UN to enshrine investment in early childhood in the new Millennium Development Goals which are to be finalised at the General Assembly in 2015. There is global support for this action with over 11,000 signatures from 170 countries.

Across the world, 165million children under five years are stunted, 6.6million children die before their fifth birthday and 57million children miss out on the opportunity to go to school.

But we can act to end this. The Millennium Development Goals, welcomed by many African governments, have provided a clear route-map for progress. Across the world we share responsibility to help meet these challenges, it is all our responsibility, not just that of developing countries.

This call for action is supported by incontrovertible evidence about how the opportunities of children in early childhood can be cherished and realised. We know how to prevent children being stunted, we know how to prevent mothers dying in childbirth through the absence of trained obstetric staff. We know how to prevent the death of three million babies in the first month of life.

There is a great prize to be won and global support for our petition to the UN for the inclusion of early childhood development in the Post-2015 framework is evidence that the will to achieve this exists.

The humanitarian argument and the interests of hundreds of millions of children and their parents around the world are compelling in themselves, but there is also an additional economic argument about the future of Africa and all developing countries.

Six out of the world's ten fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa, but their potential will not be realised without long-term improvements to education, health and the opportunity for women to give birth in environments free from violence. The further prize is increased productivity and economic growth.

In Government I created and set-up SureStart with David Blunkett, and last year I visited Malawi with Sightsavers. I was struck by the parallels between conversations I had with mothers in inner city London and mothers whose playgroups were in a rural shack in Malawi.

There is a universal language of childhood and universal entitlements, which is why the obligation to end preventable deaths and a stunted childhood is a responsibility we all bear.

We have the opportunity to fulfil that responsibility by embedding early years development in next year's post-2015 MDGs. Please help to increase the pressure on the UN by signing our petition here.

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