A UNICEF-Assisted Project - Maldives

Publication Date
January 15, 2000


"...Researchers are confirming what parents know intuitively that, young children need love, attention, and plenty of quality time with adults. It seems that what makes a person unique has much to do with early childhood experiences, particularly during the first three years. Caregivers hold the key to open a world of stimulating experiences for infant and toddlers - experiences that stimulate cognitive, emotional and physical growth. The foundation for learning, and one's personality development, is nurtured during early childhood...In most cultures caregivers acquire knowledge, child-rearing practices and related beliefs through socialization. Their beliefs are culturally bound understandings of what children need and what they are expected to do. While this is the case, one wonders what knowledge do Maldivian caregivers hold about child development? What are the culturally bound child-rearing practices and beliefs of Maldivian parents and grandparents? This UNICEF baseline-survey [administered in a small group of 5 - 10 respondents] is the first attempt to document child development knowledge (including gaps in knowledge), childcare practices and beliefs (including misconceptions) among Maldivian caregivers, focusing on parents, siblings and pre-school teachers.

"The survey questions are:

  1. What are the common child-rearing/child-care practices in the Maldives?
  2. What beliefs form these child-rearing/child care practices?
  3. What knowledge do caregivers (parents, grandparents, siblings, and pre-school teachers) hold about child development, including the potential capacity of infants and toddlers?

"This base-line survey is an integral activity of the UNICEF's Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) Project in the Maldives. The...ECCD Project [has] undertake[n] an awareness raising program that targets caregivers (parents, grandparents, siblings and teachers)....The report is divided into three sections: Part One outlines the survey design, sample selection, questionnaire development and limitations, Part Two reports the findings in tabular form with observations, and Part Three provides recommendations in light of the findings reported..."

Here is a summary of the survey findings:

  • "75% [of Maldivian parents and grandparents] do not think that a baby can see at birth. 54% believes that a child starts seeing only between one and two months and 33% believes that a child can see only after three months. This leads to lost opportunities for stimulation and early detection of disabilities.
  • 60% [of these caregivers] do not believe that a baby is able to hear immediately after birth.
  • Only 6% believe that a baby could feel while in the womb, no one believes that a baby could think while in the womb. Most respondents feel that the earliest a baby can "think" is after three months.
  • The concept of exclusive breast-feeding (i.e. excluding all forms of other fluids and food except breast milk for the first six months) is ill-understood and is not generally practiced by parents.
  • Most parents know that a good diet is important during pregnancy.
  • 64% of respondents in Male' believe that immunization during first year is important. However, only 19% of the respondents in the atolls believe that immunization is important.
  • Most of the respondents listed regular feeding and keeping the baby clean as the most important routine care-giving activities. Stimulation and interaction are not mentioned as routine activities. Only 19% of the respondents in the capital city reported playing with the child as a routine activity.
  • 72% of parents in Male' and 79% of those in the Atolls begin showing and reading books to children, at the earliest between 1 - 2 years of age.
  • The social demand for literacy is very high. There is no commonly accepted reason for reading to children at an early age. Scholastic achievement - preparing to school - seems to be a strong driving force.
  • The father's role is primarily seen as that of the income earner and provider of food and material needs. Fathers are usually not expected to feed or clean their babies.
  • No respondents mentioned about writing letters or short messages to children when fathers have to be away for a long period.
  • Caregivers are aware and responsive to the concept of building self-confidence. Results suggest that parents would respond well to information regarding how to nurture self confidence.
  • Reasons for developing self-confidence in children ranged from "making them brave" to making them truthful, loyal and better members of the community.
  • The concept of nurturing self-esteem is ill understood. Most associate self-esteem with self-confidence.
  • Forty-five percent of respondents in Male' said that dark and fair skinned children are treated differently, but only 24% of those in the Atolls felt the same.
  • Children with disabilities are perceived as needing more special care, love, affection, and assistance. There is a need to raise public awareness about children with disabilities.
  • Respondents were generally positive about what parents and other caregivers are able to do with children with disabilities.
  • Routine/normal activities with physically and mentally challenged children are not much different from routine activities parents conduct with "normal" children: feeding, bathing and cleaning.
  • Only about 25% of the respondents in Male' and 8% of respondents in the Atolls seem to be aware that thinking skills (cognitive development) occurs as a result of play.
  • Ninety-one percent of respondents in Male' and 81% of those in the Atolls said that they participate in the play activities of their children.
  • When asked what parents teach children under three, teaching to read and write and teaching good manners received most prominence.
  • Injuries caused by falling are the most commonly mentioned accidents. Only 10% or less of respondents in Male' mentioned accidents related to burns, cuts, electric shock, falling into wells and consuming kerosene oil.
  • Apart from what was assumed to be the public perception, the majority of respondents do not believe that personal and public conduct of children has deteriorated over the past 10 years.
  • The key reason for children's misbehaviour is the way parents deal with children, say the respondents.
  • Most parents believe that they can discipline their children by telling them what is right or wrong. There is little or no mention of the importance of role-modelling or showing by example."

Click here for the full report in PDF format.


Letter sent from Prasanthi Gondi, Consultant UNICEF, to The Communication Initiative on January 23 2003.