Almost two-thirds of the world's children under one year - nearly 90 million - live in countries where their fathers are not entitled by law to a single day of paid paternity leave, according to a new UNICEF analysis.
As a result, UNICEF has called for investment in family-friendly policies that support early childhood development including paid paternity and maternity leave, free pre-primary education, and paid breastfeeding breaks.
In the analysis, UNICEF noted that 92 countries do not have national policies in place that ensure new fathers get adequate paid time off with their newborn babies, including India and Nigeria - which all have high infant populations. In comparison, other countries with high infant populations, including Brazil and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, all have national paid paternity leave policies - albeit offering relatively short-term entitlements. This contrasts with just eight countries (including the United States) that do not have a policy on paid maternity leave.
The new analysis forms part of UNICEF's Super Dads campaign, now in its second year, which aims to break down barriers preventing fathers from playing an active role in their young children's development. The campaign moment celebrated Father's Day on 17 June and focused on the importance of love, play, protection and good nutrition for the healthy development of young children's brains.
Positive and meaningful interaction with mothers and fathers from the very beginning, helps to shape children's brain growth and development for life, making them healthier and happier, and increasing their ability to learn.
Evidence suggests that when fathers bond with their babies from the beginning of life, they are more likely to play a more active role in their children's development. Research also suggests that when children positively interact with their fathers, they have better psychological health, self-esteem and life-satisfaction in the long-term.
"By implementing national family-friendly policies that support early childhood development, including paid paternity leave, the Government can provide parents the time, resources and information they need to care for their children," said Mohamed Malick Fall, Representative of UNICEF Nigeria.
"The Government's recent commitment to extend maternity leave from 12 to 16 weeks indicates to me that the momentum for family-friendly policies in Nigeria is growing," Fall added. "Investments in the provision of support services to caregivers as well as quality pre-primary education and good nutrition for children are investments in healthy and productive future Nigerian generations."
Advances in neuroscience have proven that when children spend their earliest years - particularly the first 1,000 days from conception to two years old - in a nurturing, stimulating environment, new neural connections form at optimal speed. These neural connections help to determine a child's cognitive ability, how they learn and think, their ability to deal with stress, and can even influence how much they will earn as adults.
The Lancet's Series, Advancing Early Childhood Development: from Science to Scale, launched in October 2016, revealed nearly 250 million children under five years were at risk of poor development due to stunting and extreme poverty.
The Series also revealed that programmes promoting nurturing care -- health, nutrition, responsive caregiving, security and safety, and early learning -- can cost as little as 50 cents per capita per year when combined with existing health services.