The government day-care center where a gunman killed more than 30 people on Thursday, including more than 20 children, is in a poor region of Thailand where most children of preschool age attend such facilities.
The center, the Child Development Center Uthaisawan in the northeastern province of Nong Bua Lamphu, is one of nearly 20,000 early childhood development centers that are operated by local authorities across the country, according to Unicef, the United Nations children’s agency. The centers are free, and they serve about 860,000 children ages 3 to 5, Unicef said.
Nationwide, 84 percent of children in that age group attended one of the centers in 2012, up from 60 percent in 2005, according to a recent Unicef report. By 2019 the figure had crept up to 86 percent.
But attendance is not compulsory, and it varies by region. In the northeast in 2019, for example, the attendance rate was 92 percent. In Bangkok, the capital, it was 71 percent.
Napat Phisanbut, an early childhood development specialist at Unicef’s Thailand office, said that the high rate in the northeast may be linked to another statistic: The same area also has the highest rate of children living separately from their parents, many of whom migrate to work in cities.
“The children live with their grandparents,” she said. “So E.C.D. centers can help take care of these young children, and provide the appropriate development that they need.”
Kyungsun Kim, the Unicef representative for Thailand, condemned the attack in a statement on Thursday night.
“Early childhood development centers, schools and all learning spaces must be safe havens for young children to learn, play and grow during their most critical years,” she said.