According to the study's estimations, almost 17 million babies worldwide are subjected to toxic air among which 12 million live in South Asia in areas that have toxic air six times higher than the safe global limits of 20 micrograms per cubic meter for PM10 and 10 micrograms per cubic meter for PM2.5.
Satellite imagery reveals that South Asia has the largest proportion of babies living in the worst-affected areas, with 12.2 million babies residing where outdoor air pollution exceeds six times worldwide limits set by the World Health Organization.
The hazardous effects of air pollution could cause an irreversible brain damage to young children's minds says a recent report by UNICEF.
The report finds a possible link between prenatal exposures and delayed development of an infant's brain, along with psychological and behavioural problems that may occur later in childhood.
Dr Vinod K Paul AIIMS Paediatrics Professor and also a member of Niti Aayog says, "Air pollution is associated with pneumonia, which kills 18 lakh children in India every year, and triggers asthma, bronchitis, and other throat and respiratory infections, forcing children to miss school and further limiting their learning and development potential".
"We will not be able to end child deaths - and provide children with a fair start in life - without addressing the environmental risks that they face", he said. It found that pregnant women exposed to air pollution were more likely to give birth to underweight babies. More than three-quarters of these young children - 12 million - live in South Asia.
With damage to brain tissue, the cognitive development of children is affected.
The united Nations is calling on governments to intensify the fight against pollution as well as to strengthen the protection of children, including through the use of facial masks and filtration systems of the air.
Rees believes that smart urban planning - including affordable access to public transport, parks and green spaces for children, and better waste management to prevent open-air burning - will help bring pollution levels down.
The paper urges parents to take steps to reduce children's exposure to harmful chemicals, including from tobacco products and cooking stoves.
Air pollution potentially affects children's brains through several mechanisms.
UNICEF has suggested that immediate action must be taken to reduce air pollution amid emerging evidence.