When children suffer, it’s a crying shame

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Hunger and malnutrition stalk every street in every city even as civil society tries to fill in the gaps in welfare schemes

Food for thought 42 percent of the world’s hungry children live in India
Food for thought 42 percent of the world’s hungry children live in India

TWO-AND-half-year-old Surja Basfore lives with his five-year-old sister on platform No. 4 of the Kalyani railway station in Kolkata. They beg for a living, earning about Rs.20-25 a day. Their father, a leprosy patient, also survives on alms. Their breakfast is about half a puri. Lunch is two handfuls of dal and rice, and dinner is a repeat of lunch or maybe a chapati. Their total calorific intake is about 1,000, which is 700 calories and many vital nutrients short of the recommended intake. In other words, both are facing chronic starvation.

In Khar, Mumbai, the tarpaulin shacks where the garland makers live are squashed on the side of a busy thoroughfare. This is where Vishal, 6, starts his day with half a cup of tea and two biscuits. Breakfast is one samosa-pav. Lunch is khichdi from a local charity, half of which he saves to eat later. By night, he’s hungry again, so he buys a packet of Kurkure with Rs. 5 — the only amount his mother is able to spare. His calorific intake is 856, about half the recommended intake of 1,715. Yuvraj, 2, also starts his day with half a cup of tea and biscuits. Later, he’s fed the khichdi his mother gets from the local charity. His calorie intake stands at 613, against the recommended daily intake of 1,230.

According to a Supreme Court ruling, every habitation with more than 300 people is entitled to an anganwadi. But even with 3.22 lakh people, Khar does not have a quality anganwadi.

In Jharkhand’s Godda district, the Pahariya tribals live in a forest that has not seen rains in the past four years. Food is scarce. Malaria and kala-azar are still dreaded threats. What compounds the situation is the poor diet of most of the tribals. Dharma Pahariya, 6, and Sani Paharin from Maligod village in Boyarizore have been eating only rice and salt, twice a day. Their total calorie intake is approximately 440 or about one-fourth of the 1,715 calories they should be getting.

At a local nutrition rehabilitation centre in Majhgaon, Madhya Pradesh, one-year- old Roshni is constantly hungry as her mother’s milk has dried up, due to the family’s ‘diet’ of dried rotis and watery potato curry. The National Nutrition Council runs a 15-day ‘course’ to bring near-death cases of malnourishment back from the brink with two weeks of freedom from hunger. The centre provides food only to infants and not the rest of the family, making the entire effort rather pointless.

“The condition is so bad that the food distributed by the anganwadi is brought home by the children and shared with the entire family,” says Sasmita Jena from CRY.

Priya, 6, ‘lives’ outside an electronics store in Chennai’s Panagal Park. She used to live in a low-lying area in Avadi, but since the rains began, her family moved to the pavement outside the shop. Diet-wise, Priya is relatively better off. In the morning, she has two dosas and watery milk; in the afternoon, sambar or rasam and rice; tea in the evenings and dinner consists of curd rice with onions. This totals 1,410 calories per day, ‘only’ 300 calories short of her recommended daily intake.

What can be done to counter the starvation faced by 42 percent of the world’s hungry children who live in India? It needs holistic treatment. Schemes such as the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and the Public Distribution System can be easily re-harnessed to reduce malnourishment among children and mothers.

A working ICDS scheme is required — one that focusses on improving maternal nutrition during pregnancy and lactation, promotes sound breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices, provides essential micronutrients and adopts salt iodisation, while also ensuring appropriate immunisation.

CRY is India’s leading advocate for child rights. For more information visit www.cry.org

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