India’s future, half stunted, quater minus food…

MUMBAI: A recent study by ‘Save the Children’, an international organization working for children’s rights has revealed that close to half the children in India are stunted from malnutrition and a quarter of parents surveyed said that their children often go without food.

The survey, conducted in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Peru and Nigeria, countries which are the home to half of the world’s stunted children, also concluded that recent rises in global food prices are forcing the parents of malnourished children to cut back on food and pull children out of school to work. In India, 17 per cent parents reported to have asked children to skip school to work to help pay for family’s food and 29 per cent reduced the amount of food they buy for families.

The report survey was released along with Save the Children’s report, ‘A Life Free from Hunger: Tackling Child Malnutrition by Save the Children International. The report states that 2.6 million child deaths each year are caused by, malnutrition and if current trends continue, 450 million children around the world will be impacted by stunting in the next 15 years. The survey was conducted between December 19, 2011 and January 9, 2012.

In India, despite experiencing huge economic growth in the past few years, almost half of children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition, being home to more than a third of the world’s stunted children. The growing trend of malnutrition is especially alarming in Asia, where more than a third of the children are chronically malnourished or stunted, accounting for almost 100 million (60per cent) of the global total.

While India is said to have a shockingly high rate of 48 per cent of children who are stunted, the report shows that social protection programmes increase food expenditure and increase dietary diversity. And impact studies on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act(MGNREG) in India, which guarantees poor households 100 days of paid employment, found the scheme increased food spending by 40 per cent on average, and that the effect is strongest for the poorest households who participated in the scheme the longest.

The survey contains a snap-shot of the hardship that families are facing in countries already struggling with high rates of malnutrition. A large majority of people in India (66per cent) said that increase in food prices had become their most pressing concern in 2011 and 24 per cent of families reported that their children go without food for an entire day while the proportion of such families is 27 per cent in Nigeria. In both India and Nigeria, parents who are less educated, have more than one child and lower income are more likely to report this.

The report points out that although malnutrition is the underlying cause of a third of child deaths in the world (2.6 million each year), it has not received the same high-profile campaigning and investment as other causes of child mortality like HIV/AIDS or malaria. Press release issued by Save the Children states the CEO Thomas Chandy demanding political will to address the issue effectively. The report recommends setting up a nutrition mission, better-defining and refining the selection criteria of families below poverty line and a host of essential interventions to improve nutritional security of families. Also it is stated that countries need to invest in health services to ensure that well-trained health workers are able to deliver the interventions needed to improve nutrition, especially among the poorest and most vulnerable people.

In India, Save the Children has appealed the government to urgently enact a comprehensive National Food Security Bill that includes family’s nutritional security needs and to make appropriate budgetary allocations in nutrition sector that meet the requirements of the Supreme Court April 2004 Order.

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