November 26, 2011 DC Bengaluru
Bread losing tablesThe deaths from malnutrition of five-year-old Anjaneya and her sister, two-and-a-half year-old Mahalakshmi from Malladevaragudde in Devadurga taluk, in August, was due to their impoverished families being unable to buy food and the state administration's appalling inability to provide adequate nutritional support.
A survey carried out by the State health department after the deaths were reported, revealed that a further 6,600 children are staring death in the face in Raichur as severe malnutrition lead to a slew of infections and illnesses.
Instead of working to improve the nutritional status of children in vulnerable areas, the state health and women and child departments continue to attribute malnutrition deaths and malnutrition in the community to consanguineous marriages, child marriages and worse, lack of parental care, thus absolving the government of the need to do anything.
"We cannot accept the government argument that child deaths are due to consanguineous marriages. Children with genetic disorders or disabilities are few in number. A common factor, however, is that children have nothing to eat at home and anganwadis are unable to fulfill their nutritional requirements," said Y. Mariswamy, state organiser of Samajika Parivarthane Janandolana, which is partnering the Right to Food Campaign in the district.
A reality check by Deccan Chronicle across the villages of Raichur showed that a majority of children with what is termed 'severe malnutrition' (there are scientific ways of measuring the levels of malnutrition) were actually born to non-consanguineous parents, but belonged to marginalised sections of society (Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minorities), and mostly to unemployed migrant families.
Shockingly, most families where there were severe malnutrition cases had no access to the public distribution system (PDS), nor did they get employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNNREGA), which guarantees a period of work to rural families if they need it. Clearly, much-vaunted government programmes have failed to do their job of generating income and improving food security.
Moreover, a closer look at anganwadis revealed that nutrition provided under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), another flagship government programme, leaves much to be desired. Anganwadi teachers confided that the food was unpalatable and inadequate.
“Food security is a must for families if we have to ensure proper care of children. The way forward is to work towards building the family as a unit of development rather than looking at issues in isolation,” says Nina Nayak, chairperson of the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, who has chaired public hearings on malnutrition in Raichur.