Thu-Sep 04, 2008
Bhopal / Indo-Asian News Service
Madhya Pradesh's drive - involving the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) and the World Food Programme (WFP) - against malnutrition among children notwithstanding, 42 child deaths have occurred in the past three months in Satna district.
"It is symbolic of a deep-rooted problem afflicting over 80,000 underprivileged children in this state," child rights activists said.
"Children in Satna district villages are dying of malnutrition but the authorities are reluctant to accept the fact and say that the deaths have been caused by various diseases," Prashant Dubey of MP Right to Food campaign (MPRTFC) said.
The state has with the assistance of Unicef and the WFP unveiled several special schemes like the Bal Shakti Yojana, the Shaktimaan and the Bal Sanjeevani Abhiyan which seek to treat severely malnourished children. It includes medical services necessary for such kids.
Still, there are 33,000 malnourished children in Madhya Pradesh in the 0-5 years age group, according to National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data. That is about 60 per cent of the total child population in the state.
The recent deaths have come soon after the twelfth phase of the Bal Sanjivani Abhiyan (campaign to bring down level of malnutrition among children) - conducted by the state's Women and Child Development (WCD) Department across the state from May 15. The campaign was carried out in cooperation with Unicef.
"The government claims to have made efforts to curb malnutrition for which it has spent millions of rupees in the past three years. But one can make out the level of nourishment provided to children from the state of Anganwadis (government-run creches) in the district. They lack even basic facilities like seats, drinking water, separate toilets or space to cook," said Dubey.
"Anganwadis remain closed. Foodgrains are never available at fair price shops. How do we feed our children in such a case?" asked Bandelal Kol, a resident of one of the affected villages. He had come to the Majhgawan block headquarters of Satna district during a meeting called by the Adivasi Adhikar Manch.
Residents of 150 villages participated in the meeting which resolved to boycott the polls if the government fails to secure the health of their women and children.
Meanwhile, Director of Women and Child Welfare Department (WCD) Kalpana Shrivastava said, “The main problem is that whatever the state provides under schemes to curb malnutrition can only be supplementary nutrition, whether it is through ICDS (the Integrated Child Development Scheme) or mid-day meals. It is hard to tackle malnutrition if non-availability of food and livelihood is the problem.”
The state's budget for the development of women and children went up to Rs 5.9 billion in 2008. Of this, Rs 3 billion was earmarked for providing nutritious food to undernourished women and children. This was Rs 1.9 billion more than 2007.
"However, the per centage of underweight children in Madhya Pradesh increased from 54 in 1998-99 to 60.3 now and the per centage of wasted (extremely malnourished) children has gone up from 20 to 33, according to NFHS, despite Unicef involvement,” a WCD official said on condition of anonymity.
The NFHS report says that only 14 per cent children breastfeed within one hour of birth and 82.6 per cent of children between the six and 35 months (the most critical period of life for mental and physical development) are anaemic. (News X)