Mal­nu­tri­tion in In­dia isn’t lim­ited to chil­dren only

The PM must put his po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal be­hind com­bat­ing the prob­lem the way he has done for Swachh Bharat

Hindustan Times (Gurugram) - - Comment - NEERJA CHOWDHURY Neerja Chowdhury is a se­nior jour­nal­ist and po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

The lat­est Unicef sur­vey ranks In­dia as the 12th worst coun­try among 52 low and mid­dle in­come na­tions based on the num­ber of chil­dren who die in the first month of birth. There are many rea­sons for this but high on the list is un­der­weight ba­bies. The re­cent Ur­ban HUNGaMA— the first-of-its kind-re­port which cap­tured the nu­tri­tional sta­tus of chil­dren in 10 most pop­u­lous cities of In­dia —re­vealed that even in ur­ban In­dia, which was sup­posed to fare bet­ter, one out of four chil­dren(25%) is stunted. Na­tional cap­i­tal Delhi leads the list with 30% of its chil­dren stunted.

The fight against mal­nu­tri­tion needs to be­come a so­cial move­ment and not just left to the gov­ern­ment. For it also in­volves the mar­ket, com­pa­nies, fam­i­lies, com­mu­nity and schools, given the kind of junk food that is now be­ing forced down our chil­dren’s throats in the name of moder­nity.

The Modi gov­ern­ment has cleared the con­sti­tu­tion of a Na­tional Nutri­tion Mis­sion, which the PM was go­ing to kick off in Jhun­jhunu, but for some rea­son it was de­ferred. But to have an im­pact, if truth be told, it needs the Prime Min­is­ter’s “po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal” be­hind it, as he has done with Swachh Bharat, toi­let con­struc­tion, Start Up In­dia, Dig­i­tal In­dia, Skilled In­dia, or the Ujjwala scheme. The Niti Ayog send­ing a six monthly progress re­port to the PMO is not the same thing as the Nutri­tion Mis­sion be­ing put di­rectly un­der the PM, with the PMO track­ing the roll out and progress of schemes.

If the prob­lem is en­demic in the coun­try’s tribal dis­tricts, could the chief min­is­ters of high bur­den dis­tricts con­sider re­lo­cat­ing their head­quar­ters in these dis­tricts, say, for a month in a year so as to shake-up a so­porific sys­tem? While this is bound to gal­vanise the of­fi­cial ma­chin­ery, the CM can spend his time just lis­ten­ing to peo­ple about their prob­lems.

So far the prob­lem of mal­nu­tri­tion has been es­sen­tially ad­dressed at the level of the in­te­grated child de­vel­op­ment ser­vices. Has the time now come when we need to scale up its pre­ven­tive as­pect—and look at ado­les­cent girls as a group, where the story re­ally be­gins? Their nu­tri­tional ne­glect as girls, their lack of ed­u­ca­tion, their early mar­riage, their high lev­els of anaemia, their own un­der­weight, lead­ing to the un­der­weight ba­bies they go on to de­liver, and above all, to the non-recog­ni­tion of their dreams and as­pi­ra­tions.

Ado­les­cent girls are a group no politi­cian has reached out to and yet they rep­re­sent huge po­ten­tial. If har­nessed, it could trans­form In­dia and make the 21st cen­tury be­long to young women. It could en­sure that the chil­dren they de­liver do not die in the first month of life. Mr Prime Min­is­ter, are you lis­ten­ing?

HT

The fight against mal­nu­tri­tion needs to be­come a so­cial move­ment and not just left to the gov­ern­ment. For it also in­volves the mar­ket, com­pa­nies, fam­i­lies, com­mu­nity and schools

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