India Intelligence Report

   India’s Malnourished Children


Dampening the euphoria on economic growth, stock market performance, and increased foreign direct investment, a United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) report on nutrition said India has the most number of malnourished under-five children in the world. The surprising information is that the 57 million children or 47% of under-five population beats even sub-Saharan Africa where the number of malnourished children is at 33%.

Predictably, the politically, socially, and economically challenged Hindi belt states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Bihar along with economic-basket case Orissa feature on this list. What is most shocking is that the so-called economically well-developed, richest state in India, Maharashtra, also finds itself on this dubious list. States doing well on nourishment are Goa, Kerala, Mizoram, and Tamil Nadu.

Talking to the Times of India, UNICEF India Chief Dr. Werner Schultink attributed the causes to be “bad quality feeding, high population density, high rate of infectious diseases, high rate of illiteracy among women, high prevalence of gender inequality, low rate of immunization, and high rate of birth of underweight babies.” Schultink was careful to highlight that it is not lack of food but social issues such as early marriage and little gap between children that is depleting nourishment from children. He also pointed out that the situation can be corrected quite easily with simple measures. He suggested encouraging mothers to breast feed their children for at least 6 months, reduce infectious diseases (especially diarrhea and malaria), counsel mothers on better infant care, and ensure balanced dietary habits for children till the age of two. 

On the bright side, India had 70% malnourishment in the 70s and this figure has dropped to 47% despite 3-fold population growth. This shows continued commitment of India to improve the lives of its children. But clearly, not enough is being done.

In the Hindi-belt heartland, less than 15% of allocated monies reach intended audiences. Non-Governmental Organizations, so effective in many parts of the country, are instruments through which politicians extract money from the Government. In some cases, NGOs are passed to grooms as dowry. 

The Health Ministry is busy making up bogus laws and regulations on Ayurvedic and alternate medicine for political consideration and trying to bring a smoking ban in movies. While these may capture headlines and promote individuals, India needs ground-level action, clear targets, verifiable monitoring facilities, and a feedback mechanism. 

The Human Resources Development (HRD) Ministry busy making up politically astute policies to bring quotas in premier institutions and private sector needs to spend more time creating mechanisms where legally mandated noon-meal is provided to children. Many states, including Information Technology capital Karnataka, do not feed their children as required by law. Even the National Advisory Council, which oversees the Government, asked the HRD Ministry to gear up educational facilities in the country to meet the 6% GDP growth projection.