By Ankit Dwivedi:
Under the solar street lights (installed in tribal villages by many NGO’s) children are at play. Of these, some are small aged boys with their stomachs too heavy and large for their body, some are youngsters too weak to run around, some are girls with inappropriate body proportions and the rest are still on bed, unable to stand. These children are under direct impact of malnutrition.
Malnutrition is on an all-time high in Bundelkhand, thanks to the negligence and ineffective measures taken by the state and central government. Fueled by the lack of information and unavailability of health facilities at the grassroots, malnutrition has sustained through the decades.
Malnutrition is the absence of nutritional contents in food intake. It is prevalent in backward sections of society, mostly in ‘Sahariya’ tribal community in the rural areas of Bundelkhand. Some of primary reasons for malnutrition in this region:
a. Poverty: Inability of rural and urban poor to purchase nutrition rich food for families or adequate food at first place.
b. Large families: In absence of population control measures or contraceptives, rural people have large families. A number of children in families restrict growth of individual children in absence of attention and facilities.
c. Undernourished mother: A healthy mother could only give birth to a healthy kin. Not much care is given to nutrition for pregnant women in region, and they are often made to continue working in households even during pregnancy.
Underage or child marriage is prevalent and more than a quarter of women give birth to first child before the age of twenty. Immature mothers in many cases give birth to unhealthy child.
d. Eating habits: In the male dominant societies of the region, most of the nutritional food is offered to male members of society who earn a living for the family and then the rest is left for women and children in the families. Nutritional needs of children and women are neglected and they are usually underfed.
e. Information scarcity: Villagers depend on traditional information of child health care, which is dominated by myths and superstitions. There are beliefs that such vaccination can result in loss of sexuality in children. These myths are boundless and they restrict the flow of scientific information in rural areas. Rural masses do not trust the information propagated by NGO’s and authorities.
The major roadblock in overcoming malnutrition is the non-cooperation of rural masses. Women safeguard their children against medical facilities or aids provided by the medical assistants. They consider disproportionate body parts a common thing and death of malnutritioned children inevitable. NGO’s and authorities have also failed to educate these women and win their confidence. Instead, organisations have relied on promotional activities and programs with limited rural reach.
In 2001, child mortality rate under the age of 5 was as high as 159 out of 1000 in Lalitpur district. These figures by International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai, were highly alarming. Lalitpur district was identified with most cases of malnutrition and a pilot project was initiated by state government. Project involved a week long training of doctors, medical assistants and Aanganbadi workers to tackle malnutrition. However, it failed to make a considerable change in absence of effective implementation.
Aanganbadi workers fail to motivate rural families and put an end to malnutrition.
Malnutrition leads to depletion of immunity and thus subjects the children to a number of infectious diseases. Children suffering malnutrition have restricted physical and mental growth and do not take interest in activities around them.
Malnutrition could take monstrous proportion if not dealt with seriousness and concern. Social development should not be left over for the NGO sector which should rather aid the government in creating awareness and effective implementation of mammoth programs run by the government agencies.
If there is no hope in the eyes of these children, definitely we are not on the right path yet.
About the author:
The writer is a rural reporter from Bundelkhand. Read his entire series on Bundelkhand here.