No Country for Children

It’s been a damning week for India.

A series of reports from different parts of the country brings home just how poorly our children are doing when it comes to access to basic nutrition, sanitation and health.

First Odisha, where according to official figures, 15 children have died of malnutrition-related illnesses in the tribal Nagada village since January. Village authorities say the actual figure is much higher. The news finally made it to the headlines only when five children died in a span of 20 days.

The children in Nagada and nearby villages all show signs of severe malnutrition. The bad roads’ leading to these villages has meant lack of access to basic health care and clean drinking water. It took several newspaper TV reports for authorities to organize a kitchen and a health camp.

The fact that so many deaths have taken place in a mineral rich region of the state has exposed just hollow Odisha’s development claims are. The several flagship schemes for children of vulnerable tribal groups remain on paper and don’t seem to reach those who most need it.

And then this week we also had the results of a combined study by experts from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the US and School for Applied Studies, Delhi, found that diarrhea kills nine children under the age of five in Uttar Pradesh every hour, which 71, 000 deaths in a year.

The study found that just over 15% of private doctors in UP prescribe zinc, which strengthens the ORS. Even the most basic treatment of childhood diarrhoea is a problem across large parts of the state. This explains the huge numbers as since most families opt for private over public health care.

Again, diarrhea is easily preventable with safe drinking water, sanitation, nutrition, to mention just a few.

Finally this week, we have the most recent WaterAid study that says India has the largest number of stunted children in the world, ranking higher than smaller economies and conflict-ridden countries like Pakistan and Nigeria.

Two in every five children under the age of five years in India are stunted, a condition that affects not just physical growth but emotional and cognitive development.

The report points to sanitation as a major cause, citing the practice of open defecation, which is widespread in India.

A country cannot lay claim to be a global economic superpower when it’s children are dying for lack of access to basic amenities; amenities linked to basic rights enshrined in the Constitution, but remain a mirage nearly 70 years after Independence.

 

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