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Hunger in India - Impact on Children

India has among the highest numbers of hungry children in the world-nearly double that of sub-Saharan Africa. Even Ethiopia is placed ahead of India (94th) in the Global Hunger Index 2007 of 118 countries by the International Food Policy Research Institute. The index looks at the progress by countries on three indicators for two UN millennium goal targets for 2015: the proportion of calorie-deficient people, child malnutrition and child mortality. Most of these children belong to poor families of marginalized sections of society like dalits and SC/STs.Most are agricultural labourers, donot own any land, have no regular livelihood and little access to food and health programmes.

According to the National Family Health Survey III 46% of our children are underweight because their mothers are also largely undernourished, 19% wasted or too thin for height and 38% have stunted growth. Around 79% of those under the age of three are anaemic.All these only raise the risk of developing fatal diseases and infection. However hunger finds no mention in the national health policy. There is lot of focus on childhood diseases like diarrhea and polio.

According to experts the immediate need is put hunger back on the health agenda. The ICDS is not adequately monitored and is thinly spread. An improved ICDS, the rural employment guarantee scheme and better access to the public distribution system will do a great deal in reducing hunger.

There are also calls for introducing a Right to Food by many experts.The way children are forced to work in order to eat one should aspire for food security though the goal of nutrition security would be more appropriate. The mid-day meal scheme has helped but it should have been linked less with the schooling system and more with the hunger pattern.

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