Children waiting for their meal at the anganwadi centre. Although outwardly appearing normal, many of the children are found to be suffering from malnutrition
29 September 2007, first stop: Village Navi Dapcheri, Thane district
The Anganwadi is packed. Twenty five children sit in neat rows, all washed and in clean clothes… clanging their plates and spoons awaiting steaming hot khichri. The Anganwadi Worker (AWW) has diligently plotted their age and weight on graphs to determine the children’s nutritional status. According to her, there is only one malnourished child in the Anganwadi.
Everything seems perfect...
However the records at the Anganwadi reveal a different picture. 48 of the 114 children registered with the Anganwadi had Grade-I malnutrition and 43 were in Grade-II.
One of the first observations made by the Citizens’ Alliance against Malnutrition in Thane District was that the nutritional status of these children did not appear to be a matter of concern in the village and no special efforts were being made to improve their nutritional status. This was so because the villagers only recognise severely malnourished, i.e., children in Grade 3 as malnourished who need attention.
Members of Parliament, Sachin Pilot (INC), Supriya Sule (NCP), Jay Panda (BJD) and Shahnawaz Hussain (BJP) accompanied by actors Rahul Bose, Gauri Karnik, Manoj Kumar from the Naandi Foundation and journalist Neerja Chowdhury – all members of the Citizens’ Alliance visited three Anganwadis in the Wada tribal area of Thane district, which was described as a red alert district as far as malnutrition goes. They found here a cause for both concern and hope.
Next stop: Pole village, Thane district
According to the anganwadi worker, there is only one malnourished child among the children coming to Anganwadi. The records however showed 23 children in the 1st and 2nd grade of malnutrition.
Weighing the children to check the records brought new issues to the forefront. The children were not being weighed using scales provided by UNICEF in ICDS Projects. Instead they were being weighed on platform scales.
Sachin Pilot commented, “I am surprised to find that the weight and height records of children maintained by all the anganwadi workers are being written in pencil. This means they could be tampered with.”
Talking about the field visit, Jay Panda said, “At the district level, the government should institute a system of awarding the best Anganwadis. Incentive schemes like these should certainly see better results in terms of attendance and care.”
Batting for the anganwadi worker, Supriya Sule, said “Anangwadi sevikas get all the flak when something goes wrong. But they get none of the credit even though they are the most important links in the chain.”
The Citizens’ Alliance began their field visits by visiting tribal areas in Gwalior district in Madhya Pradesh early this year. After Maharashtra they will be visiting Orissa, Bihar and UP to get a first hand view of the problem and study efforts that are yielding results.
Members of the Citizens' Alliance group watch as an infant is weighed at the anganwadi centre
Shahnawaz Hussian said, “We met the Prime Minister Mr Manmohan Singh, UPA Chairperson Mrs Sonia Gandhi and BJP leader Mr. L.K. Advani in July. They have all assured us of their support.”
A day earlier in Mumbai, Dr S.K. Nanda, Food Secretary of Gujarat, spoke to the Alliance members about the experience of Gujarat with food fortification. Dr Nanda, who had traveled specially from Gandhinagar at the request of the Alliance, told the group that fortification had been a “win-win” experience for all in the state. Gujarat had gone in for public-private partnership for fortifying flour withiron and folilc acid and oil with vitamin A and D. One of the issues being looked at by the Citizens’ Alliance is that of food fortification.
Speaking about the efforts of the Citizens’ Alliance, actor Rahul Bose added, “The core strength of this group is not the mBased on their field visits and discussions with experts, the group will formulate recommendations that they will submit to the Prime Minister for discussion at the next meet of the National Development Council.obilization at the ground level or the remedial measures to practices which are ineffective. Those at best can be a secondary fallout of the effort. With MPs from seven parties and influential figures from all walks of life, the Citizens’ Alliance against Malnutrition is a unique and influential group to bring pressure to bear on government and policy.”
“If we keep at it, this effort could become a successful campaign like the one mounted against polio” added Penaaz Masani.
Actor Gauri Karnik, another member of the Alliance, said, "With 46% of our children below three years being malnourished, its time that we come together to take responsibility. If we need INDIA to shine we have to make our children healthy.”
“Let us not forget that more than half of all child mortality below age 5, has malnutrition as an underlying factor (UNICEF). Eagle-eyed monitoring and immediate intervention for all those in Grade I and II , and urgent attention to those already in Grade III on an Emergency basis are essential to prevent malnutrition related deaths,” said Symir Dalwai, a pediatrician, who joined the Group on their visit to Thane.
The Citizens’ Alliance will also submit a report to the Lok Sabha Speaker through the Parliamentary Forum on Children so that it can be taken up for discussion in the Parliament.
External links open in a new window and take you to a non-UNICEF web site.