Data shows that between April and October this year the state had 9,544 malnourished children.

Children in an
Delve Health Monday, December 21, 2020 - 18:31

Vanaja* a 28-year-old resident of Ballari district’s Hampasagara, has been struggling to get ration under the Chief Minister’s Mathrushree program. Before the pandemic, pregnant women were provided mid-day meals under the scheme. With the ensuing pandemic, the state government had decided to provide ration kits instead of food. A similar decision was taken for the mid-day meal scheme both for children in government schools and those in anganwadis. However, the lack of adequate distribution of food for anganwadi children and for pregnant women, has resulted in the increase of malnutrition among children aged six years and below since April this year, data from the Department of Women and Child Welfare shows. 

Vanaja, who has a four-year-old son, says that her family has been living on one meal a day as the ration kits coming from the anganwadis have been irregular since June this year. In July, she said that the anganwadi worker in her village had given her “two glasses” of toor dal and 1 kg rice only, which lasted for four days for her family of four people. Vanaja says that her husband abandoned their family two years ago and she had been working as an agricultural labourer before the lockdown in April. With the loss of her job in April, she has had to rely on the ration from anganwadis and the PDS (Public Distribution System) to meet the nutritional demands of her children. 

“There were times two or three months ago, when we had washed stale rice with water, made ganjee from it to eat as we were not getting enough ration. The eggs which my children were supposed to get from the anganwadi were not coming in at all. Earlier, the government used to give money which came to our account but that was stopped in June. They used to give pulses before and now it's only dal and rice,” Vanajan added. 

Increase in malnutrition

The Karnataka Department of Women and Child Welfare has presented data for increase in malnutrition among children aged below six years and this increase has drastically increased between the months of April and October. 

Data from the Department of Women and Child Welfare shows that in the year 2019, the total number of children suffering from malnutrition for 12 months was 9,544. However, in the year 2020, between the months of April and October alone, the number of children suffering from malnutrition was 9,478. This marks a 58% increase in children suffering from malnutrition per month during the period of April to October this year. This data was collected from 62,580 anganwadis, which are supposed to feed over 35 lakh children in the state.

When the lockdown was announced in late March this year, 62,580 anganwadis feeding over 35 lakh children aged below six years, were shut down in order to avoid the spread of COVID-19. However, the government had promised to provide dry ration kits to families of the children enrolled in anganwadis as the mid-day meal scheme could not be continued. 

The lack of proper distribution of ration kits, especially since April this year, has led to the increase in malnutrition, especially in northern Karnataka districts, the data shows. Belagavi district had the highest number of malnourished children with 1,077 children facing malnutrition between April and October this year. This figure was 1,107 in the year 2019 for a span of 12 months. 

A mother of two children in Belagavi that TNM spoke to said that the anganwadi workers had been to her village in Bijagarani, located in Khanapur taluk in June to provide ration. “They came to give us ration after two months. When we asked them, the anganwadi workers said that there were delays in getting funds from the government for the ration. This anganwadi worker had brought us food by paying for it herself. What else can we do? We got rice and dal. My children are four and six  years old and have been eating one meal a day for most days of the month,” she said. 

The number of malnourished children in northern Karnataka districts that increased over the span of seven months between April and October include Ballari (816), Haveri (747), Kalaburagi (732), Raichur (715), Koppala (648), Gadag (418), Yadagiri (413) and Bagalkote (348). Sources with the Department of Women and Child Welfare said that in the year 2019, there were more or less the same number of malnourished children aged below 6 years, when figures were obtained for 12 months. “In seven months there has been a huge increase. The data is based on information collected from all anganwadis. This can be attributed to lack of proper food during the lockdown and the months following that,” the senior official said. 

The lack of proper ration distribution

In Kalaburagi district, one of the worst hit in the state, district officials said that the biggest problem was that funds were not released by the state government on time to procure the ration, and that there were discrepancies in the ration distribution system as there were thefts in the government godowns. 

“The first two months, that is April and May, we were giving ration door to door regularly. In June, when the stocks were reduced, we had to wait for the state government to clear bills and procure new ration. This took a lot of time. When the ration was procured under the Pradhan mantri Gharib Kalyan Yojana, we had something to fall back on. But some of the ration was being stolen and sold in the open market,” the Kalaburagi official said. The district administration had filed complaints with the Kalaburagi Rural Police in July this year and an FIR was registered. “The Food and Civil Supplies Department is probing this,” the official added. 

Mahantesh, a Right To Food activist in Kalaburagi, said that many children were not getting ration kits on time and that in many cases anganwadi workers had themselves paid for the ration in order to distribute it to pregnant women and children in their villages. “In some anganwadis, the ration was distributed properly. In some anganwadis they did not give ration for two months at a stretch. The distribution is very uneven and most people don’t even have the courage to demand what is their right as they are scared they won’t get access to the meagre amount they are already getting,” Mahantesh added. 

Basavaraj, a Right To Food activist in Raichur said that the distribution of eggs has been uneven in the district primarily because people are unaware of how many times the eggs should be distributed. He said that eggs should be distributed once a week, however, this is currently being distributed once in a month. “People are now getting six eggs per month instead of per week. In most cases, parents are unaware as they go to work in construction sites or in fields.The district administration too has not been proactive in ensuring the food reaches people on time. Besides, from anganwadis only ragi and dal is being given,” he added. 

The impact on children

Siddharth Joshi, an independent researcher and Right To Food activist, who has been fostering the cause of distributing ration kits effectively, told TNM that the primary reason for delay in disbursement of ration kits is that the state government was not providing money to clear bills on time. He said that the Ksheera Bhagya scheme was stopped in addition to the eggs being provided to children, which could have resulted in increased malnutrition. 

“For those children who did not eat eggs, milk powder was supposed to be distributed. For ration kits, pulses, cereals and rice were to be provided and a nominal amount was to be given to families to buy vegetables. Ksheera Bhagya scheme was stopped in July. And the state government relied heavily on the grains provided by the Union government. Essentially it became a rice and toor dal scheme. This could have resulted in many children not getting the macronutrients and vitamins they need,” Siddharth Joshi said. 

Dr Sylvia Karpagam, who is also a Right to Food activist, said that anemia in children had increased, based on surveys conducted by independent researchers in several districts. She said that nutritional marasmus had also increased. “We have data on how many malnourished children were there last year and how many this year between April and October. While this number should have decreased, it has decreased. In our surveys, we found that many anganwadis had stopped collecting data and weighing children on a monthly basis,” she said.

Siddharth Joshi, said that in many anganwadis, the teachers were refraining from including information about malnourished children due to fear of being reprimanded. “For instance, in an anganwadi in Baiyappanahalli in Bengaluru, we found that the death of a malnourished child was not even recorded. Besides, the weight and height of many children was not maintained properly. If a proper survey is conducted, there is bound to be a huge increase in malnutrition,” he added. 

*Name changed


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