Malnutrition in 'developed' Gujarat, a glimpse: Tribal areas see 'spike' in 'underweight' children

In response to a question raised in the Assembly by Congress MLA Jignesh Mevani, Women and Child Welfare minister,  Bhanuben Babariya furnished the data in the House.
For representational purposes (Photo | EPS)
For representational purposes (Photo | EPS)

AHMEDABAD: In Gujarat, considered ‘a developed State’, the number of malnourished children is on the rise. During the Covid-19 period, a startling rise in the number of malnourished children has been reported in Gujarat. The spike has been more pronounced in tribal and rural areas than in urban ones. 

In response to a question raised in the Assembly by Congress MLA Jignesh Mevani, Women and Child Welfare minister,  Bhanuben Babariya informed the state Assembly that the tribal district of Dahod has 18,326 malnourished children as against 2236 in Ahmedabad district. The number of malnourished children in Dahod is eight times more than that in Ahmedabad. 

The 18,326 malnourished children in Dahod are in the age group of 0-6 years. The number of underweight children in Dahod is 5,101 as against 497 in Ahmedabad.

Dang district has reported 575 malnourished children in the last two years while Narmada has a total of 2,443 malnourished children. Dashod, Narmada and Dang districts have a majority tribal population.

Further, according to the data available from the government, there are 1,739 'underweight' children in Ahmedabad while 497 children are 'severely underweight.' In Dahod, 13,225 children are 'underweight' and 5,101 are 'severely underweight.'

The government however blamed Covid-19 for the spike in malnourished children and stated that “because most ‘Anganwadis’(a type of rural child care center started by the Indian government) were closed on March 2020 and were re-opened only on February 2022 due to the pandemic, it is currently impossible to ascertain whether the number of malnourished children has increased or decreased.”

However, social workers who have spent years working in Dahod and tribal areas disagree with the government.

According to Food Security Campaign Gujarat Convener Nita Hardikar, “The government must recognize that geographical factors have a significant impact in tribal areas. Whether Anganwadi centers were open or closed, the people in tribal areas have difficulty accessing Anganwadi centres. Particularly when most members of the family, who were daily wagers go out to work, the one person left to attend to the children would not be able to take them to Anganwadi centres."

“The most significant loss to people following Covid-19 is their employment. Most people have lost their jobs and those who have jobs have had their pay cut. This has had a direct impact on food. This cycle is becoming increasingly serious. It is critical. Because malnutrition reduces work capacity, and reduced work capacity affects livelihoods. The government must take this issue seriously,” she added

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