Malnutrition continues to be a significant problem for children in India. According to the third National Family Health Survey (2005-06) while there have been some improvements in the nutritional status of young children in few states still nutritional deficienceies are widespread. NFHS-3 found that 23% of children were wasted which is higher than that of 20% of NFHS-2. Almost half around 43% of all children under three are underweight and almost 70% of children in the age group of 6-59 months are anaemic. The prevalence of anaemia is even worse than it was in NFHS-2. Anaemia in India is primarily linked to poor nutrition and this is a cause of grave concern. The prevalence rate of undernutrition in India, in the age group 0-6yrs is one of the highest in the world. Around 57 children of every 1000 children die before reaching the age of one year . These poor development indices clearly bring out the state of children under six in India and the failure of most intervention in changing the situation. The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) started in 1975 is the world's largest early child development program and the extent to which it has succeeded in attaining one of its primary objective of reducing the prevalence of child malnutrition, remains largely uncertain.
The Indian Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh said that the ICDS scheme had not sufficiently dented child nutrition levels in a strongly worded letter to the state chief ministers. The fact that there has been just one percent improvement in the underweight status of children under three from the NFHS-II, which was carried out seven years earlier shows that the progress is too slow. This disturbing current scenario calls for immediate action.
“On the other hand, only about 1% of the total union budget is spent on children under six years of age.” They also receive little attention in parliament and political debates. It is important to understand that early childhood development and care is crucial for overall development and growth of not only children but the society as whole. Therefore it is important that policymakers prioritise policies towards children under six.
India’s first comprehensive policy for children was adopted in 1974 which assigned the states the responsibility of providing services to the children both before as well as after birth to ensure full physical mental and social development. With this aim the government introduced the ICDS programme in 1975. It was started to address the problem of malnutrition among children through supplementary nutrition, growth monitoring and educating families to adopt better feeding practices during pregnancy, breast feeding, weaning and balanced nutrition in early years of development of the child (upto 6 years). It also aimed at ensuring complete immunization against diseases, de-worming, providing Vitamin A and iron supplements, facilitating referrals in case of illness through convergence with the health sector. It further aimed at promoting holistic child development through pre-school education. A range of Anganwadi centres (AWC) were to achieve these objectives.
Even thirty two years after the introduction of the ICDS programme much has not been achieved, though it is recognized that this is perhaps one of the better conceived programmes and if implemented properly can yield good results.
Supreme Court orders and Rights perspective
The Supreme Court in November 2001 recognized that the right to food is justifiable, and the government is duty bound to prevent hunger and malnutrition. In a series of other judgments the court ordered the universalisation of ICDS to cover every child under the age of six and gave further directions for the strengthening of the ICDS. It called for sanctioning of 14 lakh AWCs, currently there are 7 lakh anganwadis across the country and increasing of the norm of rupee one to rupees two.
However, it is necessary to analyse the reasons for the...
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