In wasting children, a richer India sees "national shame"

Fri Feb 17, 2012 3:26pm EST
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By Annie Banerji

SHIVPURI, India (Reuters) - Crying as she is put on an electronic scale, two-year-old Rajini's naked shriveled frame casts a dark shadow over a rising India, where millions of children have little to eat.

The children are scrawny, listless and sick in this run-down nutrition clinic in central India with its intermittent power supply. If they survive they will grow up shorter, weaker and less smart than their better-fed peers.

Rajini weighs 5 kg (11 lb), about half of what she should.

"She's as light as a leaf, this can't be good," says her grandmother, Sushila Devi, poking her rib-protruding stomach in the clinic in Shivpuri district in Madhya Pradesh state.

Almost as shocking as India's high prevalence of child malnutrition is the country's failure to reduce it, despite the economy tripling between 1990 and 2005 to become Asia's third largest and annual per capita income rising to $489 from $96.

A government-supported survey last month said 42 percent of children under five are underweight -- almost double that of sub-Saharan Africa -- compared to 43 percent five years ago.

The statistic -- which means 3,000 children dying daily due to illnesses related to poor diets -- led Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to admit malnutrition was "a national shame" and was putting the health of the nation in jeopardy.

"It is a national shame. Child nutrition is a marker of the many things that are not going right for the poor of India," said Purnima Menon, research fellow on poverty, health and nutrition at the Institute of Food Policy Research Institute.   Continued...