Covid-19 impact: 115 million Indian children ‘face malnourishment due to school closure’

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on August 13, 2020

A whopping 115 million Indian children, who were dependent on school lunches for their daily dietary requirements, are on the verge of malnourishment due to prolonged school closure due to Covid-19, according to a report published in the journal New Scientist.

A report commissioned by UNICEF in 2019 had found that over 80 per cent of adolescents in India suffered from hidden malnutrition. This includes deficiency of one or more micronutrients such as iron, folate, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.

“States have been repeatedly urged to ensure children continued to receive their food entitlements to maintain their nutritional status,” says Ritu Aggarwal, a director of the lunch programme in India, in the report.

The report revealed that due to the closure of schools, in some cases, teachers are providing uncooked vegetables or lentils to underprivileged children.

But this hasn’t been an effective solution, says Samuel Scott of the International Food Policy Research Institute in New Delhi.

Apart from the fact that the money that reaches the children is only around ₹6 ($0.09) per day or ₹150 ($2) a month, it is also impossible to ensure that the cash or food is being used solely for the child, Scott said.

Recently, the Centre brought about significant changes in the education policy. Under the policy, the Centre has mandated government schools to supplement lunch with breakfast in order to add more nutrition in the diet of young children.

“Children are unable to learn optimally when they are undernourished or unwell. Hence, the nutrition and health (including mental health) of children will be addressed through healthy meals and the introduction of well-trained social workers, counsellors, and community involvement into the schooling system,” the policy said.

However, Scott believes that the policy will not work until schools resume. Until then he sees children not getting the nutrition they are entitled to through the mid-day meal scheme.

Published on August 13, 2020

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