Experts challenge data on hungry children

Activists, government authorities debate Delhi figures mentioned in HUNGaMa report

Child rights activists are questioning the Delhi  findings of the recent malnutrition report, which triggered concern over children's health across the country but said that the national capital fared better than most other states.

According to the third round of National Family Health Survey, only 26 per cent of the children are underweight. Experts from organisations like Save the Children however question the data used in the report, citing ‘errors’ in methodology. “The surveys by the government take data from institutional set-ups like hospitals and households. This leaves out innumerable children who are living on the streets,” said Prasanta Das, Project Coordinator, Delhi Chapter, Save the Children.

Delhi government authorities however tend to agree with the figures for Delhi mentioned in the Hunger and Malnutrition (HUNGaMA) report released by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The PM had said malnutrition was a national shame.
Das argued that more than 51,000 children live on the streets of Delhi who have no access to any healthcare facilities. Delhi, being the Capital, has maximum number of migrants, including children.

“Most of these children are without families or come from poor households from the backward areas of the country,” he said. “They are the ones who would have the highest levels of malnutrition, and it's precisely they who are not part of these surveys.”

Renu Singh, Country Director, Young Lives India, echoed the same sentiments.
“Delhi has a high population of children in slums and jhuggis who do not have access to even primary healthcare. They should also become part of government's surveys to be able to avail proper health facilities, especially related to malnutrition,” said Singh.

Government disagrees
The government authorities, however, challenge the claims. “It depends on the timing of the survey. More migrants come to the city post-harvest and that is when Save the Children counted the number of street children. Our understanding is there are nearly 11,000 street children in Delhi,” said Rajeev Kale, Director Women and Child Development, Government of Delhi.

He added that the state government has asked the Union government to provide funds for creating 11 open shelters for street children where their nutrition can also be managed.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India conducted the District Level Household Survey in 2008, the latest so far. It states that in Delhi 33.6 per cent mothers had full pre-natal check-up and 71.8 per cent had a safe delivery. Interestingly, only 3.1 per cent of the mothers received financial assistance under Janani Suraksha Yojana, important for safe motherhood and improved nutrition for the child.

After birth, 67.6 per cent of children of 12-23 months of age were immunised. Only 12.8 per cent among 0-5 months of age had exclusively breastfed, a strongly advocated guideline by the WHO.

Hungry kids
* Mothers with full pre-natal check-up: 33.6 per cent
* Safe delivery: 71.8 per cent.
* Financial assistance under- Janano Suraksha Yojana: 3.1 per cent.
* Children immunised(12-23 months old): 67.6 per cent.
* Breastfeed(0-5 months old): 12.8 per cent.
* Number of children living on the streets: 51,000

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