Callous disregard for kids’ health

The callous disregard of authorities to the health and wellbeing of children has assumed serious proportions. Some 103 children at the Siddapura Balamandira, a remand home in Bengaluru, were served food in which a lizard had fallen. The children were hospitalised soon after as they were vomiting and complained of abdominal pain and diarrhoea. Contamination of food by reptiles and rodents is a serious health hazard as it adversely impacts the digestive system. Besides, when lizards or cockroaches are found in food, it causes deep aversion to eating. Following the incident at the Siddapura Balamandira, several children are reportedly refusing to eat. Their reluctance is understandable. After all, biting into a lizard is hardly a pleasant experience. Instances of cockroaches, lizards, rats, rat droppings and even snakes falling into cooking vessels are not uncommon in India. Indeed, the mid-day meal scheme in several states, especially in central and north India, has failed largely because lizards and rats are often found in food served to children. A single incident is enough to derail the scheme in an entire state as word gets around quickly. A reluctance to prioritise cleanliness of rooms where food and vegetables are stored and of kitchens results in reptiles falling into the food. Additionally, cooks pay little attention to cleaning the grains or monitoring the cooking process.

Authorities often try to shake off responsibility for people being served contaminated food by claiming that mishaps are inevitable when food is cooked on a mass scale.
This is a weak argument as there are several examples of mass feeding in India where the highest standards are maintained. Several temples are renowned for the exemplary conditions in which ‘prasadam’ is prepared. Similarly, the Akshaya Patra programme provides food cooked in clean conditions for children in Karnataka’s government and government-aided schools. If these institutions can cook food for lakhs of people daily that is free from contamination of any sort, why are remand homes, orphanages and other establishments unable to cook a few dozen uncontaminated meals for children? Is it because these are children and those without powerful guardians and thus unable to raise their voices against shabby living conditions and injustices?

The abysmal living conditions at the Government Observation Home for Boys in Bengaluru in Madiwala came to light last year when there were several instances of inmates escaping from the facility. Poorly cooked food, overcrowding, filthy living conditions and inadequate infrastructure were found to be driving the boys to break free. Clearly, no lessons were learnt. As the Siddapura Balamandira incident indicates, children in correctional homes are being subjected to ill-treatment and a variety of abuses. This must stop now.

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Callous disregard for kids’ health

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