Kondagaon/Dhamtari (Chhattisgarh) Sep 20 (IANS) Born in a Gond tribal family in Kondagaon district in Chhattisgarh, two-year old Priyanka weighed only 5 kg and was suffering from acute malnutrition when she was taken to a Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) two months ago.
Priyanka's parents are daily wagers in Shampur, a small settlement in the newly carved-out Kondagaon district that is located some 220 km south of state capital Raipur. Such was the condition of the toddler that she was kept under constant watch at the NRC for 15 days.
"She was stunted, weak and underweight so we admitted her to the NRC, where she was provided nutritious food seven to eight times every day. She has, however, come out of the acute malnutrition category, but is still malnourished," Anganwadi worker Dushan Pandey told this visiting IANS correspondent.
Pandey said that Priyanka's parents had not paid attention to the child's health. Now, she is being taken care of at an Anganwadi centre and slowly progressing towards normalcy.
"We now feed her three to five times daily with nutritious food - daal-rice and green vegetables - at the Shampur Anganwadi centre under the Nava Jatan scheme," Pandey added.
Chhattisgarh's 26 million population has an over 30 percent tribals and 30.55 percent of its children are malnourished. The state has, however, shown substantial improvement in reducing the number of malnourished children through various steps, including the Nawa Jatan Scheme.
Women's Self-Help Groups (WSHGs) are formed under the state government's Nava Jatan programme to address malnourished children.
Dhamtari district collector Bhim Singh said that the percentage of malnourished children has reduced significantly. Through Wajan Tyohar (weight festival) we determine whether the child is malnourished by recording his/her weight.
"In 2012, the percentage of malnourished children in Dhamtari was 43.89 percent, which was reduced to 39.84 percent in 2013 and further reduced to 33.71 percent in 2014. Till June 8, 2015, only 24.59 percent children (including tribal children) were under-nourished in the district," he said.
"The WSHGs adopt malnourished children in their area and provide them food with the help of Anganwadi centres," Bhim Singh said.
According to Wajan Tyohar data in Kondagaon district, the level of malnourished children was very high at 51.95 percent in 2012 and reduced to 44.62 percent in 2013. In 2014 malnutrition was 41.84 percent and was marginally reduced to 41.15 till June 8, 2015.
Women and Child Development Department secretary Dinesh Srivastava said: "The children who fall under the category of moderately or severely under-weight are treated under the Nawa Jatan Scheme."
UNICEF provides technical inputs to the design of the scheme and the capacity building plan.
There had been several challenges in addressing under-nutrition among tribal children including household poverty, gender and social norms, lack of tribal leadership, lack of awareness and family planning.
The anganwadi supervisor of Shampur sector, Belarani Biswas, said: "Most of the tribal people here are in the habit of drinking a lot. In tribal families, women also drink a lot of liquor due to which they are not able pay proper attention to the proper upbringing of their wards, leading to improper eating habits in children."
According to the 2009 estimates of the erstwhile Planning Commission, India's 104 million tribals continue to remain among the country's poorest social groups. Children of tribals remain the most nutritionally deprived.
The child development project officer (CDPO) of Kondagaon district, Amit Singh, said that malnourished girls grow into weak mothers and give birth to underweight babies.
"The WSHGs, along with Suposhan Mitras, reach out to every individual in their respective area and ensure proper feeding to the kids. They also counsel their parents about paying more attention towards improving the eating habits of their children," Amit Singh said.
(The writer was part of a field visit that UNICEF had organised for the media to Chhattisgarh. Ashish Mishra can be contacted at email@example.com)