India’s severe child food poverty level lays bare Modi govt’s good governance claims

India’s level of child food poverty was above 40 per cent in 2021, as per a UNICEF report, placing it among the 13 worst-performing countries in the world

Representative Photo
Representative Photo

Dr Gyan Pathak

India is among the worst countries in the world with respect to children suffering from severe food poverty, the latest UNICEF data has revealed.  

Severe child food poverty is reaching dire levels, with 1 in 3 children under five impacted by it globally, but in 13 countries, the situation is worse, with more than 2 in 5 such children. India was one of these 13 countries in 2021 with the level of child food poverty being above 40 per cent.  

The point estimate was 40.3 per cent during 2019-21, which was even worse than 37.9 per cent of 2005-06, and only a little less than 42.4 per cent during 2015-16. It remains unacceptably high, exposing the Modi government’s ‘good performance’ claim during the last eight years of its rule.  

The lower limit of severe child food poverty in India during 2019-21 was 39.7 per cent while the upper limit was 40.8 per cent.  

For the male child, the point estimate for 2019-21 was 39.7 per cent with a lower limit 39 per cent and upper limit 40.5 per cent. These are lower than the national average, indicating the deep-rooted bias against the girl child, who are suffering the most.  

The point estimate for the girl child is 40.8 per cent, with lower limit 40 per cent and upper limit 41.6 per cent.  

For urban areas, the point estimate for 2019-21 was 37.5 per cent with lower limit 36.3 per cent and upper limit 38.7 per cent. The corresponding figure for rural areas were 41.3 per cent, 40.7 per cent, and 41.9 percent, which shows that the babies in rural areas are suffering the most.   

The UNICEF data covers the children of age group of 6-23 months of age.  

The point estimate for 2019-21 of babies aged between 6 to 11 months is 57.1 per cent with lower limit 56.1 per cent and upper limit 58 per cent. These children are the worst sufferers, and their situation somewhat improves as they advance in age. 

The corresponding point estimate for babies aged 12 to 15 months of age was 35.8 per cent with lower limit 34.7 per cent and upper limit 36.9 per cent.  

For babies aged 16-19 months, these figures are 30, 29, and 31.1 per cent.  

For the children aged between 20 to 23, these figures are 27.3, 26.3 and 28.4 per cent.  

The UNICEF report, titled ‘Child Food Poverty: A Nutrition Crisis in Early Childhood’, says that children in low and lower-middle income countries are disproportionately affected by severe food poverty. UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russel said, “Fuelled by conflict, climate change and the enduring secondary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, a global food and nutrition crisis is pushing already vulnerable children into unprecedented levels of food poverty and nutrition vulnerability.” 

In 2022, the number of children suffering from severe wasting in the 15 countries worst affected by the present global crises has increased at an extraordinary speed: one additional child with severe wasting every single minute, she said.  

Globally, 478 million children under 5 years of age are experiencing food poverty, of which 202 million are suffering from severe food poverty.  

In South Asia, 130 million (half of all children) are experiencing food poverty and 64 million severe food poverty. 37 per cent children are suffering severe child food poverty while 39 per cent are suffering moderate child poverty.  

India’s position is worse than this.  

Children in poor and rural households are more vulnerable to severe food poverty which exposes the inequalities between the richest and poorest families.  

According to the 2022 Global report on Food Crises, 42 countries are experiencing high levels of food and nutrition insecurity and 15 of them are experiencing some of the worst impacts of the global crisis of food and nutrition.   

In Asia, countries facing severe child poverty are Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, State of Palestine, Tajikistan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, and Yemen.  

In Europe, such countries include Albania, Belarus, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Republic of Moldova and Serbia.  

In Oceania, the children of Fiji, Kiribati, Marshal Islands, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu are reported to be suffering from severe child food poverty. 

The situation in Latin America is even worse, where Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominical Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Uruguay have reported severe child poverty levels.  

The worst region is Africa where Algeria, Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cote d’Ivore, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger,  Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have reported severe level of child poverty.   

In this situation, the UNICEF has called for bolder action and greater accountability to end child food poverty. Together with development and humanitarian partners, national and international civil society and non-governmental organisations, the private sector, and governments must mobilise the food, health and social protection systems to deliver nutritious, safe and affordable food and essential nutrition services to guarantee every child’s right to food and nutrition everywhere.  

To end child poverty, UNICEF says, we must shape food systems to be more accountable for making nutritious food available and affordable to families with young children; leverage health systems to deliver essential nutrition services to young children and their mothers, prioritising those most at risk; design protection systems that are responsive to the food and nutrition needs of the most vulnerable children and families; and strengthen nutrition governance – nationally and globally – to eliminate child food poverty, including in fragile and humanitarian settings.   

(IPA Service) 

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Published: 18 Oct 2022, 7:00 PM