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57 million Indian children undernourished: UNICEF

By Staff
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New Delhi, May 3 (UNI) India has the largest number of undernourished children in the world while malnutrition is the underlying cause of the half of the 2.1 million child deaths annually in India, according to UNICEF report 'Progress for Children--A report card on Child Nutrition' released here today.

With 57 million children suffering from malnutrition, India is home to more than one third of the world's 146 million undernourished children. At the current rate of progress, the Millennium Development goal to halve the child hunger by 2015 could not be reached by the country untill 2025, the report pointed out.

India has the same rate of malnutrition as Ethiopia (47 per cent), Nepal and Bangladesh(48 per cent) and stand in stark contrast to countries such as China (8 per cent), Thailand (18 per cent) and even Afghanistan (39 per cent).

''Children in some of the South Asia's most populous countries are suffering rates of malnutrition equivalent to those in Africa's famine zone. Half the world's undernourished children are in South Asia, even though the eight countries are home to only a quarter of the world's child population,'' UNICEF Executive Director Ann M Veneman said in a video message to the region. She said that this was happening despite improved economic and agricultural productivity in the region.

Launching the report, UNICEF Regional Director Cecilia Loste said that children in South Asia were being failed and the impact will cause them disadvantage at every stage of their lives.

Describing the staggering lack of progress, Ms Loste said that insufficient quantity of food is less to blame for the child undernutrition than poor food quality, low status of women, early marriage and low child birth weights and poor sanitation causing energy draining diarrhoeal diseases.

The report highlights the fact that in India one in three adult women is underweight and therefore at a risk of delivering babies with low weight. Severe malnutrition is more frequent among girl children (19.1 per cent) than among boys (16.9 per cent).

While most infants in India are initially breast fed, only 37 per cent children are exclusively breast fed for four months. Each year, more than 6 lakh under five child deaths could be avoided if a handful of simple health interventions along with correct infant feeding were universally applied, it said.

Malnutrition rates among children of 0 to 3 years vary greatly across states in India with Madhya Pradesh (55.1 per cent), Bihar (54.4 per cent), Orissa (54.4 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (51.7 per cent), Rajasthan (50.6 per cent), Goa (28.6 per cent), Manipur (27.5 per cent) and Kerala (26.9 per cent), the report has pointed out.

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