Nuresha Begum has two sons, runs a tailoring trade in MP with her husband and had no reason to be a radical in the Muslim community her family was ensconced in.
But last year at an anganwadi in her village in Umariya, when she first saw 2-year-old Baiga tribe girl Aarti, who was born healthy but grew wispy with age due to malnourishment, Nuresha thought she had to do something.
She adopted her — under a unique government scheme that lets you foster a malnourished child for six years, which is good enough time to turn around a child’s health.
Under the Sneh Sarokar Yojna launched last year, people may adopt by pledging to take care of a child’s health, provide balanced food, take them to doctor regularly for immunisation. But the child can choose to stay with his or her biological parents.
And the data of the Women and Child Development Department (Mahila Evam Bal Vikas Vibhag) of Madhya Pradesh say: 87424 malnourished children have been adopted under the scheme in the state so far.
According the latest national family health sample survey, Madhya Pradesh has the highest number of malnourished children in the country with 74.1 % of those under the age of five suffering from anaemia and 60% from malnutrition.
The scheme was launched because the government probably realised it won’t be able to pull a majority of its children out of malnourishment alone, and needed the goodwill of its citizens.
And for people, the scheme is more demanding than charity--because you are not just donating money but are hands-on with the child’s development--and short of the complexities of adoption in the traditional sense because you are not taking the child home.
Under Nuresha’s care, Aarti has put on weight, though still has to catch up a lot to reach her age’s average, got timely immunisation and another family with boys who dote on her as a sibling.
But Nuresha was frequently strafed by the members of her community for adopting a Baiga girl. And luckily her family stood with her.
“A child is a child, caste does not matter what was more important at that time was to save her life. Thus, I went ahead with the adoption,” said Nuresha.
“Today Aarti’s health has improved, she is better and both my sons consider her as a dear sibling and celebrate Rakshabandhan, Diwali and Eid with her.”
The scheme has a growing band of patrons.
A public school principal from Annupur, RC Naidu, adopted 5 malnourished kids who are less than 3 years.
“A little effort can help these kids to come out of malnutrition. This was my only motivation when I adopted these kids. I am not trying to set an example, I am just doing a little something for the society,” said Naidu. To adopt, one needs to get in touch with the Child Welfare Department which has a joint division in each district or inform the nearby anganwadis. The go-ahead comes from the department.
“I am surprised that among the people who have adopted these malnourished kids, many are young architects, engineers, doctors and teachers,” said joint director of Women and Child Department Shahdol Rajesh Mehra.
So how does the department ensure that adopters don’t leave the children in the lurch once the white heat dies down?
“Our department checks from time to time if care is being given or not,” said Pushplata Singh, the Commissioner of Integrated Child Development Scheme of Women and Child Department in Bhopal.