The National Human Rights Commission has taken suo motu cognisance of media reports that 116 children in Sheopur district died due to malnutrition-related ailments over the past five months. The commission has issued a notice to the chief secretary, calling for a detailed report within four weeks.
Ten teams of the National Health Mission, the state women and child development department, and Unicef conducted an eight-day survey in the district, which ended September 19. The survey states that at least 486 children have been found to be malnourished in Sheopur.
The commission has observed that the contents of media reports were “distressing and a matter of concern” as these indicate towards violation of human rights of children due to malnutrition and lack of health care by the state.
The Sheopur chief medical and health officer has reportedly accepted these facts. Three nutrition rehabilitation centres in the district are overcrowded and lack in facilities as well as doctors, said a statement issued by NHRC on Wednesday.
The commission has also pointed out that it had been emphasising at every platform for the proper implementation of government schemes, including Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), which provides for supplementary nutrition for both lactating mothers and children.
“It is the duty of the state to ensure that young children are not deprived of a proper nutritious and balanced diet. The Right to Food and the Right to Health are indispensable for the exercise of other human rights. The state has to promote, protect and preserve the health of all individuals, especially the infants and young children,” the statement said.
NHRC statement said that the children were reportedly forced to sleep on the floor at the Nutrition Rehabilitation Centres as there were no beds available for them.
“Many children, suffering from malnutrition, are not being attended by the doctors for hours. The District Collector of Sheopur has stated that they have called doctors from the other district to attend to them. Due to overcrowding and lack of basic hygiene, the hospitals have also become prone to infection,” the statement added.
HC seeks govt reply in 3 weeks
The high court bench in Indore on Wednesday issued a notice to the Madhya Pradesh government over the rising cases of malnutrition among children in the state.
Civil rights activist Nandlal Tiwari moved a PIL before the court stating that the government failed in providing nutrition and early childhood care to children.
The high court asked the government to file its reply within three weeks.
“The state is bound by Directive Principles of State Policy laid down in the Constitution and to act and perform their duties for well being of state,” the petitioner’s counsel Abhinav Dhanodkar said.
Articles 47, 45 and 39(f) of the Constitution mandates the state to provide proper nutrition, standard of living, early childhood care, education, opportunities and facilities to develop in the healthy manner and conditions to children until they reach the age of six, he added.
The condition of under-five mortality rate is more dreadful which is up to 52 in urban areas and 69 in rural areas, the petitioner said.
About 69.9% children of 6-59 months age are anemic in rural areas wherein 66.3% in urban areas. It is clear from the report published by government of India that the condition of undernourished children below 6 years of age is blood-curdling, he added.
“The situation of Madhya Pradesh is ‘extremely alarming’ on the Global Hunger Index 2008 and it was comparable to that of African countries of Ethiopia and Chad,” Dhanodkar said.
After hearing the petition, the high court ordered the government to act swiftly in preventing malnutrition, provide interim relief to the families in Sheopur and other districts where malnutrition deaths have been reported.
Malnutrition continues to claim and maim young lives in the state. According to the National Family Health Survey-4 released earlier this year, 42% of the children under 5 years in Madhya Pradesh are stunted (height for age), 25.8% children are wasted (weight for height) and 42.8% children are underweight (weight for age). The figures also show that 68.9% children aged 6-59 months are anaemic. According to the latest figures released in June, Madhya Pradesh topped the country in infant mortality rate (IMR) for the 12th successive time, raising a big question mark on the healthcare in the state. Madhya Pradesh has the highest IMR, with 52 deaths of children less than one year of age per 1,000 live births.