India ranks 96 of 118 on the global hunger index, and the one of the most affected demographics is the girl child. At the Jaipur Literature Festival, Shashi Tharoor, activists Ruchira Gupta and Nandana Sen discussed how the girl child is overlooked and how government policies need to address the problem in a more concrete way. All the speakers agreed that there was a lack of infrastructure around women’s health which needs to fixed.
Nandana Sen said that an obvious way to combat malnutrition is education and that a child whose mother has no education is five times more likely to be underweight. “We have not learnt to prioritise the girl child’s education. She also pointed to the intergenerational propagation of malnutrition. If an uneducated girl gets married early, it is more likely her daughter will be malnourished as well. Above all it is important to focus on the need of teenage girls because her nutrition needs are specific. Over 64 million teenage girls are anaemic.
“Our government is not particularly interested in a health program” said Shashi Tharoor. He said that our public health prices will rocket if we have a malnourished child. Low body weight explains fifty percent of tuberculosis in the country he said. He also said that there is a lack of public distribution systems in India and that we have to be concerned about food delivery.
it is important to focus on the need of teenage girls because her nutrition needs are specific. Over 64 million teenage girls are anaemic
He said we need education around basic sanitation practices like washing hands before eating. There is not enough thought given to agricultural policies that can look at nutritional needs of people and provide subsidies. Tharoor also said that we need to get the private sector involved to compensate for lack of budgets in these systems
The educated girl has a ripple effect on her children, even if she has only five years of education according to many studies, said Tharoor. An educated women is an empowered woman, said Tharoor.
Expanding on Tharoor’s points, Ruchira Gupta said that in India our defence budgets are going up, but the budgets for nutrition schemes are going down. All choices have been taken away from our girls, she said. These girls are the fourth class. They are unequal and teenagers and low caste.
She also criticised government programs such as Beti Bachao and Swachh Bharat. How will girls use toilets if they cannot even walk to them? she asked. “What do you do with a toilet when you can’t eat? Are these programs just a branding exercise?” she questioned.
She also said that the government’s time bound policies limit us. We are trying to achieve what can be done quickly, so we go to the lowest hanging fruit not the most difficult project, ie. educating and providing for our fourth class, the girl child.