Adequate nutrition is a fundamental right of all children and helps provide the best start in life. High-impact nutrition interventions focus on infant and young child feeding, sufficient micronutrients such as vitamin A and iodine, nutrition security in emergencies, and nutrition and HIV and AIDS. These are delivered using a life-cycle approach, emphasizing partnerships and integrated interventions to maximize effectiveness.
Why partner with religious communities for infant and young child nutrition?
“The world, both animate and inanimate, is sustained by food. Life arises from food: this is observed all around, there can be no doubt about it . . . The giver of food is the giver of life, and indeed of everything else. Therefore, one who is desirous of well-being in this world and beyond should specially endeavour to give food.” – The Mahabharata
Essential to life, food plays a significant role not only in our biological lives but in our social and cultural lives as well. The role of food throughout religious and indigenous traditions can be found in texts, stories and oral traditions. These describe how food nourishes life, brings people together in community and represents earthly life and spirit.
However, malnutrition is not merely a result of too little food but is caused a combination of factors: insufficient protein, energy and micronutrients, frequent infections or disease, poor care and feeding practices, inadequate health services and unsafe water and sanitation.
The moral and religious obligation of mothers and fathers to provide adequate nourishment to their children is also emphasized in most traditions. For example, specific protocols for breast-feeding and transition to solid foods are enumerated in Islamic law and teachings.
“The mother shall give suck to their children for two whole years, [that is] for those [parents] who desire to complete the term of suckling, but the father of the child shall bear the cost of the mother’s food and clothing on a reasonable basis.”- Al-Baqara, verse 233
Many religious traditions have dietary restrictions such as vegetarianism, avoidance of particular foods that are considered unclean and guidelines for preparation of some foods (such as those considered halal for Muslims or kosher for Jews, for example). An understanding of the religious and cultural norms of food – its preparation and delivery – can greatly enhance efforts to ensure adequate nutrition for infants, young children and their mothers.
What can religious communities do to promote infant and young child nutrition?