UNICEF’s efforts to support the tribal population, especially children who suffer from malnourishment.
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Since independence, multiple government policies and programmes sought to develop tribal communities by focusing on their livelihood, education and health. Despite six decades of special treatment, even today, tribal peoples continue to be the most undernourished segment of the Indian society.
The latest available data reveals that 4.7 million tribal children of India suffer from chronic nutrition deprivation affecting their survival, growth, learning, performance in school and productivity as adults. (Nutrition India Info).
About 80 per cent of the 5 million chronically undernourished tribal children live in just eight states of Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Odisha. Tribal peoples in these states, which are covered by the Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, and also other states have borne the maximum brunt of land alienation, displacement and poor compensation.
About 40 per cent of under five tribal children in India are stunted, and 16 per cent of them are severely stunted. Mild and moderate stunting is similar in tribal and non-tribal children. But severe stunting is higher (16 per cent vs. 9 per cent) in tribal compared to non-tribal children (CNNS 2016-18).
About 40 per cent of under five tribal children in India are stunted, and 16 per cent of them are severely stunted.
Tribal children have higher levels of undernutrition compared to children of socially economically advanced sections. Similarly, income security of tribal peoples has been adversely affected by losses and access to productive resources (rights to forest or agricultural lands coupled with poor compensation). Debts are one of the main coping strategies, resulting in a hand-to-mouth existence for those affected.
Efforts have been made in Odisha (Living Farms) and Rajasthan (VAAGDHARA) to reclaim and regenerate the forest’s untapped fruits and vegetables for use in the household hearth to improve dietary diversity. Both these efforts were backed with advocacy for protection of community forests, keeping minimum percentage of land as forest land for protection of indigenous livelihoods as well as the environment.
There have been some promising initiatives as well. Samagra, an online portal of the Government of Madhya Pradesh, is supporting identification, verification, updating and categorization of all individuals in a family by local bodies and linking households to their respective fair price shops electronically. An supplementary nutrition programme for pregnant women and lactating mothers with hot cooked meals in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana has helped improve coverage of national Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme.
Similarly, in Chhattisgarh, Jan Swasthya Sahyog has made efforts to generate evidence on hamlet-based crèches for children between six to thirty-six months in forest villages and fringe areas of rural Bilaspur. They have also developed the operational requirements, costing, training materials and stationery needs and a troubleshooting guide for running such a programme at scale by the government.
Government–NGO partnership models by PRIA and Gram Vikas have helped communities and Gram Panchayats to work together in Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand for creation and maintenance of water and sanitation structures and activating their district planning committees. The Flouride Network of India links the reduction of fluoride toxicity in drinking water directly to nutritional improvements. Tarun Bharat Sangh and the Urmul Trust use traditional wisdom of water management from communities and highlight community water management models in severely water-scarce desert districts of Rajasthan.
UNICEF’s #I.COMMIT campaign stresses on continued public advocacy at multiple levels with multiple departments for affirmative action for addressing undernutrition in tribal children.
In January 2015, UNICEF collaborated with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs held a national conclave on ‘Nourishing India’s Tribal Children’. The two-day conclave brought together nearly 300 practitioners, frontline workers, academics, civil society, policymakers, media and legislators.
They took stock of the nutrition situation of tribal children belonging to the nine states with Schedule Five blocks, where the child stunting numbers are the highest to discuss ‘what works and how’ and how departments of various states can coordinate, contribute and collaborate to address nutrition challenges in tribal areas. The National Conclave was followed by a State Conclave in five of the nine states.