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Eight crore children, 1.6 crore pregnant women 'deprived' of right to food

Counterview Desk

The Right to Food Campaign, in a memorandum to Minister of Women and Child Development Smriti Irani, even as demanding to restart hot cooked meal and other Integrated Child Development Services, has regretted that despite India’s unlock phases, a whopping 6.40 crore children and 1.56 crore are pregnant and lactating women continue to be denied the right to food.
Worse, said the top civil rights network, the supplementary nutrition provided through ICDS, which was supposed to continue during the lockdown through home delivery, is still not being delivered in most places. Also, maternity entitlements under the Pradhan Mantri Matri Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) have been “disturbingly disrupted”.

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On behalf of the Right to Food campaign, we write this letter to express our concerns and grievances about the denial of the right to food of women and children during this pandemic. While most services for them have been shut down since March, we believe it is time to urgently revive these as essential services.
To put things into perspective, we looked at the data submitted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) in response to the unstarred question No 2669 on March 6, 2020. The response noted that the anganwadi services operate through a network of 7,075 fully operational projects and 13.79 lakh anganwadi centres (AWCs), as on September 30, 2019.
These services cater to 7.96 crore beneficiaries of which 6.40 crore are children under six years of age (3.6 crore children from 6 months - 3 years, and 2.7 crore children from 3 years to 6 years) and 1.56 crore are pregnant women and lactating mothers.
At the moment, these are the very least of the staggering figures of denial of right to food of women and children. Without cooked meals in both schools and anganwadis, the numbers only skyrocket further.
The extended lockdown periods owing to the pandemic had resulted in temporary closure of anganwadis and led to a discontinuation of hot cooked meals, take home rations and immunisation support, counselling, growth monitoring, and so on.
The discontinuation of growth monitoring services in this extraordinary time of hunger is depriving a high number of malnourished children from receiving the extra provision of summer nutrition programme (SNP) through Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). 
We have received two reports from across the country that the supplementary nutrition provided through ICDS, which was supposed to continue during the lockdown through home delivery, is not being delivered in most places. Maternity entitlements under the Pradhan Mantri Matri Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) have been disturbingly disrupted. 
Despite unlock phases, crucial food, nutrition, and health support mechanisms for women and children still remain abysmally affected
Additionally, the repeated announcements of relief packages -- both at the national and state levels -- too, have not included the specific schemes and programmes for women and children to be a priority and thereby added to the systemic denials and exclusions. 
While the nation is now slowly stepping into the unlock phases of the pandemic management, it is these crucial food, nutrition, and health support mechanisms for women and children that still remain abysmally affected.
It must be emphasised that the ICDS is, after all, a pivotal programme to ascertain the rights and ensure the wellbeing of women and children through state-sponsored mechanisms. In that vein, given the high burden of malnutrition and maternal and child mortality in India, we urge the MWCD to take immediate cognisance and ensure proper implementation of ICDS across all states.
In addition, we strongly recommend:
  1. Universal and unconditional application -- Hot cooked meals, and take-home rations must be regularised and made available for all enrolled children, without any added conditionalities whatsoever. Depending on local conditions arrangements can be made for spot-feeding or home delivery.
  2. Proper Implementation -- Ensure urgent decentralised grievance redressal mechanisms, monitoring framework and penalties for non-implementation so that those who are not getting their entitlements can register their complaints and get a timely response. 
  3. Protection for the frontline workers -- It is of paramount importance to provide relevant personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety gears to the frontline workers like anganwadi workers (AWWs), anganwadi helpers (AWHs), auxiliary nurse midwives (ANMs), accredited social health activists (ASHAs), and mid-day meal cooks. They must be encouraged in their endeavors in these distressing times. Plus, it is high time that they are provided with proper health insurance to effectively deal with the pandemic. 
  4. SNP for food security -- Due to the economic slowdown being faced because of the pandemic as well as the migrant crisis, there is widespread hunger being reported from across the country. In such circumstances, it is not enough to just provide the usual supplementary nutrition rather more substantial nutrition needs to be provided for the groups that are covered under the ICDS, including pregnant and lactating mothers, children under six and adolescent girls. We suggest that a comprehensive package of cooked food and dry rations including cereals, pulses, oil and eggs be provided through the period of the pandemic. 
  5. Eggs for children -- Eggs are a crucial source of protein as well as micronutrients, and they go a long way in improving the diets of children. The need to add eggs in hot cooked meals and take home rations has only become all the more pressing in these times. 
  6. Anti-discrimination provisions – The lockdown periods have proven to be a hotbed for myriad forms of discriminations on the basis of caste, class, ethnicity, and religion. There must be an immediate halt to this, and all children must be able to access their due meals. 
We request you to consider these suggestions at the earliest and allow a timely implementation of the same. We would be glad to discuss this further with you, as and when needed.

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