The findings of a new study (pdf) released last week showing that 42% of children under five in India are malnourished call into question some of the most fundamental assumptions of the development community. Countries like India, with robust GDP rates (last year’s rate was 8%-9%), are not supposed to have stubbornly high malnutrition rates. Functioning democracies with healthy economies and steadily rising per capital income levels are supposed to provide steadily improving conditions for their children. In layman’s terms: rising tides are supposed to lift all ships. But in India, as this study and a host of previous ones – just as devastating – make clear, this is not the case, leading researchers to dub this conundrum the “Asian enigma”. Despite progress on many fronts, India’s high malnutrition rate, low birth weight and maternal mortality rate continue to rival those of sub-Saharan Africa.
When children are born underweight or are malnourished, they are at severe risk of reduced health and mental capacity. These deficiencies cost India, in economic terms alone, an estimated $28bn per year. There is growing evidence that the reason for India’s malnourished children is not just empty pockets – it is, specifically, women’s empty pockets. Women in India have a lower status and therefore less control over resources, both land and money, and consequently do not have the leverage to ensure that their children’s needs are met.
See on www.guardian.co.uk