Thursday, July 18, 2013

In India Childhood Malnutrition is Compounded by Deadly Corruption

The combination of malnutrition and corruption are proving to be deadly in India. A total of 22 children have died so far from eating a pesticide laced lunch at a Chapra primary school in the rural Indian state of Bihar. Doctors are fighting to save the lives of 25 others. On July 17, the day after the incident, heartbroken parents and their supporters protested the tragic loss of innocent lives outside the school and at a local police station.

The cook complained to the headmistress about the smell and the taste of the food, but she insisted that it be served nonetheless. In response the authorities had suspended a food inspector and are pursuing a criminal case against the school headmistress who fled the scene and is currently being sought. The state has ordered an inquiry and announced that parents of the dead children will receive financial compensation.

The Indian government's free school meals program provides meals for 100 million children. Parents in poorer families depend on these lunches to provide adequate levels of nutrition for their children. The World Bank, statistics indicate that India leads the world with 43 percent of Indian children being underweight. The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has described infant malnutrition levels in India as a "national shame".The government, led by the Congress party, is pushing for an expansion of the country's food subsidy program.

However, more funding may not solve the problem as the lunch program, like so many other segments of Indian society, is plagued by waste and corruption. School meals in India are provided by contractors who commonly source the cheapest ingredients and bribe local officials to turn a blind eye. Sadly this leads to numerous incidents of poisoning, although they rarely lead to death on this scale.

In a 2010 report Nirvikar Singh's report titled "The trillion-dollar question" in The Financial Express indicates that corruption in India is a major issue that adversely affects the nations economy. A 2005 study conducted by Transparency International in India found that more than 62 percent of Indians had firsthand experience of paying bribes or influence peddling to get jobs done in public offices successfully. In its 2008 study, Transparency International reports about 40 percent of Indians had firsthand experience of paying bribes or using a contact to get a job done in public office.

According to Debroy and Bhandari, 2011 report titled "Corruption in India," in the World Finance Review, the state of Bihar has experienced significant improvements in their anti-corruption efforts.

© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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