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Updated: July 26, 2013 01:22 IST

Card-holders to a sorry childhood

Deepa Kurup
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Cry for help: Barely 4 kg, 14-month-old Khadeeja Kubra has been identified as ‘severely underweight’. Her mother Yasmin is pregnant and rarely leaves her house.
Cry for help: Barely 4 kg, 14-month-old Khadeeja Kubra has been identified as ‘severely underweight’. Her mother Yasmin is pregnant and rarely leaves her house.

With no BPL cards or subsidised healthcare, many young D.J. Halli residents are malnourished

The death of a five-year-old malnourished child in Devarajeevanahalli (D.J. Halli) last week sparked debate, and some introspection, on the failure of the many welfare measures that the State extends to children like Meghala, and their impoverished families.

Discourse in the State legislature and official reaction played up the fact that pneumonia was the medical cause for the girl’s death, sweeping under the rug the fact that like hundreds others, Meghala, with her physical disabilities, and her visually-impaired mother did not have a below the poverty line (BPL) card, disability pension or subsidised healthcare, to help deal with infections such as pneumonia that claimed the life of this 11-kg girl.

And, that by no means was her story extraordinary or one that shocked residents of her locality, one of the poorest in the city.

Not a unique case

Just three lanes away from Meghala’s house lives 14-month-old Khadeeja Kubra. Barely touching 4 kg, she has been identified by her local anganwadi as ‘severely underweight’. The anganwadi encourages her mother, Yasmin (22), to bring her there twice-a-week for eggs and milk, but Ms. Yasmin who is pregnant, says she barely leaves her one-room house.

Unlike other children her age, Khadeeja hasn’t turned over, sat up or crawled. While the doctors have yet to classify her as ‘disabled’, her wiry legs indicate she has a long way to go before she can find the strength to stand.

The child’s medical bills run into Rs. 500 a week, says Ms. Yasmin. Her husband, a security guard, earns Rs. 4,000 a month; but they don’t yet have a BPL card. She claims she has applied a few times, but it hasn’t come through.

She gets 2 kg of rice and semolina once in two months from the health camp — an incentive for mothers to get children screened — which lasts them a week. “We have no help from the government. The anganwadi people are helpful, but except for the health camp, we have no medical help. They tell me getting a BPL card will help,” she says.

Ignored

At least two court-appointed committees on malnutrition have recommended, in reports submitted to the High Court in 2011 and 2012, that families of malnourished children automatically be given BPL cards. But a random survey of malnourished children in half-a-dozen of the 23 anganwadis in D.J. Halli and S.K. Garden proves that a substantial section of them have no access to food subsidies.

Take for instance, 25-year-old Salma’s family. With two malnourished children — Yasin (5) who weighs 7 kg and his brother Sufian (4) weighing 7.5 kg — their home has no BPL card. Ms. Salma is not sure if the severe malnourishment triggered their disability, but a year ago, they were certified as having mental disabilities and were partially blind. Several studies have shown links between early malnutrition and disabilities.

Their father, an autorickshaw driver, earns Rs. 6,000 a month, but Ms. Salma says they’re perennially in debt trying to meet the medical expenses. “Every hospital tells us medicines will be cheaper if we have a BPL card, but how many times do we apply?”

Worrying numbers

The number of severely underweight children at each anganwadi (among those visited) ranges between 7 and 18. Following the High Court order, health camps have identified many malnourished children, who are now being monitored at the anganwadi, says a teacher. According to her estimates, anganwadis in D.J. Halli and S.K. Garden wards account for well over 200 of the 2,695 malnourished children in the city (as per the BBMP’s submission in December last year).

“The High Court’s directions have not been complied with by the government,” says Clifton Rozario, member of the government’s committee and another one headed by Justice N.K. Patil, adding Meghala’s death is a grim reminder of the vulnerable situation that malnourished children are in and their shocking proximity to death in the face of non-intervention by the government.

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