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Opinion

Proper Nutrition: Every Child’s Right

By Clara Tan

Some mothers pick what their children get to eat. Other mothers pick which child to feed and which to die.

This is what the impoverished women in Haiti have to go through almost every day – making grim life-or-death choices in order to keep their children alive. This happens especially when food rationing is stringent and infants die of malnourishment.

Patricia Wolff, executive director of Meds & Food for Kids, witnesses the heart wrenching decisions every time she makes a trip to Haiti. “They try to keep them alive by feeding them, but sometimes they make the decision that this one has to go,” she said.

The problem of child starvation burdens the world.

Martin Luther King Jr. declared in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies.” Sadly, that wish still remains unfulfilled.

According to the World Food Programme, one out of six children –that’s roughly 100 million– is underweight, and poor nutrition causes nearly half the deaths of children under five. That’s not all – a child dies of hunger every six seconds, and hunger now kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

To say that there haven’t been efforts to eradicate hunger and starvation would certainly be unfair. And while progress has been made to ensure proper nutrition for children around the world, we’re still at a place where a child loses his or her right to live because of extreme hunger or malnourishment.

It’s appalling that such numbers exist in a world where technology and globalization have made so many things possible. An article published in The Telegraph in 2013 reveals that children are already using the Internet from the age of three, with some older children accessing eating disorder websites. On the other side of the spectrum, 66 million children of primary school age across the developing world attend classes hungry. Out of that number, 23 million are from Africa.

Adequate nutrition is not only essential for healthy grown but is also a basic pillar for social and economic development. Well-nourished people are able to think intellectually, communicate effectively and contribute to the community. That also leads to other benefits such as women’s empowerment, primary education and health rates.

As someone who only realised the importance of proper nutrition much later when growing up, I can relate to what it’s like being hungry. I remember always weighing on the sad side of the emotional scale and not possessing the ability to perform well in class. The only difference is that I was malnourished by choice, and though it may even sound offensive to compare myself to those starving because of their environment, the point is that starvation does impede a child’s mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.

Jean Ziegler, a well-known Swiss author, politician and former UN food envoy famously claimed that we are all “accomplices creating a world where children starve to death”. He explained his statement in an interview with business journalist Philip Löpfe saying that we indirectly contribute to the starvation numbers by allowing multinational food corporations and speculators to decide “who is eating and living, and who is starving and dying”.

This happens only because the more we consume, the more we take away from those starving. But that’s not to say we should alter our diets drastically. Rather, acknowledge the fact that child starvation exists and all of us can help. Most of all, remember that every child in the world deserves proper nutrition, and none should suffer because of our privilege and ignorance.

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