Many parents said their children are not starving but are being deprived of protein-rich foods such as eggs, which were a regular part of their daily meals until schools closed last year.

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“We don’t eat as many eggs at home as we used to regularly at school. Okkosari (now and then), we can eat eggs now, ”said eight-year-old Siddu Nayak while playing with friends in the abandoned Dameracheruvu Thanda, a tribal village in Telangana’s Medak district. Dameracheruvu Thanda has a primary school with over 30 students in grades 1-5. While the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the education of students in different departments due to the online shift, it is a double blow to children like Siddu, who come from vulnerable departments and depend on protein and other nutritious foods, which are provided by state schools and dormitories as part of the lunch offer.

TNM visited a few locations in Siddipet, Medak, Kamareddy and Nizamabad districts and spoke to government students aged 6-14 and their parents to understand how the lunch break has continued to affect them since March 2020. Many parents said their children are not starving but are being deprived of protein-rich foods such as eggs, which were a regular part of their daily meals until schools closed last year.

Global, nearly 370 million child feeding was affected by the closure of schools in January 2021, according to a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The report found that India, with approximately 100 million children, has the greatest number of beneficiaries who take lunch at school for the critical source of protein and other nutrients that, among other deficiencies and diseases, helps prevent stunted growth and anemia. It stated, “The educational and nutritional disruptions caused by school closings will have long-term consequences if not properly managed.”

Lunch will benefit over 27 lakh students

Telangana has over 30,000 state schools, including 3,436 boarding schools. Around 28 lakh students (46.1%), most of whom come from the weaker classes, study in publicly funded schools. The state has 886 residential welfare schools where many students from Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST), Other Backward Classes (OBC), minority and economically weaker sections receive free education with free boarding school.

The Telangana government allocates 6.50 rupees per day to every student in grades 6-10 (11 years old to 15 years old) and around 4.35 rupees per day to every student between grades 1 and 5 (6 years old to 10 years old). According to Telangana Socio-Economic Outlook 2021 report, up to 27.8 lakh students are covered by the lunch program, which is much less than 22.5% of the children under the age of 15 in the state.

As part of the lunchtime meal, each student is given lunch that includes vegetables and rice each day and three eggs (a source of protein) per week. The social schools offer a different menu that includes eggs and vegetables as well as meat such as chicken and mutton.

The effects of not eating lunch

“We eat an egg once a week or chicken once every 10-15 days. It was different in welfare school. We used to have eggs and meat on our menu regularly, ”said a grade 10 student from Rameshwarpally Village, Kamareddy District, who is now attending class online.

“It’s not that we don’t have eggs or meat in our diet after the pandemic starts,” said K Soundarya, mother of a grade 6 student from Rampur, Siddipet district. “If the government had continued distributing eggs and other nutritional supplements, as it is doing for nursing mothers and children under 5, the children would have benefited.”

As part of the ArogyaLaxmi program, the government of Telangana a full meal (Rice, vegetables, dal and curry) to pregnant women, nursing mothers and their babies for at least 25 days and a boiled egg and 200 ml of milk for 20 days a month to avoid malnutrition. While the Anganwadi centers remain closed due to the pandemic, workers have provided nursing mothers and pregnant women with the necessary food, eggs and milk.

“Many families cannot afford to give a child three eggs in a week. Children from such families would definitely have a nutritional deficiency that was prevented by eating at school earlier, ”added Soundarya.

According to Dr. SubbaRao M Gavaravarapu, a scientist at the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) Hyderabad, lunch meals provide about a third of a child’s daily nutritional needs. “If a child is deprived of nutrition, be it due to a lack of lunch or a general lack of food intake, it will certainly have short- and long-term effects. Malnutrition could be

lead to chronic lack of energy and impair the growth spurt in adolescence. Children may experience stunted growth. These can have long-term health effects and even affect their future productivity, “he said, adding,” Inadequate nutrition can also affect children’s cognitive levels in terms of understanding, reading, and learning. “

Students in progress

Amid the lack of proper nutrition, many children engage in physically demanding activities in order to earn extra income from the job losses caused by the pandemic. Most of these students come from vulnerable families who depend on daily wages.

The case of 13-year-old D. Rakshitha showed that children are not only deprived of nutritious food, but are also forced into “passive child labor”. An 8th grade student at the Tribal Welfare Residential School in Medak, Rakshitha is among the students who were forced to vacate the hostel and return home when the lockdown was announced. I come from an agricultural area

Family, she has now joined her family to sow rice seedlings on her one-acre farm because of the monsoons.

“Studies are affected anyway because it has become difficult to listen to online courses on cell phones,” said Rakshitha, who took online courses on her father or cousin’s cell phone, which she only occasionally accesses Has.

In her boarding school she was given milk, snacks, eggs, chicken once a week and mutton twice a month. “We are unable to get the kind of food and supplements we used to get in residential school,” Rakshitha told TNM.

67% of girls between the ages of 11 and 16 attend state schools, which shows that they are Main beneficiary of the lunch menu.

During TNM’s visit, many children under the age of 15 were seen grazing cattle, sheep or working on farms.

Chiguru Lingam, a 13-year-old, was seen grazing a flock of sheep near Chittapur of Dubbak, Siddipet district, holding a long stick in one hand and a tin can in the other. The boy told TNM that he took his hour-long online course at home on a smartphone and looked after the sheep until his father took over the lead.

Why the government has to offer lunchtime meals

Isidore Philips, director of Divya Disha Childline, a children’s rights organization, noted that children’s right to food and nutrition was the most neglected aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Quitting lunch is a grave violation of the right to food and a huge mistake,” he said. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the fundamental right to life and personal freedom. This should be read in conjunction with Article 47, which directs states to improve the nutritional and living standards of their populations and public health.

“The government should consider it (lunches) as a separate part of the pandemic. If a child is enrolled in school they should get nutritious food, if not the government should at least make sure that something like dietary supplements are delivered to them at home, ”Isidore said, adding that state schools are in some way with the community Students should get in contact “because the school is not only a place of learning, but also a social authority.”

In March 2020, just a few days after the start of the pandemic, Supreme Court from India, who noted the closure of the suo motu lunch program, said: “Failure to provide nutritious food to children can lead to widespread malnutrition. Especially children in rural as well as in tribal

Areas are prone to such malnutrition. ”The top court ordered state governments to formulate uniform policies that would not adversely affect the program and provide nutritious foods to children. Then states like Kerala tried to address the concerns by arranging alternative measures to supplement the nutritional deficiency.

UNICEF also recommends home delivery of rations, money transfers or meal vouchers, but noted that these are not long-term solutions. “The safe reopening of schools should be a priority as schooling and nutrition provision are more cost-effective and have been shown to provide significant educational and health benefits,” the report said.

TNM reached out to the director of the Department of Education to see if the Telangana government is planning or planning measures such as compensatory alternative diets. So far, however, there has been no response from the office.