In the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which India is a party, India has committed to yielding “adequate nutritious foods" for children. Proper nutritional support is fundamental for children from their birth through adolescence, as it has a profound impact on their ability to grow, learn, and thrive. It is a well-documented fact that chronic malnutrition impairs the physical as well as cognitive development in growing children. The Mid-Day Meal Scheme is a school meal program implemented in 2001 by the Government of India. It was an improvement over the existing nutrition program which guaranteed food grains to children enrolled in Government and Government-aided schools. It has been initiated to address the issue of classroom hunger in school-aged children by providing a cooked meal every day. It is designed to improve the nutritional standing of school-age children nationwide.The program supplies free lunches on working days for children in primary and upper primary classes in government, government aided, local body and alternate innovative education centers.
One of the first surveys on the Mid-Day Meal, by Dreze and Goyal (2003), highlighted several good consequences of the scheme, such as improved attendance rate, child nutrition and social equality. Interviews revealed that the introduction of the MDMS improved not only the attendance of children, but also made them more likely to stay after the lunch break; it has also proved helpful in eradicating hunger. In areas where hunger is endemic, the Mid-Day Meal might be the only thing saving children from chronic malnutrition.The Mid-Day Meal Scheme has played an important role enhancing enrollment, attendance in schools, and in improving socialization among classes. To that effect, it has surely done its part in helping eradicate hunger. Moreover, it gave women the chance to get employed.
The program has undergone many changes since its launch. With the enactment of the National Food Security Act in 2013, the nutritional content of food (calorie and protein content requirement has since been increased for MDMS) has become an integral part of the right to food in the country. Moreover, from the year 2009 onwards the following changes have been made to improve the implementation of the scheme: I. Food norms have been revised to ensure balanced and nutritious diet to children of upper primary group by increasing the quantity of nutritional ingredients II. Cooking cost (excluding the labour and administrative charges) has been revised III.The honorarium for cooks and helpers was paid from the labour and other administrative charges per child per day provided under the cooking cost. Moreover, specific norms for engagement of cookcum-helper have been made.This shows that the scheme is muddled in the game of numbers rather than going into the qualitative aspects of the food served.
Even if the Mid-Day Meal Scheme is an innovative scheme to get children from poor socioeconomic status to enroll for elementary education it has been facing serious problems. This is mainly due to the poor quality of food served because of inadequate infrastructure and adverse impact on children’s health & subsequent. Secondly, the government’s focus is on reach not on quality but quantity. The government only concentrates on statistics as to how many number of schools they are able to cover and provide food. They don't give importance to quality. In fact, most of the children who study in village government schools are very poor and end up eating this as their only meal for the day. There is no one to inspect the quality of the food being served to them.
In Bihar on July 16 20013 23 children lost their lives after eating their Mid-Day Meal due to poisoning because the oil used for cooking was kept in was previously used to store pesticide. There are many such unreported cases where students who eat this meal have reported of dysentery and ill health. So parents and children fearing safety have declined to have food served in these Mid-Day Meals . The MDMS guidelines dictate that the meal should be of good quality, nutritious, tasty, digestible, and varying from day to day to ensure variety in the menu. Moreover, high standards of hygiene and cleanliness are expected to be maintained during the cooking and serving of the meal, along with transparency in accounts. Additionally, states having indulged in diversion of funds meant for the scheme, for instance providing less rice to schools. Another problem related to the Mid-Day Meal Scheme is afflicted with large-scale caste and gender-based discrimination. In some places the upper caste children refuse to eat food cooked by lower class women and backward classes students are made to sit separately from the others.
Lastly, it emerged during the study that though 99 per cent of the schools had facilities for operation of the MDMS, and 97 per cent of them provide cooked meal during most the days, yet in about 11 per cent of the villages, the food was served only a few days a week, while in 2 per cent of the cases, it was served very rarely. In 38 per cent of the cases, the prescribed menu was not followed and the quality of food was also allegedly poor.
HEEALS is directly involved in implementing hand washing with soap in the Mid Day scheme in children’s daily routine. It is working on WASH (water, sanitation and Hygiene) projects in seven states works in slum schools, schools in unauthorized colonies, orphanages and refugee camps. Through spreading education on sanitation and personal hygiene and delivering basic hand washing material, HEEALS is working to increase the attendance rates of pupils in schools, reduce the number of diseases and deaths and improve the health of people across Indian society. Moreover, another HEEALS commitment is to promote children cooperation between genders and castes.
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