Social Protection and Child Malnutrition in India: Undernutrition remains a silent emergency

India’s impressive economic growth in the post-liberalisation era has been accompanied by a much slower decline in the numbers of undernourished people and has failed to elevate the condition of millions of poor, vulnerable and marginalised people across the country. Vulnerability remains high, new sources of vulnerability have emerged and the needs of those living in poverty have diversified. Despite this scenario, overall social protection spending is low and remains focused on programmes to alleviate chronic poverty, with an overwhelming concentration on rural areas.

Various reviews of different social protection programmes reveal that enormous gaps and challenges remain. Two striking cross-cutting challenges across all social protection programmes are: targeting, coverage and performance; and implementation, coordination, and design.

Social protection has the potential to address the underlying causes of undernutrition – eg, poverty, exclusion and livelihood insecurity. Social protection schemes, therefore, need to include food security. The focus of reforms must now shift to more efficient delivery systems of public services. Better governance is very important for the effective functioning of food-based programmes. Social mobilisation, community participation, and a decentralised approach are necessary in this context. A rights-based approach also plays an important role in improving implementation of development programmes.

Published 2018-09-03

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