India’s tribal peoples – continue to remain the most nutritionally deprived social groups in the country. It is undeniable that their deprivation is influenced by a cobweb of factors ranging from poverty and hunger due to loss of forest land and livelihood, poor re-habitation measures, poor reach and quality of essential food and nutrition services during critical periods of life, geographical remoteness, weak governance and inadequate accountability mechanisms.
More than half of adivasi children under five years of age in India are stunted and fail to meet their potential for growth and development. Child stunting is potentially the biggest threat to children’s growth and development. Stunted children have stunted bodies, stunted brains and stunted lives.
Stunted children are more likely to fall ill, fall behind in class and when they start work, do not perform as well and earn less than their non-stunted peers. At UNICEF, we are united in our belief that all children, the world over, have the same growth and development potential.
We also firmly believe that each of us has a moral obligation to do more to support every child to realize his/her full development potential and more so to those who are most deprived. UNICEF India is, therefore, marshalling a series of efforts to unmask, voice and address nutrition deprivation among India’s adivasi children.
This publication, the first of its kind, is among these efforts and aims to re-open public discourse around drivers of nutrition disparities between adivasi and nonadivasi children, synthesize affirmative action policies and national programmes, and present solutions.
Nutrition and Adivasis urges public servants and practitioners to make ‘nutrition of adivasis’ a priority, and encourages inter-ministerial coordination and accountability to ensure reach and coverage of essential nutrition interventions in adivasi-dominated blocks/pockets, which couple livelihood with nutrition promotion, establish partnerships with grassroots organizations and community collectives, and use disaggregated adivasi nutrition data.
Importantly, the measures should include supporting strict vigilance against poor legislative enforcement protecting adivasi land and forest, and investing in adivasi leadership to give them a voice to safeguard their children’s health and future.
I hope that this publication will encourage all stakeholders to support and adopt proven services and nutrition practices that will help adivasi children grow and develop to their full potential.
Louis Georges Arsenault
Representative, UNICEF India