Child Marriage That Can Ruin Generations for Years
It is said that malnutrition is a cycle that begins when a child is born continue till birth of another child. One can fall prey to malnutrition at any stage. Story of Manjha Adivasi of Madhopura village in Pohari block of Shivpuri district substantiates this statement. Manjha was barely 16 years old when she got married to Kamal in the year 2009. It was a child marriage. Kamal used to work as a labourer to earn bread and butter.
Manjha conceived within a year after her wedding. She gave birth to a girl child in a government hospital on 25.7.2011. Ensuring institutional delivery was the prime focus of Madhya Pradesh government at that time. Manjha’s daughter was barely 1.5 kgs in weight at the time of her birth. Doctors were in shock after seeing her condition. When doctors interrogated Manjha to know the reason behind it, they discovered that she did a lot of physical work as a labourer across her pregnancy. She neither underwent any medical check nor did she consume iron tablet even once during her pregnancy. Manjha was barely 18-year-old when she gave birth to her first child. According to Annual Health Survey (2010-11) total 46% girls of age 15-19 years were either pregnant or mothers in Madhya Pradesh. Probably Manjha was among them. Her severely malnourished girl child was named Kajal by the family.
There are multiple miconceptions related to feeding breast milk to children among Saharias. The colostrum (first form of milk produced by mammary gland) is not considered good for the consumption of newborn by the Saharias. Another misconception is till a certain period after delivery the new mother is consider as untouchable and during this period there will be no milk production in her mammary gland. She can feed a the newborn only after taking a bath after a certain period of time. All these misconception prevailing among the community deprived Kajal from getting first milk of her mother. With the help of local social workers she was admitted in nearby Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) and somehow her life was saved.
In 2015 Manjha conceived again and gave birth to her second child, this time a baby boy Shivraj. This delivery was also conducted in government hospital and the child weighed 2.5 kgs. Manjha fails to recall whether she fed Shivraj with the breast milk after his birth. Her second child was also malnourished, hence, was admitted in NRC.
Though, Saharias have started trusting NRCs but they are still not ready to opt family planning. Manjha conceived again after an year and this time her condition was even worse. When she gave birth to her third child, the entire family was on migration in search of work. Most of the Saharias move to Rajasthan for work and living conditions there are extremely concerning. They neither get support of their community there nor proper medical intervention. In such negative circumstances Manjha gave birth to her 3rd child – a girl- on 18.12.2016. The child was so weak that she couldn’t survive for even 2 weeks and died on the 12th day of her birth.
Amidst all this a community based malnutrition management programme was initiated in Manjha’s village. Saharias were taking a lot of interest in it. In 2018 Manjha conceived again. When social workers and Anganwadi workers met Manjha they realized that her condition is extremely critical. She weighed barely 40 kgs and her haemoglobin was even worse only 5.5 grams. She was severely anaemic. The social workers and Anganwadi workers decided to pay extra attention on her condition.
Initially she underwent check up at Community Health Centre of Pohari block. Doctors at the centre gave her a syrup and a few tablets of vitamins. They asked her to visit CHC for check up in every 3 months. Apart from it workers must visit her home every month to analyse her condition. Nutritious food and iron tablets were also prescribed to her.
On March 8, 2018 Manjha gave birth to her 4th child at CHC. This time her child was way heathier and weighed 2.6 kgs. He was not malnourished and also received first milk of her mother as well.
Though, the child survived but there are plenty of questions that are still answered. When this cycle of malnutrition end. Why family planning is not preferred even after giving birth to 3 children? Will migration ever stop? Everytime this much struggle would be needed to save lives of newborns and if this is going to continue, how many children can be actually saved? Can community find a concrete way to save all these lives by initiating themselves?
Pix for representation only