Malnutrition, illness and abject poverty have taken a severe toll on children in Mumbai’s Rafiq Nagar slum. Situated in a vast dumping ground, swarming with flies, and packed with garbage heaps at every step, the destitute colony has seen a series of child deaths since April this year, even as authorities scramble to ascertain their causes.Seven-month old Asif Sheikh from Rafiq nagar slum died on Tuesday. His death comes less than a week after one-and-a-half-year-old Sahil Sheikh lost his life in the same slum.
Sahil was not able to digest his food properly, officials of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) told The Hindu.
The ICDS ward office has asked for data from the organisation Apna Le, which has been keeping a record of child deaths and malnutrition of 650 houses in the area for the past five years. The Apna Le volunteers have recorded 18 deaths since April of which 10 have been due to malnutrition, said Pushpa Adhikari. There are 429 children in the age group of zero to 5. Of those who have been weighed so far, 25 were found to be in the acute stage, 80 fell in the moderately underweight stage and 143 were normal.
Najmunisa’s four children are in varying stages of malnutrition. Her two-year-old son Mohammad Ahmed falls in the acute stage, weighing only 6 kg instead of the required 8 kg. Her six-day-old daughter weighs 2.5 kg, about 1/2 kg less than the average weight. The pale Najmunisa is herself has a low blood count of 9.5, due to which she cannot undergo family planning operation.
It’s the same story in Asma Sheik’s house and practically every other house in Rafiq nagar. Many of the residents here are migrants, eking out a living as garbage pickers for which they erratically earn around Rs. 3,000 a month.
“During the monsoon there is no work, so we have to take loans to survive,” said Najmunisa. Of the meagre earnings, a large amount is spent on water, which costs about Rs. 40 a drum. Large families subsist on one drum for two days. Asma’s house of five children, for instance, uses the same water for drinking and cooking.
“There are times when for eight days there is no water tanker. So there is no water to cook food,” said an ICDS staff. The extreme squalor gives rise to a host of diseases to against which the children of Rafiq nagar completely lack immunity. Mothers reported that municipal schools refused to admit their wards either without birth certificates or summarily.