Two-year-old Vennela passed away in Anantapur district on Sunday, because of malnutrition and starvation. Unable to tolerate hunger, the child reportedly ate soil, which led to her death. Vennela was being raised by her aunt Nagamani, who lives with her husband, mother and children in the Hamali Quarters area of Kummaravandlapalle village, Kadiri Mandal.
Nagamani and her husband Mahesh had migrated to Kadiri about ten years ago from Bagepalli Mandal, Chikballapur district in Karnataka. Both of them had been doing daily wage work to support their five children, Nagamani’s mother, and Nagamani’s sister’s daughter, Vennela.
The couple’s 3-year-old son Santosh had also died of malnutrition about 6 months ago. According to the police, neighbours say that both the children had eaten mud out of hunger.
“The family doesn’t have a proper house. They had been living in a makeshift structure. The parents had buried the children close to this structure after their deaths,” said A Ismail, Inspector, Kadiri Rural. The incident was brought to the attention of Kadiri Rural SI Venkataswamy by residents of the neighbourhood.
Officials allege parental neglect
Inspector A Ismail said that the children were not provided with sufficient care and nutrition by the parents. “The mother, father and grandmother are all alcoholics. They would not cook regularly. They would not feed the children properly,” said Ismail.
District Medical and Health Officer KVNS Anil Kumar told TNM that the children were abandoned by both their parents. "We still have not been able to trace the father. The children used to live with the grandmother as the mother was out most times. Our ANMs (Auxiliary nurse midwives) had given them vaccinations but should have taken a comprehensive approach to avoid this. No postmortem was done but we can conclude its a case of malnutrition due to hunger."
Kadiri Revenue Divisional Officer T Ajaya Kumar conducted an inquiry into the incident on Wednesday on Anantapur District Collector’s directions. The report, too, states that Mahesh’s “wife and mother-in-law are habitual drinkers... They did not look after the children properly. They did not cook food for the children and almost neglected them day in and day out.”
Referring to Vennela’s death, the report says, “This baby was also utterly neglected by Nagamani and her mother. Subsequently, the baby’s health deteriorated in a few days and even in that condition also, neither Nagamani nor her mother informed the local ANM or Health Worker or took the baby to the local hospital for immediate medical treatment.”
Since the incident was brought to light through the police and local media, the RDO has claimed that action is being taken to provide the family with a ration card (preferably an Antyodaya Anna Yojana card for families Below Poverty Line) and job cards for Mahesh and Nagamani, so that they can find employment under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. According to reports, the couple had been having difficulty finding work regularly.
Failure of child welfare programs?
Balala Hakkula Sangham, a child rights NGO, has written to the National Human Rights Commission demanding justice for the children and action against government officials responsible for the deaths.
“It’s the government’s responsibility to ensure that information about child welfare schemes reaches parents. Not everyone is aware of them. They have introduced schemes like Balamrutham but these are not implemented properly. This is a major lapse in the state’s child welfare program,” said Achyuta Rao, President, Balala Hakkula Sangham.
According to Inspector Ismail, none of the family members had Aadhaar cards. Without an Aadhaar card, the children could not have had access to food at the local Anganwadis. But the RDO insists that only two of the children do not have Aadhaar cards, and the rest of the children, including Santhosh and Vennela, had access to food at the local Anganwadi centre.
Rehabilitation for the family
The couple had also lost a daughter due to ill health about a year ago. They are now left with 4 children. Three of these children, an 8-year-old boy, and a 7-year-old girl and a 6-year-old girl are currently being taken care of by the local Anganwadi Centre. According to the RDO, the three children have been produced before the Child Welfare Committee and shifted to a shelter home on behalf of the Integrated Child Protection Scheme and Integrated Child Development Services department.
A medical check-up has reportedly shown Nagamani and her one-year-old daughter to be anaemic. Officials plan to admit the mother and child to the Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre, following which the child will be sent to a Sishu Sadan Kendram, while Nagamani and her mother will be admitted to a de-addiction centre. The RDO has said that once the two women complete their de-addiction program, they will be held responsible for the children’s deaths, and charged with child abuse and cruelty against children.
While some of these remedial measures by district officials might help Nagamani and Mahesh’s family in dealing with their condition of extreme poverty, Santhosh and Vennela’s deaths are an alarming manifestation of family, society and the state neglecting and failing its children.