Mohan, about 18 months old spends most of his day in the crib in his dingy slum at Dharavi. The crib is in the corner of the tiny room which has no light. His mother spends hours in the mornings and afternoons working as a housemaid. Almost the whole day, the child eats biscuits soaked in milk.
Apart from gross ignorance about nutrition (many mothers in Dharavi do not even know the word), SNEHA has to deal with the lack of resources that the women face in the area. While many mothers are compelled to work, there is no real solution for lack of caretakers for children. Mohan’s mother says that she leaves her children to her sister-in-law’s care. This sister-in-law who lives a few rooms away already has four children, one of who is just an infant. One can safely conclude that the children are left to their own devices when the mother steps out.
Many such children of working mothers at Dharavi are susceptible to malnutrition. Children need the care and attention of their mother is always not possible. Many mothers are busy with daily chores and are also working to earn a living by doing off jobs such as selling utensils, embroidery, among others. Few of the other major reasons for malnutrition in children are lack of access to healthcare services, lack of quality of care, lack of good hygienic practices and absence of correct feeding practices.
Sevikas from SNEHA’s day care centres say that approximately 90 percent of the children in the centres belong to working mothers. The day care centres take in children who suffer from severe acute malnutrition and moderate acute malnutrition. In the centre, children learn to eat nutritious food (they are fed milk, fruits and other snacks), and form habits such as hand-washing, toilet training, among others. The children are also taught songs and rhymes and play with each other during the day. Children who stay in day care centres make great improvements in their health and move to their homes with better habits.
Many of these working mothers are not able to breastfeed their children exclusively for six months, let alone feed them breast milk for two years, which is recommended by the World Health Organisation. Many women resort to feeding the children cow’s milk in bottles. The sterilisation of these bottles is also a question. Many working mothers also resort to feeding easy-to-feed food such as biscuits, packaged snacks such as wafers, crispies etc.
There is an acute need for creches for children in Dharavi with its compromised health and lack of care practices.Creches can help a child not only overcome malnutrition but also mentally stimulate him or her. Children need an environment which is safe and stimulates mental and motor development.