A few months ago our 40 year-old maid came back to work after her approximately 40 days maternity leave. She had started work again in the homes of our community, leaving her newly born child at home. My mother asked who would look after the child in her absence and she said her elder daughter would. It was shocking to hear that her baby was being given powdered milk and liquid tea whitener, instead of breast milk.

Being a child right’s activist, I had some understanding about the issues of children and have been sharing them with my family. They tried to sensitise her about the nutritional needs of a child, especially a newly born child.

This is the unfortunate situation in Pakistan, where we are the biggest producers of wheat, rice, milk, meat and fruit and vegetables, yet the common man cannot provide children with nutritious milk for babies, purchasing powered milk instead.

Estimated shows the terrible effect of malnourishment prevalent amongst children in Pakistan in general, and in Punjab in particular. According to an estimate, 300,000 Pakistani children die each year due to malnutrition and millions of Pakistani children have bodies that are diseased, stunted and wasted through sheer lack of food and nutrition.

If our state could shows some commitment, it will not be difficult to provide an adequate system for chid survival and development. There are so many examples where the state has intervened and enforced the laws to change behaviour and practices, from marriages function being banned after 10 pm and the prohibition of kite flying for public safety. Initiatives to promote nutrition and to ensure food security require not budgetary allocation but the commitment from the state functionaries.

Article 9 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan guarantees the citizens of this country, right to life, and the superior courts have dynamically interpreted right to “life” to include a number of natural and legal rights under the umbrella of Article 9, such as the right to a clean environment; the right to electricity the right to travel, the right to education with sports facilities, the right to a livelihood etc.

Our legislators have not shown a commitment to the provision of ‘right to life’ according to Article 9. Pakistan is among the countries with the highest proportion of under-18 children (various estimated figures put the under 18 population from 36% to 52% of the population). According to an estimate 300,000 children succumb to death each year due to direct/indirect effects of malnourishment. According to National Nutrition Survey 2011, 35% of all deaths of children under 5 are attributable to malnutrition, directly or indirectly. It is estimated that 40% of all Pakistanis live below the “poverty line”, meaning thereby that they live on less than the required recommended nutritional intake of 2,350 calories per person a day or under “a dollar a day” as defined by the International Poverty Line guideline. According to Scaling Up Nutrition-Civil Society Alliance “Maternal malnutrition increases the risk of poor pregnancy outcomes including obstructed labour, premature or low-birth-weight babies and postpartum haemorrhage. Severe anaemia during pregnancy is linked to increased mortality at labour.”

Among our neighbours, due to the intervention of Supreme court in the result of a famous case People’s Union for Civil Liberties v/s Union of India & Others, India introduced right to food as a part of its Fundamental Rights and the National Food Security Act 2013. This legislation ensured the provision of adequate food at affordable prices to the poor in country. Some of its provisions include provision of subsidised food grain, a Midday Meal Scheme to schoolchildren and wheat grain of five kilograms per person per month, covering both rural and urban areas. According to this law, children 6 months to 14 years are entitled to receive free hot meals or “take home rations”; the same provision is made for pregnant women and lactating mothers.

In 2013 in the Punjab a law was promulgated namely “Protection of Breast-Feeding and Child Nutrition (Amendment) Act 2012”, The purpose was to encourage breast feeding and discourage formula milk, But unfortunately the law could not be enforced and not a single violator of this law could be made liable. Formula milk is easily available, easily prescribed, happily advertised and glamorised, and even literate families prefer to buy formula milk.

To empower the general public with relevant knowledge and to ensure that knowledge of nutrition should go beyond that of doctors, nutritionists, and healthcare workers to everyone in society through education, the media under The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance 2002, has to ensure that 10% of total transmission time of relevant licensees is devoted to public interest issues especially for the benefit of children and parents/mothers.

We have yet to legislate to promote and to take appropriate measures for fortified Atta (wheat flour) with vitamins/minerals including iron, vitamin A, zinc and Vitamin D. Legislations and bills related to universal salt iodization are pending with provincial governments and children are at risk of goitre, hypothyroidism, loss of energy, as well as infertility in females, intellectual impairment and gastric cancer.

It is pertinent for our coming generations that our provincial and national governments take immediate steps and increase allocations to high-impact interventions that address stunting, wasting, anaemia, Iodine deficiency disorders and exclusive breastfeeding as soon as possible to ensure the fundamental right of life for Pakistani citizens.