Given that the future of a country is dependent on the children, Nigeria risks a bleak feature as it raises generations of children with poor brain development due to malnutrition.
Malnutrition refers to deficiencies or excesses in nutrient intake, imbalance of essential nutrients or impaired nutrient utilisation. The double burden of malnutrition consists of both under-nutrition (stunting and wasting) and overweight (obesity), as well as diet-related non-communicable diseases, says the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The United Nations Children’s Funds (UNICEF), describes stunting as what happens to a child’s brain and body when they don’t get the right kind of food or nutrients in their first 1,000 days of life to two years of age.
However, Nigeria has the highest burden of stunting in Africa and second highest in the world next to India. The country’s current nationwide childhood under-nutrition indicator stands at 37 per cent stunting, seven per cent wasting and 23 per cent underweight (NDHS, 2018).
Worse still, the COVID-19 pandemic and insurgency has deepened the challenge of accessibility to safe and nutritious foods and this has led to malnutrition rates soaring across the country particularly among children.
This exacerbating danger has therefore, stressed the need for the governments to act on commitment to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 – to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030.
SDG 2.1 target is to end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round while goal 2.2. is to end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons.
Meanwhile, a lecturer from the Department of Mass Communication, Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Enugu, Ezinwa, Chidiebere Anthony, said SDGs cannot be realised without fulfilling the rights of children.
Anthony, in his presentation at a media dialogue on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as Child’s Rights, organised by UNICEF in collaboration with the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, in Enugu State, noted that many rights of children are yet to be fulfilled in Nigeria. Hence, Nigeria is far from realising the SDGs.
He, however, identified the existence of poverty as denial of rights, saying poverty is a major factor in the denial of some children’s rights like access to quality education, malnutrition, child marriage, access to health facilities.
He said; ‘Goal 1. No Poverty – 40 per cent or 83 million Nigerians live in poverty. 70.3 percent of Nigerian children live in poverty while 23.3 percent live in extreme poverty.
‘Nigeria is experiencing learning poverty where 70 per cent of 10 year olds in school cannot understand simple sentences or perform basic numeracy tasks.
‘Of the estimated 170 million people living in Nigeria, 75 million do not have basic literacy skills. 10.5 million children are out-of- school, the highest number of out- of -school in the world. One third of Nigerian children are out-of-school, and one in five out-of-school children in the world is a Nigerian. 27 per cent of teachers are not qualified. Teacher pupil ratio of 1:65. 37 per cent classroom shortage.
‘Embedded in each of the SDGs are several rights of children to be fulfilled without which progress would be made in achieving the SDGs,’ he said.
Collaborating with Anthony’s view, nutrition officer, UNICEF Nigeria, Nkeiruka Enwelum, said access to nutritious food is a child’s right, noting that failure to prevent and treat malnutrition can result in long term cognitive and growth impacts.
In her presentation titled Child Malnutrition Situation in Nigeria, Enwelum said malnutrition causes loss of income for households and up to 15 per cent GDP loss for Nigeria.
She said: ‘It costs $15 to prevent malnutrition through the delivery of high impact nutrition interventions. It costs $120 to treat malnutrition through Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition (8times the cost of prevention).’
Highlighting the benefits of nutrition, Enwelum said ‘Early nutrition programme can increase school competition by one year. It can raise adult wages by 5-50 per cent.
‘Children who escape stunting are 33 per cent more likely to escape poverty as adults. Reduction in stunting can increase GDP by 4-11 per cent.’
With just eight years to achieve the SDG goal on nutrition (2030), the government has been urged on the need to save Nigeria’s future