Child in Need Institute

By Ciara Leeming for Child in Need Institute

Child malnutrition is a serious problem in India, where 43% of under-fives are underweight despite booming economic growth. Yet this is not a health problem, but a social one. Its roots can be traced to early marriage and large families, the low status of women and poor education.

Girls are frequently in poor health. They often give birth to low-weight babies, which they may struggle to breastfeed, and may quickly fall pregnant again. Healthy, empowered women raise healthier children.
The NGO Child in Need Institute (CINI) works to improve the life chances of mothers and children in the state of West Bengal. For eight years its project in Pailan, 15km from Kolkata, has run a weekly children’s clinic and emergency ward for the most severely malnourished.

I am a writer, and had visited a separate CINI project in Kolkata’s red light district for a magazine article I was working on, when I was offered the chance to attend this clinic and to photograph what went on. I have to admit that I was shocked by what I saw – dozens of tiny babies, with twiggy legs, bony heads and baggy skin. I had not realised the extent of this malnutrition crisis.

I was also humbled by the dedication and care of CINI’s doctors and nurses, who weighed and checked the children, gave them injections and advised mothers on nutrition and family planning. Pregnant women were also given health checks, and in the most severe cases, children and their mothers were admitted to stay with CINI until they were out of danger.

This is essential work and improves many lives. State hospitals won’t admit malnourished children for treatment because they are not sick, they are simply underweight. Without CINI and other groups like them, many more children would die.


Photographer: Ciara Leeming / amateur

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Award Year: 2009

Non Profit: Child in Need Institute

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