Childhood Malnutrition and Poverty:
The Baha'i Perspective
First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #104
Centre for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy
July 9–12, 2011
(see list of papers from #104)
Despite advances in agriculture and medicine over the last century, over 3.9 million children under 5 die each year as a direct result from hunger and malnutrition. Millions more are permanently affected. While malnutrition clearly debilitates the health of a child and warrants the attention of the medical community, chronic hunger remains a social illness. Abdu'l-Baha says "where we see poverty allowed to reach a condition of starvation, it is a sure sign that somewhere we shall find tyranny". The Baha'i Writings address many social problems in the context of justice. A just society is one that recognizes the extreme of poverty and hunger as not merely an economic issue, but a social one. Justice harnesses the extremes of poverty and starvation through an ethical framework that synergizes law, economic redistribution, and equality in order to eradicate corruption that often provokes malnutrition.
Through examination of the Baha'i Writings, this paper will explore childhood hunger in China. Much of China's success in nutritional status improvements can be attributed to rapid development, including in the economic, technological and agricultural sectors. Along with these extraordinary gains, however, a divide still exists between rural and urban areas, and the coexistence of malnutrition and obesity among children in China is becoming more prevalent. Recent surveys by the Chinese Ministry of Health signify that while rates of childhood malnutrition have decreased by half since the 1990's, rates of childhood obesity are steadily increasing. Micronutrient deficiencies, such as iron and Vitamin A, remain widespread in rural areas.
Notwithstanding the continued challenges China will face in the decades to come, the improvement of the health and nutritional status of China has been unprecedented. As such, China stands out as an outstanding example of continued support for nutrition and health intervention programs promoting economic development and vice-versa. Good nutrition provides a society with a firm foundation to poverty reduction, and Baha'is must respond to this challenge by using justice as a guide.
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