"Six days I would eat, then the next six days I wouldn't eat at all," 9-year-old Roshan tells Al Jazeera. The tiny girl grew up on a diet of 600 calories per day, not even half as much as a child her age should receive.
Across India, millions of children like Roshan suffer from starvation -- making malnutrition more common in the Asian country than in sub-Saharan Africa, Al Jazeera reports. Every second a child under the age of 3 is underfed, according to the network.
India does have welfare systems aimed to aid millions of the hungry; school meals theoretically feed poor children across the country, and the Anganwadi services provide support to mothers in every district. Yet the services are plagued by mismanagement and corruption, Al Jazeera reports. School meals carry worms and insects in them, children told Al Jazeera, and the Aganwadi centers are often closed and dysfunctional.
In the Indian province of Madhya Pradesh, 60 percent of children are malnourished -- the highest percentage in the world. According to Al Jazeera, many villages survive on roots and grass. In one of the towns the network visited, children fed themselves on seeds found in cow manure. "They just wash the cow dung and get the seeds out of it," says legal advocate Sachin Jain. "They can't find these seeds fresh in the forest." Jain blames government neglect for chronic hunger.
According to UNICEF, a third of the world's malnourished children live in India. A new report by the Naandi Foundation concluded that around 46 percent of all children below the age of three are too small for their age, 47 percent are underweight and at least 16 percent are acutely malnourished, or wasted.
UNICEF explains that child malnourishment has devastating consequences. Not only is hunger responsible for about 50 percent of all childhood deaths, but also has tragic long-term effects:
Malnourished children have lowered resistance to infection, they are more likely to die from common childhood ailments like diarrheal diseases and respiratory infections; and for those who survive, frequent illness saps their nutritional status, locking them into a vicious cycle of recurring sickness, faltering growth and diminished learning ability.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has publicly addressed the epidemic, calling child malnutrition "a national shame," according to the BBC, but widespread hunger remains an unwavering problem for the Asian country.