Deep-seated patriarchy in the Karnali is one of the reasons for widespread malnutrition among children. Girls are married off early. Their bodies have not fully developed when they give birth. Children raise children.
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The teenage mothers suffer from anaemia, malnutrition and have low birth-weight babies. This leads to a cycle of malnutrition: mothers give birth to stunted infants.
The Karnali has the highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the country with 54.5% of children undernourished. Despite poor nutrition, only 47% of women receive antenatal care and only half the children get a nutritious diet.
One of the mothers here is Basanti BK, whose husband left to work in an apple farm in India promising to send his pregnant wife money. Seven months have passed and she has not heard from him.
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Basanti was married at 14 and was pregnant soon after. “I did not know what to eat, there was no one to tell me, until I went to the health post. The fortified cereal gave me strength,” Basanti says. She also feeds it now to her nine-month son.
Ishara and Bindu BK were also married in their early teens, and now have three children each, whom they are raising singly since their husbands are away. To earn extra money, they break stones by the highway even when pregnant and after delivery. Bindu’s six-year-old daughter looks after her baby sister while she works.
“When I took my daughter for her first check-up, they said she was malnourished and to feed her the nutritious flour,” said Bindu, and after three months her baby is gaining weight and is healthy.
Most women like Basanti, Bindu and Ishara in the Karnali are single mothers because their husbands are away. Besides raising babies, they do all the household chores, farm, collect fodder, and also work to earn money. They face discrimination from in-laws.
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