Welfare society battles child malnutrition in Maharashtra
by Nirmala Carvalho

In the past three years, more than 6,000 children have died from malnutrition in Maharashtra, many from tribal families whose parents were victims of child marriages. A charity created by Fr Elenjimittamin in 1957 is playing a crucial role in providing education and welfare to such “angels in rags”.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The Welfare Society for Destitute Children of the St Catherine of Siena School and Orphanage is holding a two-day “Fight against malnutrition” meeting in the most disadvantaged districts of Maharashtra, the Indian state where Mumbai is located.

“Malnutrition is a serious issue in many districts in Maharashtra,” said the facility’s director, Brother Joseph, speaking to AsiaNews. “As many as 6,582 child deaths occurred over three years from 2019-20 to 2021-22 in 16 tribal districts due to malnutrition,” he noted.

This is based on a report the State government submitted to the Bombay High Court in April 2022, which also indicates that “Out of the total number of children who died due to malnutrition in the last three years, 5,031 belonged to the Scheduled Tribe (ST) group”.

The St Catherine Welfare Society provides assistance to the children of day workers employed in brick kilns in rural inner Maharashtra, as part of a programme called One Teacher One village. This includes midday meals for children to encourage them to come to school and dry rations for mothers.

Fr Anthony Elenjimittamin founded the St Catherine of Siena School and Orphanage in 1957 to help street children. Calling the latter “angels in rags”, he was tireless in his mission to empower them through education and rehabilitation projects.

“Poverty amplifies the risk of malnutrition and education is a way out of the social and economic consequences of malnutrition,” Br Joseph explained.

“Over six decades ago, Fr Elenjimittamin was clearly aware that one of the ways to prevent child marriages was through education, which would lead to financial independence,” he added.

"The data tragically confirm this: as many as 601 cases of malnutrition in children involved parents who were victims of child marriages and mothers who were underage at the time of the child’s birth.”