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Who is feeding the children?

For father of three Bauro Tabai, the payment of their monthly rent heralds another week of struggle as he fights to put food on the table for his family from his fortnightly pay.

Work at a local shop on the island of Tarawa is not enough to pay for his family’s needs, says the Banaban native whose island home of Rawaki lies miles away from Tarawa.

“I have moved to Tarawa and am residing in Temaiku to provide my children with a bright future because we have Government services here in Tarawa,” Mr Tabai said.

“On a daily basis malnourished pupils are “filling their pockets” with snacks from school canteens in poor communities due to poverty.”

Mr Tabai’s condition is no different from many Pacific Island countries where the problem of child food poverty is a national problem.

While child food poverty is persistent throughout the world, even in many wealthy countries, the situation is shocking in Pacific Island countries which are already affected by climate change and other developing country issues.

A recent study by UNICEF in the Pacific revealed that 91 per cent of children in Kiribati were malnourished and living in food poverty. This is followed by Samoa at 80 per cent, Tuvalu at 71 per cent, and Tonga at 47 per cent.

The study indicated that the problem is increasing in the Pacific. Child food poverty is a state where young children are not fed the bare minimum number of food groups they need in early childhood.

UNICEF defines children living in food poverty as the percentage of children under five years of age consuming foods and beverages from four or fewer of the eight defined food groups.

Pacific nutrition specialist Pradiumna Dahal said the remedy lies in teaching children good eating habits from birth, ensuring healthy food is affordable, and in restricting the marketing of unhealthy food in the Pacific.

Kids dressed in traditional clothing, celebrating the independence day on Tarawa Island in the the Republic of Kiribati. The nation is considered one of the least developed and poorest countries in the world. Picture: Facebook

“Child food poverty is very high in the Pacific and the highest is Kiribati with 91 per cent, Samoa with 80 per cent, Tuvalu in third with 71 per cent and Tonga at 47 per cent,” he said.

Mr Dahal said the imbalance in intake of healthy food contributed to the triple burden of malnutrition in the Pacific with high under nutrition, high anaemia, and increasing overweight and obesity.

“To reverse this, we need to ensure healthy, affordable and sustainable diets for everyone, particularly children.”

Mr Dahal said the government, in partnership with the private sector, needed to develop clear and easy-to-understand guidance on healthy diets for children and adolescents.

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“More research by academics on what children and adolescents eat and their food choices and are the determinants for healthy and unhealthy diets.

“To caregivers and parents – they must remember that taste buds develop early, therefore interventions should start early at homes within the first years of life and should be reinforced in schools, homes and communities.”

He said children needed to eat healthy food to ensure they were healthy – to prevent malnutrition and other serious diseases in the future.

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