The Unicef report says undernutrition begins at the family planning level
There is a small, shabby house wrapped in plastic sheets beside the Tejgaon rail gate. Four children are playing on a bed inside the house. All of them are around five-years old, but their skinny faces and stunted growth (low height-for-age) make them look like children of two or two and a half years.
One of them, Yasin, a 5-year old boy, lives with his mother Nilufer. She runs her family by selling picked up vegetables from the Kawran Bazar kitchen market. As she lives hand-to-mouth, she has no time to think about necessary nutrition for her son.
"I collect vegetables at night, sell them in the morning and buy basic food like rice and lentil for my family. This is how I spend my whole day," said Nilufer.
Nilufer's husband abandoned her a couple of years ago. She manages her family alone with great difficulty.
"I can hardly serve fish and meat on our plates. I cannot even afford milk or fruits."
Signs of malnourishment are also clearly evident on her face.
Due to poor diet, Yasin suffers from various malnutrition related diseases. He is not serious about studies. It has been two years since he was enrolled in class one at Khukumoni school but he has not completed his first grade yet.
Yasin's playmate Mim is growing up in the care of her grandmother Monowara, 60.
Monowara cooks at a bachelor's home for a living. She somehow manages to buy food for her grand-daughter and herself on her small income. Like Nilufer, she cannot afford anything else other than vegetables either.
"We hardly eat meat or fish," said Monowara.
Like Yasin and Mim, the other slum children are also undernourished and are growing up in an unhygienic environment.
There is no tube-well or toilet near the slum. They have to walk quite far to take a shower at a government tube-well. They do not bathe regularly because of the difficulty in doing so.
A recent report titled "The state of the world's children 2019: Children, food and nutrition" by The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (Unicef) says the number of undernourished children is higher among underprivileged children in Bangladesh.
The Unicef report said that 36 percent of Bangladeshi children suffer from stunted growth. Of them, 49 percent belong to poor families and 20 percent belong to relatively rich families.
Earlier, another Unicef report titled "Child well-being survey in urban areas of Bangladesh 2016" said the number of stunted, wasted (low weight-for-age) and underweight children is higher among urban poor children.
The report also said 30.8 percent children are underweight, 40 percent are stunted, 11.6 percent are wasted in slums under the city corporation areas.
However, the level of undernourishment is lower among non-slum children. Of them, 17.7 percent are underweight, 25.2 percent are stunted and 7.3 percent are wasted.
Nutrition experts say that slum children get nutrients from the carbohydrate group only. They lack sufficient amounts of calcium and protein for normal growth due to poor diet, which means they grow up stunted and wasted.
"Children become stunted when they do not get sufficient nutrition as per their body's demand. Different diseases and unhygienic toilets are also responsible for hindering their growth," said Prof Dr Khursheed Jahan of the Food and Nutrition Institute at Dhaka University.
She further said necessary calories and proteins can be received from cheap diets as well if one knows about the nutritional value of different types of food. Hence, it is necessary to raise awareness about the nutritional value of food.
The Unicef report says undernutrition begins at the family planning level. And the cycle continues. Poor diet affects children from birth to the entire span of their growth age.
The socio-economic condition of the family, and a mother's lack of knowledge about nutritional values of different food groups are also associated with undernutrition in children.
"Not just physical development, psychological growth also gets hindered because of undernutrition," said Tania Sultana Tanwi, a research fellow of the Maternal and Child Division of ICDDRB.
"In some cases, undernutrition has long term effects on children's mental and physical growth. Children also grow-up with different cognitive disorders. They face challenges in concentrating on their studies. Because of this, everyone needs to be aware of necessary nutrition for children," she added.