The Constitution expressly guarantees the right to be free from hunger and to have adequate food of acceptable quality. Further, it provides for every child’s right to basic nutrition and education.
In reality, a quarter of children in Kenya are physically stunted and only 20 per cent benefit from a minimally acceptable diet. Despite efforts to deliver school feeding in the country, there is still a gap of nine million pupils in public primary schools who do not receive daily meals.
With 51 per cent of the population food-insecure, unaffordable meals result in millions of children learning while hungry. This has negative health, education and economic consequences for children, their families and society.
Malnutrition leads to long-term mental and physical deficiencies, increasing children’s vulnerability to recurring illnesses and infectious diseases. It also increases the chances of suffering complications related to diarrhoea, pneumonia and measles.
Some 17 per cent of adolescent girls in Kenya are underweight, which directly affects their education outcomes and future maternal health. But where a school meals programme is in place, girls stay in school longer and child marriages reduce, as do teenage pregnancies.
Free primary and secondary education does not cover school feeding. This is in conflict with the child’s socioeconomic rights. The government allocates 2.5 per cent of its annual budget to the Constituency Development Fund, which directly reaches some of the poorest people. Committing just 1.5 per cent of that to eradicating hunger would be prudent. Remember, most of today’s political leaders benefitted from the Nyayo School Milk programme of 1979-1998.
School feeding is consistent with the global commitment to realise the Sustainable Development Goals. It will also put Kenya alongside developed and fast-developing countries like India, the US, South Africa, Ghana and Rwanda.
Universal school lunches should be a continuation of the ongoing education reforms. The August 9 elections are a chance to right this wrong.
Ms Njiru is the executive director, of Food for Education. @wawiranjiru