NEARLY half the world's school children in low and middle-income countries, some 310 million, will sit down to eat a school meal.

India now feeds more than 100 million children; Brazil 48 million; China 44 million; and South Africa and Nigeria each have more than 9 million children. These meals are provided not once, but every day of the school year, and in all these countries, and in all these countries half of the children fed are girls.

IN PAKISTAN, such a programme could help get the 22.6 million Pakistani students/children, who are currently out of school, back to learning and healthy growth and development.

WFP is a global leader in helping to design and implement School Meals Programme. We know that the School Meals Programme not only combat hunger and help provide basic nutrition to children, but they also increase the food security of their families take-home rations.

Provision of school meals increase enrollment and importantly prolong girls' educations. Helping girls stay in school, especially into adolescence, is a powerfully effective way of preventing early marriage and of delaying first pregnancy -

Two outcomes that otherwise can trap women in poverty and ill health, and consequently further widen inequalities. The knock effects of this are otherwise extremely positive for other social development indicators as well for the economy as a whole.

Studies have shown a return to the national economy of $9 for every $1 spent on school feeding.

Food insecurity is rapidly becoming a global challenge where access to affordable, nutritious food is beyond the reach of many. Food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition are spreading to middle-income and developed countries.

WE KNOW that children are the most vulnerable to impacts of food insecurity. WE also know that the future of any country depends on its youth.

Hunger and malnutrition stifle physical and academic growth among children. In India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and on and on, it is well recognised that the problem of stunting among children is one that needs sustained support and intervention.

THAT 40 percent of the children under 5 years old are stunted [low height for their age] and 17.7 percent suffer from wasting [low weight for their height] in the developing world is a travesty given the national food productivity capacities.

WHILE significant investments are being made by all successive governments in the developing world, more needs to be done - and quickly - in order to protect the future of all developing world countries.

TAKE THE CASE OF PAKISTAN : A further challenge that the country faces is the fact that Pakistan has the world's second highest number of out-of-school children.

IT IS ESTIMATED that 44 percent [ 22.8 million ] of children aged 5-16 do not attend school. In the younger age 5-9 age group, 5 million children are not enrolled in schools. The number more than doubles to over 11 million among adolescents aged 10-14.

WHEN broken down by gender, nearly 10.7 million boys and 8.6 millions girls are enrolled in primary school, although the numbers drop significantly to 3.6 million boys and 2.8 million girls entering secondary school.

These statistics are illustrative of the multidimensional impact of poverty. However, there is a solution that has been proven around the world that can address these interconnected issues.

SCHOOL MEALS PROGRAMME address multiple impacts : These programmes are globally recognized as the most effective tool that can support the nutritional health and wellbeing of children.

The Publishing of this very important essay continues. The World Students Society thanks Chris Kaye, Country Director of the World Food Programme


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