Who will buy milk for school children?

Geoffrey D. Obbo

What you need to know:

The government of Uganda must provide food like milk for school children to enhance their nutrition and education

The government has in the past weeks stated that it would roll out a school feeding programme in the districts of Wakiso, Mukono, and Kampala. Under the programme, it will be compulsory for parents to pay schools to provide milk for their children. This programme will also be rolled out to the rest of the country next year.

However, the proposal has been met with skepticism from the public, school administrators, and Uganda National Teachers’ Union. 

The criticism stems from whether parents, who are already struggling to pay school fees in the current economic situation, can manage to pay an additional school fee for milk.

First, the government should be credited for considering the nutrition of children as critical. A school feeding programme in Uganda would help address several health challenges.

A 2018 survey by the Global Child Nutrition Foundation indicates that of the 14 million school-going children only about 3 million (about 21 percent) were getting meals at school.

Children in Uganda face several health challenges such as stunting, HIV/Aids, and malnutrition, among others where feeding habits and routines are critical interventions.

However, who bears the responsibility to feed children in schools? Is it the government or parents? Under The Education (Pre-Primary, Primary, and Post-Primary) Act, 2008, parents and guardians have the primary responsibility to provide food for children in school. This can be called the general rule, how about in situations where parents and guardians cannot provide adequate food for the children?  Who has the responsibility?

Our Constitution provides that children have a right to basic education and puts this responsibility on the state and the parents of the child. Does this right and its responsibilities only end with having UPE and USE? No, it doesn’t extend to ensuring that children have adequate food and proper nutrition in school.

Several international organisations such as FAO, and UNICEF have established the link between education and food. They have stated that hunger and malnutrition impair children’s learning abilities and may lead to dropouts and thus undermining their right to education.

A recent South African court judgment (2020) has stated that school nutrition is a component of the right to education and that the State is obliged to ensure that children are accorded the protection that is required when the implementation of the right is lacking.

One can safely conclude that the government of Uganda must provide food like milk for school children to enhance their nutrition and education which parents cannot afford to do.

In school feeding, including the most recent “milk” programme, more key questions should be put to the responsible authorities.For instance, how will the government make milk more accessible and affordable for schools in non-milk-producing areas? What are the guidelines to be used in identifying persons who are vulnerable and can’t afford milk and other school food? What are the standards for the milk to be provided for students in schools? What are the procurement guidelines for the milk? What monitoring framework will be used to track whether the programme is achieving its desired outcomes? Will milk be the only nutritious food to be promoted in schools?

Also the school feeding programme must follow a human rights-based approach. It should be aimed at promoting a healthy and safe school food environment, integrating food and nutrition in the school curriculum, inclusive procurement and value chains, and creating an enabling legal environment to enhance proper nutrition in schools.

Government should not leave the burden of school feeding to parents as this would be a violation of its constitutional obligation under the right to education.

Mr Obbo is the head of research at Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights. [email protected]

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