Almost a third of Namibian children under the age of five are stunted, or small for their age, because of malnutrition.
This figure was revealed by Prime Minister Nahas Angula at the launch of the National Agenda for Children 2012-2016 last week.
It came in the wake of statistics revealing that 30 children under the age of five have died of hunger in the Hardap Region over the past two and a half years.
The Health Director in the Hardap Region, Christencia Thataone, attributes the malnutrition to "improper weaning practices, poverty, lack of food in families as well as lack of knowledge of the nutritional value of food fed to infants."
"The Namibian child is at risk - malnourished, orphaned and homeless. This is a serious matter," said Angula.
Article 95 (j) of the Namibian Constitution reads: "The State shall promote and maintain the welfare of the people by consistent planning to raise and maintain an acceptable level of nutrition and standard of living of the Namibian people."
According to Angula, this constitutional mandate is not being adhered to. "It is therefore opportune that the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare has developed an agenda for the promotion of the welfare of the Namibian children," he said.
He said the National Agenda for Children 2012-2016 has five strategic goals. These include ensuring that "all children are healthy and well nourished, have equitable access to quality integrated early childhood development services and pre-primary, primary, secondary and vocational education."
Other goals are to ensure that all children have access to age-appropriate quality HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, that they have an adequate standard of living and legal identity, and that they are safe from neglect, violence, abuse and exploitation.
"I believe the Government as a whole has the political will to allocate adequate resources to meet these commitments," said Angula.
The ministries of child welfare, education, justice, safety, food production and health have all been tasked with the responsibility.
The malnutrition report on Namibia states that the three most significant contributors to infant and child malnutrition in Namibia were inappropriate infant and child feeding practices, especially a lack of exclusive breastfeeding, poor hygiene, sanitation and caring practices, leading to illness and poor nutrition, as well as the health status of mothers.
The same report indicated that 19 per cent of Namibia's total population was undernourished (2005 estimate).
According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, stunted children may never regain the height lost as a result of malnutrition, and most children will never gain the corresponding body weight. Stunting also leads to premature death later in life because vital organs never fully develop during childhood.
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare currently provides social support to some 3 773 disabled children. There are nine special schools in Namibia catering for children with disabilities.