Kompas – June 26, 2019

According to the Ministry of Health, while Indonesia has seen a gradual decline in stunting from 37.2 percent in 2013 to 30.8 percent in 2018, other reports confirm a far higher prevalence of malnutrition among children in eastern Indonesia with some area reporting figures as high as 40 percent.

Children are defined as stunted if their height-for-age is more than two standard deviations below the World Health Organisation (WHO) Child Growth Standards median and is generally caused by poor nutrition and lack of access to clean water and sanitation.

Beginning in early childhood, stunting has lifelong implications for physical and cognitive development and impacts all aspects of development from human resources to economic growth. Stunting leads to significant problems for child health and on average stunted children loose 6-11 IQ points and will miss half a year of schooling due to illness.

During the presidential election campaign, both President Joko Widodo and rival Prabowo Subianto pledged to reduce stunting but only mentioned basic measures such as improving nutrition, the quality of childcare and issues related to water and sanitation. Neither gave specific or practical details of what they planned to do.

Prabowo and running mate Sandiaga Uno promised to address stunting through a national movement called Sedekah Putih, or “White Gift”, whereby nutritious foods like milk and mung beans would be distributed to children in early education. Meanwhile, Widodo and running mate Ma’ruf Amin pledged to promote breastfeeding up to age two, as recommended by the WHO.

But neither candidate pair gave consideration to issues of equity and equality in tackling stunting or how they would address the lack of coordination between central and local governments or the poor capacity of local governments raising questions about how effective such programs would be.