Indian 'Fish Cure' For Asthma Sparks Children's Rights Row

A 166-year-old Indian medical practice has sparked the ire of a children's advocacy group, which claims the controversial tradition is potentially hazardous to youngsters' health.

As the BBC is reporting, Balula Hakkula Sangham wants children under the age of 14 to be exempt from a procedure which involves swallowing small live fish with herbal paste. The practice, which is typically administered to thousands at a two-day festival in the state of Andhra Pradesh, is thought to permanently cure asthma.

The AFP quotes a petition started by the group as saying, "The process of giving the medicine is unhygienic as the person gives it to lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of people without washing their hands." Balula Hakkula Sangham officials are also said to have slammed the unorthodox medicine as "unscientific" and a violation of human rights.

Claiming to have received the medicine recipe from a Hindu saint in 1845, Goud family members have fought back against the criticism. "It has been the practice of the Goud Family for the past 166 years to offer this medicine free of cost to those who need it," Bathini Harinath Goud, head of the family, said. He went on to note that 400,000 people participated in the fish-swallowing procedure last year. "These companies are paying money to rake up the issue as they are worried about the fish medicine affecting their business interests since what we administer is a permanent cure for asthma," he said.

The Times of India reports that the family has faced criticism for the practice previously, and had to rename it after a court order over the use of "medicine" for what is arguably a faith-based therapy.

Andhra Pradesh's Human Rights Commission on Tuesday has reportedly ordered a report into the complaints, which is expected to be delivered this week.