LOURI, Chad (AP) -- One morning, a little girl called Achta sat in the front row of this village's only school and struggled mightily with the assignment her teacher had given her.
She grasped a piece of chalk in her tiny fingers. Her face tense with concentration, she tried to direct the chalk clockwise across her slate. She'd been asked to draw a circle. What she drew looked more like a lopsided triangle.
After half a dozen tries, her teacher took away her slate and tried to hide his frustration as he wiped it clean with his palm of his hand. He held her miniature hand in his and traced a circle, then a second, then a third. "Like this," he said. "Like an egg. See?"
Drawing a circle is considered a developmental marker. It tests fine motor skills, the use of the small muscles that control the fingers. Children who are developing at a normal rate can trace a circle by age 3, and Achta doesn't look much older.
She is so small that when she sits on her bunk in class, her feet dangle a foot off the ground.
But Achta isn't three. School records show she is 7 years old.
In this village where malnutrition has become chronic, children have simply stopped growing. In the county that includes Louri, 51.9 percent of children are stunted, one of the highest rates in the world, according to a survey published by UNICEF. That's more than half the children in the village.