Jan 24, 2010
Realising the need to make the people of the country aware of the plight of the female children, the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government decided to observe 24th January every year since 2009 as the National Girl Child Day. The reason for selecting 24th January as the National Girl Child Day is that on 24th January in 1966, late Mrs. Indira Gandhi was sworn in as the first woman prime minister of India.
The initiative to observe 24th January every year as the National Girl Child Day was taken by Mrs. Renuka Choudhari when she was in charge of the Ministry of Women and Child Development last year (2009). It was decided that the campaign for the awareness regarding the plight of the girl child and the need to protect and promote the interests of the girl child would continue till the International Women’s Day on 8th March with the new slogan, “My daughter-nation’s pride”, which was quite different from the usual slogan, “Save the girl child”.
Since ages, the girl child has been the most neglected person in the society due to various reasons. Female Infanticide, child marriage, denial of education to girls, neglect of their health and overburdening them with domestic work have been common and still female children suffer from these maladies in poorer and uneducated families especially in rural areas and slums in towns and cities. Families with limited economic resources still consider the girl child as a liability as the parents of the girl are required to pay a substantial dowry to the bride-groom’s parents.
In spite of gradual advance in education and economic progress, the girl child still suffers due to inferior status, crimes and violence. The incidence of female foeticide has been increasing over the years denying the girl child the right to be born. The indiscriminate sex determination tests and abortion of female foetus not only prevents the girl child to be born but also leads to the depletion of female population in the society resulting in a skewed sex ratio. Census figures reveal that the female-male sex ratio in the country in the 0-6 years age group has declined from 976 for every 1000 male children in 1961 to 927 in the year 2001. It is feared that if this trend continues, the number of female children will drastically reduce distorting societal fabric which may result in many undesirable and deviant practices such as polyandry, trafficking and forced marriages.
Even after the girl child is born, she is discriminated against in many ways in terms of nutrition, education and health. She is also a victim to a number of atrocities and violence such as rape, trafficking, early marriage and pregnancies and as a consequence high maternal and child mortality. The general perception of the people towards the girl child has been that of a burden on the family and not an asset. As she will be married and given away along with the dowry, it has been felt that she will be taking part of the family property to other’s house resulting in the depletion of the family wealth. The girl child is also being denied proper education as the parents feel that it would be difficult to find a suitable bridegroom and also have an apprehension that they may have to pay heavy dowry to get an educated young man for their daughter.
In order to protect the girl child, promote her welfare and safeguard her rights, the government had introduced a number of legislations. The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act was implemented in 1994 to prevent diagnostic sex selective techniques and subsequent abortion of female foetus. However, in spite of this Act clandestine pre-natal sex tests and abortion of female foetus have been carried on by unscrupulous medical practitioners and ill-informed pregnant women in connivance of their families.
The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act that was enacted in 2006 replaced the Child Marriage Restraint Act. The new legislation intended to act as a more effective deterrent for those who would promote, abet or perform child marriages. In spite of this Act there have been instances in many regions in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan as well as other backward regions of northern India where child marriages are still performed and no action has been taken by the law enforcement agencies in spite of being aware of such violation of the well intended legislation.
The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, 2005 is being implemented to prevent violence and harm to women and girls in household. However, the incidents of domestic violence and crime against women and female children have not reduced in spite of this Act. The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 prohibits women and girls from being indecently portrayed in public. This piece of legislation is followed more in breach than in compliance.
In order to prevent trafficking of persons especially young girls for commercial sexual exploitation, Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 is being amended to make it more stringent against the perpetrators of the crime. In spite of this Act, the stories of thousands of missing girls speak about the rampant exploitation of girls and their trafficking on the pretext of providing them jobs or promises of marriage. The instances of such trafficked girls being pushed into prostitution have been common.
India still has one of the lowest female literacy rates in Asia. The low level of literacy affects not only the lives of women but also their families and the overall economic development of the country. Studies on the impact of illiteracy on women have shown that illiterate women have generally high levels of mortality during childbirth, poor nutritional status, low earning potential, and little autonomy within the household. A woman’s lack of education also has a negative impact on the health and well being of her children. For example, a recent survey in India found that infant mortality was inversely related to mother’s educational level. Moreover, the lack of an educated population can be an impediment to the country’s economic development.
The Government has embarked on a multi pronged and multidimensional strategy for the welfare of the girl child both at the Central and State levels for bringing about changes in the perception of the society towards the girl child through legislative means, preventive measures and promoting awareness through both electronic and print media.
The various measures that have been taken up by the governments both at the Central and State level include Kishori Shakti Yojana, which is a holistic programme for the self-development of adolescent girls; the National Programme for Nutrition for Adolescents Girls, providing additional nutrition to underweight girls; Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya to enhance the educational status of girls, especially from disadvantaged communities and National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level.
With the objective of reducing the incidence of female foeticide and restore value and status to the girl child, in March 2008, the Ministry of Women and Child Development have launched the Scheme of ‘Dhanalakshmi’, a Conditional Cash Transfer Scheme for Girl Child with Insurance Cover. This Scheme has been initiated as a pilot project in selected Blocks which are educationally backward. The Scheme provides for cash transfers to the family of the girl child on their fulfilling specific conditions such as birth and registration of the girl child, immunization, enrolment and retention in school and if the girl child remains unmarried at the age of 18 years, an insurance cover of Rs. 1 Lakh will be given to her. For the survival of the girl child, the initiative of ‘Palna or Cradle Baby Scheme’ has been incorporated in the proposed Integrated Child Protection Scheme, where the objective is to prevent female foeticide by rescuing unwanted baby girls and placing them in loving adoptive families.
To protect the girl child from social evils such as trafficking, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has launched in December 2007 the Scheme of ‘Ujjawala’, a comprehensive scheme which has specific components for Prevention of Trafficking and Rescue, Rehabilitation and Re-Integration and Repatriation of Victims of Trafficking of Commercial Sexual Exploitation.
Education of girls and women in general has been a high priority with the Government of India. In the new millennium, India has consolidated its earlier educational reforms with increased resources and stronger policy commitments for achieving elementary education for all children, particularly girls.
A number of women have proved their abilities and have occupied high positions in government and corporate world. A large number of women have acquired necessary education and skills and have made their mark in various fields that they have chosen. Government of India has taken steps to reserve seats for women in the village panchayat and other local body elections. However, the number of women who take higher education or seek gainful employment is negligible compared to the total female population in India.
It seems quite strange that in a country where female power is worshipped in the form of Shakti or Durga, where Lakshmi is considered as the goddess of wealth and Saraswati as the goddess of learning and art, that women, especially the girl child have been condemned to live a life of discrimination against and victimised and exploited. The observation of 24th January every year since 2009 as the National Girl Child Day should not be confined to cosmetic functions and television debates but should be translated into concrete action in protecting and promoting the welfare of the girl child.
It is not the legislation that can make a difference in the life of a girl child. It is high time that people in general change their perception regarding the girl child and give her rightful place in the family and society with love, affection and provide her with all necessary conditions such as nutritious food, good family environment and proper education so that she would become an asset to the family rather than considering her to be a burden. There have been instances of daughters looking after their parents when their sons had abandoned them. Moreover, the Law enforcing agencies should be made accountable for implementing the laws that are meant to protect the girl child in particular and women in general from domestic violence, crime and exploitation.
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