Is the annual observance of National Girl Child Day on January 24 mere tokenism or is there some substance to its goals? K S Narayanan looks for the answer
Tags : National Girl Child Day | RGSEAG | Sabla |
Welcome to the world of the girl child. Her story across India is promising yet gloomy, hopeful yet mired in despair.
A girl child is the hand that rocks the cradle, the procreator, and the mother of tomorrow. A woman shapes the destiny of civilization.
Indian history is full of examples of successful women who have been leaders in various walks of life. Yet the irony is that a creation as beautiful as the girl child is also one of the gravest concerns facing India due to many cultural factors.
For instance a girl child faces a dozen threat foeticide, discrimination, sexual assault, lack of access to nutrition, sanitation, education and lack of opportunity on one hand and while she is equally burdened with drudgery of domestic chores (like fetching water and firewood for cooking), child marriage…
Realising this, Indian governments have undertaken progressive legislation and have implemented several schemes from time to time. Yet more needs to be done not only to ensure her survival and also to help her realise her full potential.
One such effort initiated by the United Progressive Alliance Government in 2008 is the observance of National Girl Child Day on January 24 every year.
Interestingly in 2008 UPA chairperson and Congress Sonia Gandhi had shot down Women and Child Development (WCD) Minister Renuka Chowdhury’s plan to celebrate November 9 as ‘national girl child day’. Reason: November 9 is Sonia Gandhi’s birthday.
All other ministries gave their approval straight away; the Home Ministry wanted to know whether November 9 was dedicated to any other national function. Once the WCD Ministry said November 9 was free for celebrating ‘girl child day’, the Home Ministry gave its approval.
With the Home Ministry’s approval, the WCD Ministry was in full swing to conduct a series of events on November 9 to create awareness about girl child rights all over the country. The ministry however got cold feet over the proposal when it learnt that Sonia Gandhi was not keen to celebrate November 9 as girl child day because it was her birthday.
So January 24 was chosen. And the reason is that on this day in 1966 Mrs. Indira Gandhi took over as the first woman Prime Minister of India.
In a bid to highlight the issues concerning the girl child, like female feticide, higher malnourishment among them and discrimination, the WCD Ministry proposed to celebrate November 9 as ‘girl child day.
Children in the age group 0–6 years constitute around 158 million of the population of India as per the 2011 census. These children in the age group of 0-6 are future human resource of the country.
Then, why celebrate just National Girl Child Day? The reasons are twofold-First is it is in honour of the 614.4 million female population of India. More important is the girl child continues to be the most vulnerable member of Indian society.
The 2011 Census shows that there has been an improvement in social indicators such as literacy and the gender gap in effective literacy development rate and that the overall sex ratio has improved from 933 to 940. However, at an age-group wise dis-aggregated level, the Census shows a decline in the ratio of girls per thousand boys in the 0 to 6 age group, i.e. in the Child Sex Ratio as compared to 914 in 2011 from 927 in the 2001 Census.
The latest Census clearly shows that decline in Child Sex Ratio has now been witnessed in as many as 22 States and 5 Union Territories. The National Family Health Survey-3 data on under nutrition in children below 5 years had already flagged that 43 per cent of girls are under-nourished.
Through this campaign, the government has highlighted the inequalities encountered by the girl child.
At a time where female children still face gender discrimination which male kids do not experience, and on the occasion of National Girl Child Day, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) last week has pitched for proper implementation of the act banning pre-natal sex determination in India.
National Girl Child Day is being observed across India by the government on January 24 with an aim to raise awareness and consciousness of the society towards the girl child. On this day, the NGO met the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR), demanding proper implementation of the act banning sex determination of foetuses.
“The sex ratio in the capital, especially in south Delhi, has been reported to be low. We met the DCPCR chief as the commission has an important role in the implementation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PCPNDT),” Smita Kahnijow of Action Aid had pointed.
National Girl Child Day: Objectives
Armed with more than half a dozen objectives, the government, along with other stakeholders, is trying to ensure the girl child survives and succeeds with dignity and respect in a male-dominated society.
• To increase the awareness and offer new opportunities to the girl child.
• To remove all the inequalities faced by the girl children.
• To ensure that every girl child is getting proper respect, human rights and value in the Indian society.
• To work against diminishing the child sex ratio and fight the social stigma against the girl child.
• To initiate couple towards the girl child by increasing awareness about the importance and role of the girl child.
• To address the girl children issues associated to their health, education, nutrition etc.
• To propagate the gender equality
What will National Girl Child Day celebrations achieve? It attempts to attack the prevailing mindset and ensure that even before a girl is born she is not viewed as a burden and that she does not becomes a victim of violence or female foeticide.
For meeting these challenges, the government is stressing on the importance of three ‘A’s, i.e. Advocacy, Awareness and Affirmative action. Some of the important legislative measures taken so far include:-
• Banning Sex determination during pregnancy and Policies & programmes for rewarding the girl child
• Restricting Child marriages
• Improving Antenatal care for all the pregnant women
• Introduction of “Save the Girl Child” scheme
• Free and compulsory primary school education for both boys and girls till 14 years of age.
• Reservation of 1/3 seats in the local government for women.
• School children are well availed with the uniforms, noon meal and educational materials and schemes of higher learning for SC and ST girls.
• The Open Learning System has been established for easiness to the girls of backward areas.
• Self-Help Groups initiated in various states is helping girls in rural areas access better livelihood opportunities
Other Affirmative Actions
The Women and Child Development Ministry had implemented a scheme called “Dhanalaksmi” to make cash transfer to the girl child family to fulfil the basic needs such as immunization, birth registration, school enrolment and maintenance up to the Class VIII.
Another equally important scheme is the ‘Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls (RGSEAG)–‘Sabla’, a Centrally-sponsored scheme introduced in the year 2010-11 on a pilot basis. Sabla aims at all-round development of adolescent girls of 11-18 years (with a focus on out of school girls) and is being implemented in 205 districts from all the States/UTs.
Kishori Shakti Yojana (KSY) implemented since 2006-07 as a component under the centrally sponsored Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme seeks to empower adolescent girls in terms of nutritional, health and family care, learning life skills and going back to school. Currently KSY is being implemented in 6118 blocks in the country.
Several states are running schemes to promote the development of girl child in their respective states. It helps in enhancing girls’ meaningful contribution in decision making processes by active support of the parents and the community members.
Some other prominent schemes for girls in India
• Dhan Lakshmi Scheme – Government of India (Ministry of Women and Child Development)
• Bhagyalakshmi Scheme – Karnataka
• Ladli Lakshmi Yojana – Madhya Pradesh
• Girl Child Protection Scheme – Andhra Pradesh
• Ladli Scheme – Delhi and Haryana
• Rajalakshmi Scheme – Rajasthan (Discontinued)
• Balika Samridhi Yojana (BSY) – Gujarat
• Beti Hai Anmol Scheme – Himachal Pradesh
• Rakshak Yojana – Punjab
• Mukhya Mantri Kanya Suraksha Yojana – Bihar
• Mukhya Mantri Kanya Vivah Scheme – Bihar
• Kunwarbainu Mameru Scheme – Gujarat
• Indira Gandhi Balika Suraksha Yojana – Himachal Pradesh
• Mukhya Mantri Kanyadan Yojana – Madhya Pradesh
Most of these schemes are administered through the Department of Women and Child Development using the vast network of ICDS and Anganwadi workers.
To commemorate National Girl Child Day in 2014, India Post launched a special drive for opening of new Saving Bank (SB) accounts in the name of each girl child between 10 and 20 in age of India. The objective of the drive is to secure the future of girl child by motivating them to open a small savings bank account.
The scheme has asked the parents of girls to open a Savings Bank account. It says that the parents can open
• Recurring Deposit (RD)
• Monthly Income Scheme (MIS)
• Fixed Deposits
• And can also buy National Savings Certificate (NSC)
Parents who open an account during the National Girl Child Week (24 to 30 January 2014) will be given special prizes. India Post has mentioned that the parents can deposit minimum 10 rupees for the Recurring Deposit account, for Savings bank accounts 50 rupees can be deposited and for Monthly Income Scheme can be opened from 5000 rupees and it goes up to 6 lakh rupees.
Last year a leading NGO Plan India, pinpoints the identified reasons for roadblocks in girls’ education.
The key determinants of the roadblocks found within the educationally backward families in the three states namely Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar, were the literacy status of the girls’mother, economic condition of the family and parents willingness to allow the girl child to continue their studies and gain secondary education.
The other pin-pointed reasons for this lack of secondary education and drop-outs of girl child from higher studies as per the report were- the societal reasons because of cultural limitations and backwardness, poor infrastructural facilities (as in lack of sanitation facilities, drinking water and space within the classroom), safety concerns due to the long distance in between the place or residence and secondary school (remoteness).
The report presented after interviewing the girls by the NGO Plan India 43 percent of the girls got married before 18 years of age, the girls reported to be underweight reached a mark of fifty percent, thirty three percent were left undernourished, fifty six percent of them were anemic, only thirty percent of the girls were able to afford their deliveries in hospitals. The report also cleared that fifty even percent girls dropped the school even before tenth class.
According to the National Family Health Survey the gravity of the child marriage in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Rajasthan where 60 percent of the women are married before the age of 18. Bihar has the highest number of child marriages in India at 69 percent. No standalone intervention is effective in the case of tackling the issue of child marriages. The issue requires a holistic solution because there are many economic, social and cultural underpinnings to it. UNFPA points out 47 percent of the Indian children are married before the marriageable age.
In India, the reasons for child marriage can be traced back to outdated cultural practices that hinder the right of the girl child to live with freedom and dignity. She is denied fair education and her health is given little priority in the vicious circle of control and patriarchy
Govind Nihalani, the chairperson of Plan India’s governing body informed that because I am a girl is a global campaign designed and launched by the organization to fight against gender inequality to lift millions of girls out from poverty providing them opportunities to reach the level of their potential and to provide them their rights.
Protecting Against Sexual abuse
The Integrated Child Protection Scheme being implemented since 2009-10 and Childline services is also addressing the issue of safety and security of girl child in India.
Top policy makers realised how child abuse is shrouded in secrecy and there is a conspiracy of silence around the entire subject. In 2005 the Ministry of Women and Child Development undertook a study to examine the extent and magnitude of child abuse in India. As a result a special law – the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 – was passed by Parliament in May, 2012 to address this issue.
Child budgeting introduced in the Union Budget for 2008-09 by the UPA government aims at providing for Schemes for the Welfare of Children. Initially it covered the “Demands for Grants” with child-specific schemes from Ministries of Women and Child Development, Human Resource Development, Health and Family Welfare, Labour and Employment, Social Justice & Empowerment, Tribal Affairs, Minority Affairs, Youth Affairs and Sports. Currently the ‘Child Budgeting’ statement covers 18 “Demands for Grants” from Union Ministries/Departments of Atomic Energy, Industrial Policy, Posts, Telecommunication, and Information and Broadcasting among others), marking a significant increase from an initial Budget. This along with the Gender Budgeting is likely to improve opportunities for girl child to survive and succeed in India.
National Child Policy Resolution Adopted
To affirm its commitment to the rights based approach in addressing the continuing and emerging challenges in the situation of children, the Government of India had adopts this Resolution on the National Policy for Children, 2013. The document calls for a comprehensive review of this Policy once in five years in consultation with all stakeholders, including children. The Ministry of Women and Child Development will lead the review process.
“There is a need to bring about an attitudinal change in society towards a girl child through legislative, preventive, advocacy and programmatic inputs,”Krishna Tirath, the Union Minister for Women and Child Development, said launching a multi-sectoral nutrition programme (MSNP) and national resource platform (NRP) on the occasion on 24 January.
Protecting a girl child in India should not be limited to observing National Girl Child Day every year. Instead armed with strong legislative measures, the governments and other stakeholders – the community, civil society, business houses, neighbourhood and parents – must play a strong role to secure a safe life for the girl child in order to build a better society, better future and a better India.
But this is not all easy to come by. Take for instance Mitu Khurana, is a doctor herself, whose husband and in-laws tried their best to get rid of her twin girls when they were in the womb. She is the first woman in India to have taken legal action under the PCPNDT (Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques) Act against her husband, in-laws and the hospital for the sex-determination test.
The lower courts gave awareness to her case but the hospital and doctor have appealed in the higher courts against cognizance and it has been pending since 2010. In fact, Mitu is fighting a dozen other cases including domestic violence, dowry and custody of children…
How long will the system further victimize mothers like me? She asks. Mitu and her story were featured in the film “It’s A Girl.”