Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Can We Actually ‘Celebrate’ Girl Child Day In India?

It’s quite common to come across girls whose parents’ disappointments with them are engraved in their names. Be it the arid villages of Rajasthan or the fertile plains of West Bengal – the scenario hardly changes, as one often comes across girls named Nehraaz (literally meaning ‘we are upset’), Mann Bhari (Oh! It’s enough), Nakhushi (Unwanted), Annakali and Chaina (both meaning‘Oh God! We don’t want more’) in abundance. Clearly their very names are testimonies of how a girl child is not preferred in the family, and how their parents were disappointed because they had been desperately looking forward to raise a boy.

Looking closely into the pattern of sex ratio at birth over the last decade, a similar narrative comes to surface. There is only a marginal improvement recorded in the sex ratio at birth over the last decade, as a comparative analysis of two consecutive National Family Health Surveys (NFHS-3, 2005-06 and NFHS-4, 2015-16) reveals. While the findings of NFHS-3 record a sex ratio of 914, NFHS-4 registers 919 – an improvement of just 5 points.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) a normal gender ratio at birth is between 102 – 106 boys per 100 girls, which is equivalent to 943 – 980 girls for 1000 boys. But, as the recent NFHS data suggests, states such as Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Delhi falls far short of the bench mark, thus indicating a strong social preference for the boy child over girls.

With patriarchy, gender bias and discrimination deeply woven in the very fabric of Indian society, girls are at a basic disadvantage from the very minute they are conceived. Largely girls continue to live a disadvantageous life from having adequate nutrition to continuing education. With ‘Beti Padao, Beti Bachao’ and several other schemes launched by the government to address the issue, the basic mindset of the society towards its girls has not yet changed much.

In terms of enrolment in schools, the gross enrolment ratio stood at 56% in 2015-16 for higher secondary education, which is the last mile of schooling, which means only 1 in 2 girls in the country complete school education (Source: U-DISE 2015-16). Going forward, not only do more girls drop out as the education progresses, around 13.2 percent girls continue to be illiterate, compared to 10% of boys (Census 2011). The onus of sibling care and household chores still lie on her unready shoulders as the family prepares her young mind to be married off and become someone else’s property from the time she learns to comprehend the world around her.

Now that the Right to Education Act (RTE) has completed its seventh anniversary, and Government initiatives such as ‘Beti Padao, Beti Bachao’ in place, ideally all girl children under the age of 14 years are supposed to be in schools. However, data suggests that there are more than 18 Lakhs of girls under 14 who are married, and more than one third of them (4.2 Lakhs) have children. Further data reveals that more than 44 Lakhs of girls under 14 are working, and more than 3 Lakhs of them are married and working. These are children who are barely into their teenage – a critical juncture that plays a huge role in shaping their lives (Census 2011).

“With a population of 225 million, girls account for 48% of India’s children. Yet a girl in India continues to face discrimination in almost every aspect in every phase of life – in accessing proper nutrition and health care during childhood, adolescence and pregnancy, having proper education, enjoying equal right to participate in the decision making processes within the family space and in the external world as well. In order to address the underlying gender inequality that holds girls back, India has to re-strategise and undertake focused initiatives, and hence investments, for its girl children, and also monitor progress and revisit strategies on a regular basis.” Said Komal Ganotra, Director, Policy & Advocacy, Child Rights and You.

“To make any transformational change in our society possible, the first step is to make change happen at the mindset level. It is only when we collectively battle patriarchy, discrimination, gender based violence that girls would live freely. We wouldn’t have to celebrate a special ‘Girl Child Day’ talking about their plight and glorifying their achievements  the day we all truly celebrate the existence of girls as equals  in our society.” She further added.

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