Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Status, Problems and Empowerment of Girl Children in India–An Over View

                                                                                                             -*Dr. S. Vijay Kumar

              Girl child is the future of every nation and India is no exception. A little amount of care, a handful of warmth and a heart full of love for a girl child can make a big difference. Close your eyes, free your thoughts and hear the voice of God, She is saying something to all of us, “Save Me”. India is a country where social disadvantage outweighs natural biological advantage of being a girl. A whole range of discriminatory practices including female feticide, female infanticide, female genital mutilation, son idolization, early marriage and dowry have buried the future of the nation. In India, discriminatory practices have greatly influenced the health and well-being of a girl child, resulting in a higher mortality rate. It is said that God created mothers because He could not be present everywhere. It’s unbelievable to realize that a God’s representative is continuously killing someone beautiful even before she can come out and see the beauty of nature. The status of the girl child is the key to achieving women’s equality and dignity which is, in many ways, a litmus test of the maturity of a society. Girls are to be the future mothers, besides future policy makers and leaders. Jawaharlal Nehru once said “To awake the people it is the women who should be awakened first. Once she is on the move the family moves …the nation moves”. 

             In India, the girl child has been a topic of discussions and debates for the past several decades but, even today, the position appears to remain unchanged. The girl was always an unwanted child, and was found killed at birth. With the advancement of Science and Technology this killing has only gone still further - for now the girl child is being killed even before birth. The present scenario in which the girl child is mercilessly killed even before birth, does not speak too well about the fate of this species. The scenario is so varied that, it is really difficult to understand what we are really doing or trying to do in this regard. On the one hand we see girls entering in the fields of all kinds of professions holding senior positions in offices, becoming engineers, doctors, managers etc. We are obviously impressed and are likely to believe that, the position of the girl is now after all not too bad. This situation is true of the urban area where education and freedom is given to girls - to a great extent, but even this growth of this class does not really bear any testimony to the equality of girls with boys.

Status of the Girl Child:
            In the village, the girl child has no say in anything in the home, not even things of her own concern - she is, even to-day in the 21st Century treated as an object to be used instead of an individual human being with all the ingredients of human beings - like her counterparts - the boy. She, even today remains to have the status of an object to be used or dispensed with at the whims and fancies of her male family members. With this psyche of the average Indian adult, I personally see no light at the end of the dark tunnel.

             In my view, even for the urban areas, the prospects of the girl child are not too bright as, even while women are acquiring status and positions in the office - firstly, they do not get the respect the male counterparts get in the offices. Besides no matter what status a woman may achieve outside home, inside the home she, by and large remains a chattel. When this is the ground reality of the girl at home and outside home it appears that, even education and financial independence have not helped women really enhancing their status vis-à-vis the status of men.

           We see girls facing discrimination everywhere, in each corner of the world. As observed by Beijing Platform for Action. “The girl child is discriminated against boys from the earliest stages of life through her childhood and into adulthood. In some areas of the world, men outnumber women by 5 in every 100. The reasons for this discrepancy include harmful attitudes and practices, such as female genital mutilation, son preference …….. Early marriage … violence against women, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, discrimination against girls in food allocation and other practices related to health and well-being.”

In this connection, some vital statistics cited by the United Nations are added here:
By age 18, girls have received an average of 4.4 years less education than boys.
Of the more than 110 million children not in school, approximately 60 per cent are girls.
Of the more than 130 million primary - school-age children world-wide who are not enrolled in school, nearly 60 per cent are girls.
In some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent girls have HIV rates up to five times as high as adolescent boys.
Pregnancies and childbirth related health problems take the lives of nearly 1, 46,000 teenage girls each year.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, a woman faces a 1 in 13 chance of dying in childbirth. In Western Europe the risk is 1 in 3200.
At least one in three girls and women world-wide has been beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime.
An estimated 450 million adult women in developing countries are stunted, a direct result of malnutrition in early life.
Every year, two million girls and women are subjected to female genital mutilation.

                Indian society is still largely male dominated, and women are often looked down upon. The birth of a female child is often regarded as a disaster, and female foeticide is common in Parts of India (despite the Pre-Natal Diagnositic Techniques Act 1994). When a male child is born everyone rejoices, but when a female child is born many seem dejected and crest-fallen, as if a tragedy has occurred (See Sharat Chandra’s novel Parineeta). According to the Demographic Health Survey and the World Fertility Survey, parents not only in India but also in other South Asian countries and North Africa strongly prefer sons to daughters. Socially, sons are preferred for continuation of family line, for looking after parents in their old age and for performing their last rites. Besides, poor parents of a daughter feel humiliated due to dowry demands when her marriage is to be settled. Practice of dowry is very disgusting.

Problems of Girl Child (Discrimination against Girl Child):

             In most Indian households, girl child is discriminated and neglected for basic nutrition, education and health care. Adverse sex ratio, high malnutrition, high maternal mortality rates, high dropout rates, poor school environment levels, low skill levels, low value for girl’s household works in society are all indicators of high preference for a male child due to the belief that girls are less of an asset and more of a liability. In Bangladesh about 60% of boys seek free treatment of diarrhoea centres and parents buy and seek medical help three times more often for boys than for girls. Studies in India and Latin America show that girls are often immunized later than boys or not at all. The overwhelming social discrimination against girl child affects her birth or even before birth. In many communities and in rural areas, an adolescent girl is married off by her parents around puberty. Early pregnancy, in turn, undermines her health, physical development and the health of the new born babies. A young and adolescent girl is denied the right to education, depriving her of vital information regarding healthcare, nutritious food, immunization, proper upbringing of children, family planning and reproductive rights etc. thus leading to the second stage of bondage in her life-bondage much larger and more unbearable than years spent at parental home. The girl is treated as a transit passenger on her way to marital household and investing in her survival, safety and education is considered non-productive.

            Family, workplace, community and anywhere, the act of violence in forms of aggression, exploitation and discrimination is clearly evident and experienced by female and girl children. Broadly speaking, communal, caste and regional tension within the country have undermined and damaged the social fabric making women, especially from the socioeconomically disadvantaged classes, more vulnerable to violence. Also, the acts of violence directed at the young girls and females consists of spouse battering and forced sex, eve teasing or intimidation of the female in public spaces, sexual harassment on the job or at the workplace, rape, acid throwing, kidnapping etc. Absence or insufficiency of dowry becomes a source of the bride’s maltreatment, victimization and even ‘accidental death’. The latter amounts to clandestine murder often made to look like suicide. Rape, prostitution, drugs, smuggling, riots and terrorism are increasingly affecting women. The trafficking of girls has been on rise lately. A large number of such young girl children are being pushed into flesh trade trafficked from countries like Nepal and Bangladesh. Innocent and poor girls, on false lures and promises of jobs, marriage or confession of undying love by men, are being sold or deserted or forced into prostitution. Police raids indicate that the phenomenon is no longer confined to demarcate red light areas and the net has spread far and wide into slum areas, resettlement colonies, and middle class residential areas, guest-houses in posh localities, luxurious hotels and massage parlours. Indian courts are flooded with cases of crimes against women including dowry deaths, wife beating and other forms of cruelty to women are rampant. In fact, such acts seem to have grown by leaps and bounds.

                   The realities of women especially in rural India are difficult to comprehend. Women, most of the time are even deprived of some of the fundamental human rights and this denial is justified often in the name of tradition. In rural areas women are generally relegated mainly to household duties and cheap labour. They are not perceived as substantial income generating source. Without the power to work and earn a good income, their voices are silenced, as they are economically dependent and have no capacity to work and earn a living for them. The question that needs to be answered is that in a society where men control the destiny of women how it is possible to protect the human rights of women and make the women empowerment a reality.

Empowerment of Girl Children and Women:
                  The year 2001 was declared as women empowerment year by the Central government. There are different steps taken by the government in India regarding women empowerment. Some of these steps are constitutional provisions, enactment of social legislations, enactment of labour legislations, and women welfare in five years plans, reservation in representation and education, constitution of women commission and women cell, subsidized loan facilities, etc.

Gender Parity can Boost India’s GDP by 27% - IMF:

IMF’s Chief Cristina Lagarde speaking in her key note address at the launch of World’s 20 largest economies said today  (6 - 09 – 2015) at Ankara( Capital of Turkey) that “we have esimates that,if the number of female wokers were to increase to the same level as the number of men, GDP in the US would expand by 5%, by 9% in Japan, and by 27% in India.

Constitutional provisions:
Several constitutional provisions protect children in India. Among them:
  • Article 15 affirms the right of the State to make special provision for women and children.
  • Article 24 provides that no child below the age of 14 shall be employed to work… in any hazardous employment.
  • Article 39 (e) of the Directive Principles of State Policy provides that children of tender age should not be abused and that they should not be forced by economic necessity to enter vocations unsuited to their age or strength.
  • Article 39 (f) requires children to be given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity, and that childhood and youth be protected against exploitation and moral and material abandonment.
  • Article 45 of the Directive Principles of State Policy provides for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of 14.
Policies and Plans:
·       Prior to the Fifth Five-Year Plan, the government’s focus was on child welfare through the promotion of basic minimum services for children. This culminated in the adoption of the National Policy for Children, in 1974.
·   The Fifth Five-Year Plan (1974-79) saw a shift of focus from welfare to development and the integration and co-ordination of services after the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) 1975.
·        The Sixth Five-Year Plan strengthened child welfare and development. It led to the spatial expansion and enrichment of child development services through a variety of programmes.
·        The focus of the Eighth Five-Year Plan (1992-97) shifted to human development through advocacy, mobilization and community empowerment.
·        The Government of India declared its commitment to every child in the Ninth Five-Year Plan (1997-2002).
·     The Tenth Five-Year Plan advocated a convergent/integrated rights-based approach to ensure the survival, development, protection and participation of children. It set targets for children: all children to complete five years of schooling by 2007; reduction in gender gaps in literacy and wage rates by at least 50%, by 2007; reduction in Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) to 45 per 1,000 live births by 2007, and 28 by 2012; reduction of Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) to 2 per 1,000 live births by 2007 and to 1 per 1,000 live births by 2012; arresting the decline in the child sex ratio; and universalisation of the ICDS scheme.
·   Swabhiman, meaning self-respect in English, was initiated in 2005 to address these challenges through a simple yet effective approach. The programme is specifically aimed at realization of both individual and collective self-esteem and inner strength for marginalized and socially excluded women and adolescent girls through innovative community practices.
·    The draft approach paper of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2007-2012) prepared by the Planning Commission emphatically stated that ‘Development of the child is at the centre of the Eleventh Plan’. While continuing with the rights-based approach to child development, the plan recognizes the importance of a holistic approach, focusing both on outcomes and indicators for child development as well as macro-perspective trends and governance issues.
Despite these laws, policies and commitments, the ground realities are as follows:
Ground realities:
·         Sex ratio in the 0-6 Years age group has fallen to an all time low of 914 girls to 1000 boys
·         One in three girls die in the first year of life and one in four do not live to celebrate their fifteenth birthday
·         Two out of five girls are malnourished and every second adolescent girl is anemic
·         Six out of ten girls are child brides and four out of ten have their first child before they are 18 years old
·    India ranks 113 out of 135 countries as per World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2011
  • With more than one-third of its population below 18 years, India has the largest young population in the world.
  • Only 35% of births are registered, impacting name and nationality.
  • One out of 16 children die before they attain the age of 1, and one out of 11 die before they are 5 years old.
  • 35% of the developing world’s low-birth-weight babies are born in India.
  • 40% of child malnutrition in the developing world is in India.
  • Out of every 100 children, 19 continue to be out of school.
  • Of every 100 children who enroll, 70 drop out by the time they reach the secondary level.
  • Of every 100 children who drop out of school, 66 are girls.
  • 65% of girls in India are married by the age of 18 and become mothers soon after.
  •  India is home to the highest number of child labourers in the world. India has the world’s largest      number of sexually abused children, with a child below 16 raped every 155th minute, a child below    10 every 13th hour, and at least one in every 10 children sexually abused at any point in time.
·   According to UNDP Human Development Report (2009), 88% of pregnant women (age15-49) were found to be suffering from anemia. India has a dangerously imbalanced sex ratio, the chief reason being female infanticides and sex-selective abortions. According to UNICEF’s “State of the World’s Children-2009” report, 47% of India's women aged 20–24 were married before the legal age of 18.

·      According to UNDP Human Development Report (2014), on educational indicators, India performs slightly better with 11.7 expected years of schooling, the same as the average for medium human development countries, of which India is a part. This is a measure of how many years of schooling a child is expected to receive if prevailing enrollment patterns continue. The world average is 12.2 years, while the developed countries average 16.3 years. Among the BRICS countries, India's average is the least. Currently, Indians of 25 years or more have received just 4.4 years of schooling on average, compared to a global average of 7.7 years.

·    HDR 2014 introduces a gender development index (GDI) for the first time, which measures gender development gaps among 148 countries. While the overall gender gap is an 8% deficit for women, the income gap is shockingly high — per capita income for men is more than double that of women.

·     Citing recent estimates of giving universal basic old age and disability pension, basic childcare benefits, universal healthcare, social assistance and 100-day employment guarantee, the report says India would need to spend just about 4% of its GDP to provide all this.

2011 Census: 
The Census indicated a continuing preference for male children over female children. A matter of overwhelming concern lies in the fact that the child sex ratio has slipped to its lowest since India's independence. The sex ratio (the number of females per 1,000 males) for the 0-6 age group has dramatically dropped to 914 in 2011, from 927 in 2001. This means in a decade when the country enjoyed unprecedented economic growth, it also became a terrifyingly hostile place to be conceived or born as a girl. "It's extremely alarming and everybody should be worried and careful against this malaise," said Girija Vyas, chairperson of the National Commission for Women. She said "Convictions under the Act are very low. Female foeticide is high even in states that have high education and are affluent. The government needs to step in and act urgently.” The overall sex ratio in the country improved from 933 to 940, the highest recorded sex ratio since the 1971 census. For the first time in the last decade, females have outnumbered males in Goa which has recorded an 8.17 percent growth in overall population. Three states-J&K, Gujarat and Bihar, showed a decline in the sex ratio.  

Population of children (0-6 years):
The population of children (0-6 years) in the country has recorded a decline of about five million over the previous census, according to Census 2011. While the decline in male population (0-6 years) is 2.42 percent, it is higher at 3.80 percent in females. Uttar Pradesh (29.7 million), Bihar (18.6 million), Maharashtra (12.8 million), Madhya Pradesh (10.5 million) and Rajasthan (10.5 million) comprise 52 percent children in the 0-6 Years age group. The total number of children in the country in the age group of 0-6 years is 158.8 million, about five million less than the 2001 census figures and marks a negative growth of 3.08 percent.

Why Caring For Girl Child Is Vital for India’s Growth?
On October 11, 2012, we have celebrated the world’s First International Day of the Girl Child, supported by the United Nations resolution, it is time to ponder how India fares in terms of supporting better opportunities for girls, and bridging the gender inequality in areas such as access to education, nutrition, legal rights, medical care, and protection from discrimination and violence.
What is disturbing is the grim statistics, leaving little room for doubt on why an international day to focus on girls’ issues is significant and necessary. Not without reason? Let all of us think about it. India loses three million girls in infanticide.
Women have been at the forefront of shaping our future, yet, we are still fighting the medieval menace of gender inequality. A recent UN report terms India as the most dangerous place in the world to be a baby girl. What a sad distinction to have?
Consider this. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs data for 150 countries over 40 years shows that India and China are the only two countries in the world where female infant mortality is higher than male infant mortality in the 2000s. It indicates that an Indian girl child aged 1-5 years is 75% more likely to die than an Indian boy, making this the worst gender differential in child mortality for any country in the world.
Fortunately, there is a growing recognition that support for girls and their basic human rights are vital for healthy communities. And, there is no reason, why we can’t catalyze the women empowerment and investment in girls’ education which can significantly boost the prosperity of our nation.
Economic growth is driven by women.”  Look into the deep meaning, there is truth in this. Indeed, an increase in women’s employment, in both the developed and developing world, has arguably been the biggest engine of global growth in recent decades. And, India can capitalize on this.
The future of our economy lies in attaining gender equality in true sense, and this is smart economics for the world. Women’s empowerment is not just about rights, improved economic opportunities for women lead to better outcomes for families, societies, business and nation. Not only are better educated women more productive, but they raising healthier, better educated children.
There is huge potential to raise income per head in developing countries, where fewer girls go to school than boys. More than two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women. Also, with manufacturing work, traditionally a male preserve, declining a bit, and expanding jobs in services there is a reduced demand for manual labor. It has put the both the genders on a more equal footing.
It is imperative for us to create a more inclusive environment by increasing the number of women in science, technology and communications to enrich our talent pool, intellectual capital and economic opportunities by encouraging young girls and women to develop cross-functional hybrid skills from an early age. Who knows they might be the next amongst the most powerful women leading the top companies in the world.
To make it happen, we need to collaborate across the ecosystem and achieve effective implementation of programs and policies promoting equal human rights and opportunities for girls. Let not the girl child face barriers at any stage of her life including violations of her right to get access to quality education, proper healthcare, and protection from abuse and exploitation.
Sustainable development in India will not be possible without a holistic approach to women’s empowerment and livelihood. Certainly, improving girls’ lives has a ripple effect.  What is good for them is good for societal progress and for all of humanity. India could emerge as an economic powerhouse, only if it cares for the girl child, thereby, boosting economic prosperity. A little shift in mindset along with a strong collective will to act is all we need to achieve this.
Let inclusivity become a way of life for us. Are we ready? This means, inclusive development is possible only, if we include girls and women in all spheres of development.
                   Canada is a world leader in promoting the health of women and children in developing countries and in reducing the unacceptable mortality rates that these vulnerable populations face each year. In addition to focusing world attention and resources through the G-8 Muskoka Leaders’ Summit in 2010, Canada has also been instrumental in helping focus global efforts where the needs are most pressing and coordinating how to address those needs most effectively. 
Measures to Empower Girl Children and Women:
(1)  Education:
If survival of girl child is necessary for the existence of the world, their education is equally important for her development. As such education, employment opportunities and a supportive home and societal environment are keys to their empowerment.

The MD of the World Bank, Washington DC, Mr.Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, while addressing the annual meeting of World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland in 2009, pointed out the importance of girl effort on development in these words:

Investing in Women is smart economics. Investing in girls-catching them upstream-is even smarter economics.” Educating girls yields a higher return in improving the local economy rather than any other type of investment. For example, an educated girl will use 90% of her future income towards her family, while boys invest only 35%. Similarly, former UN Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, pointed out that “short-changing girls is not only a matter of gender discrimination, it is a bad economics and bad societal policy. Experience has shown over and over again, that investment in girls’ education translates directly and quickly into better nutrition for the whole family, better health care, declining fertility, poverty reduction and better overall economic performance”.

Obviously, these are long term and far reaching benefits of education to end the struggle against gender discrimination. Education is the greatest weapon in knowing their rights and how to protect and promote them. When girls are educated, they have better career and employment opportunities in life. They are better able to avoid commercial sexual exploitation. They gain self confidence, learn the life, technical and practical skills to demonstrate their capabilities and challenge stereotypes about women.

(2)   The following recommendations of Beijing Platform for Action should be implemented.
                In order to help girl children survive and reach their full potential, the Beijing Platform for Action recommended that governments, agencies and private sector to:
(a)                Eliminate all forms of discrimination against the girl - child;
(b)               Eliminate negative cultural attitudes and practices against girls;
(c)                Promote and protect the right of girl - child and increase awareness of her needs and potential;
(d)               Eliminate discrimination against girls in health and nutrition;
(e)                Eliminate the economic exploitation of girl labour and protect girls at work;
(f)                Eradicate violence against girl-child;
(g)               Promote the girl-child’s awareness of and participation in social, economic and political life.
(h)               Strengthen the role of the family in improving the status of the girl-child.

(3)               Strict enforcement of laws:
                  All forms of discrimination against the girl child and violation of her rights must be eliminated by undertaking strong measures both preventive and punitive within and outside the family. These would relate specifically to strict enforcement of laws against parental sex selection and the practices of female forticide, female infanticide, child marriage, child abuse, child marriage, and child prostitution etc.

(4)               Removal of discrimination in the treatment:
                  Removal of discrimination in the treatment of the girl child within the family and outside and projection of a positive image of the girl child must be actively fostered.

(5)               Substantial Investments:
                  There should be special emphasis on the needs of the girl child and earmarking of substantial investments in the areas relating to food and nutrition, health and education, and in vocational education.

(6)               Special Focus on Girl Children:
                  In implementing programmes for eliminating child-labour, there should be a special focus on girl children. Added to these, special care should be taken to reduce gender disparities, infant mortality and malnutrition, to prevent female foeticide and infanticide to increase enrolment and retention of girls in schools besides elimination of child labour.

(7)               Mass Campaigns:
                 Discrimination against girl child is a curse for the society. Mass campaigns in favour of survival of girl child and giving her human right including education must be initiated to bring a positive change. Once the platform for girl’s survival is taken up by the public, not only will the girls survive but their health and education can also be taken care of. Such campaigns need to be organized particularly in the villages highlighting the threat to the life of the girl child and creating awareness in the villages about the dangerous consequences which the society as a whole will have to face without the girl children. The issue has to be discussed on religious, cultural, economic, political and social level.

(8)               Computer Literacy, Technical skills and Self-defense:
                 Computer literacy and enhancement of technical skills among girls must be ensured. Added to this, self-defense training, as KARATE, must be introduced and made compulsory for girl children to make them self reliant and cope with unforeseen circumstances.

(9)               Save the Girl Child for the Future of the World:
                 Even to-day in the 21st Century the position remains unchanged even after education and financial independence. Hence, people and Governments must be committed to protect the girl child – future hope of all nations. 

(10)           Reduction in Gender Imbalance:
                  Already some of the developing countries like India are experiencing the deficit of women and children. As this leads gender imbalance and which in turn leads to several social problems like finding the life partner difficult. For example - Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.

If the society has to grow into a civilized social fabric, the enlightened mass has the responsibility to shoulder and sharing the responsibility of maintaining the balance in sex-ratio. This is possible not only through discussions in seminars, but also by mobilizing and empowering the woman and children by organizing the society for equality in all spheres of social and national activities where any discrimination of gender basis is entrenched.

2011 Census Report, GOI
Census 2011 report, NFHS-III, State of the World’s Children, 2012 UNICEF
The Economic Times: 7-09-2015
Millennium Report
Vital Statistics, United Nations
UNDP Human Development Report (2009)
UNICEF’s “State of the World’s Children-2009” Report
UNDP Human Development Report (2014)

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