India is rising. Our country is zooming ahead in all fields that count at break neck speed. The boom in economy, innovative technologies and improved infrastructure are testament to that. Women have provided considerable contribution to this progress, with them taking up every possible job. From preparing the morning breakfast to sending the Orbiter to Mars, they have made their presence felt in every sphere of life. Yet in every strata of the Indian society, there still remains a cloud of apprehension and insecurity when a girl child is born. Discrimination against a girl begins at her conception and shapes up to be the monster she has to fight every moment of her waking existence. Her second rate citizenship is reflected in the denial of fundamental needs and rights and in such harmful attitudes and practices as a preference for sons, female genital mutilation, incest, sexual exploitation, domestic abuse, discrimination, early marriage, less food and less access to education. Deep-rooted patriarchal perceptions project women as liabilities. There lurks in the Indian conscience, a foul monster of hypocrisy, when the Kali-Durga-Lakshmi worshippers take no time in putting women down or dismissing them as a mere afterthought.
Reasons for The Flawed Sex Ratio
Traditions and rituals outline the existence of the Indian girl child. Amidst uproars of gender equality and enforcement of laws protecting their wellbeing, female infants are still found dumped in trash, by the dozens. Unborn fetuses continue to be sniffed in the womb and terminated without second consideration if their existence is even hinted at. As more and more female fetuses are still being selectively aborted after illegal pre-natal sex determination, the number of female infants per 1000 male infant is rapidly declining. Skewed sex ratio is a silent emergency. But the crisis is real, and its persistence has profound and frightening implications for society and the future of mankind. Continuing preference for boys in society, for the girl child the apathy continues, the child sex ratio in India has dropped to 914 females against 1,000 males, one of the lowest since Independence according to Census 2011. According to global statistics, the normal child sex ratio should be above 950:1000. While southern states like Kerala can boast of a ratio of 1084 females per 1000 males, the most alarming scenario prevails in the northern states like Haryana, Rajasthan and even Delhi, with number of girl child as low as 830 per 1000 male children.
The basic reason for this sorry state of child sex ratio (0-6 years) is the preference for a male child from social and economic perspectives. Female feticide as well as killing of female infants is the biggest contributor. The four primary reasons behind this, according to experts, are,
(1) Pre-existing low social position of women – Women are still considered second rate citizens who do not have the right to basic freedom and privileges that men enjoy. Their roles are primarily fixed as domestic help, tools for pleasure of their men and instruments for procreation.
(2) Economic burden – Outlook that a girl child is an economic burden is basically due to the prevalence of dowry system still abundant in the society. The evil practice of having to give money to the groom’s side in order to get their daughter married is a huge imposition in a country as poverty ridden as India. As a consequence, many families view every girl being born as a potential source of drainage for their hard earned money.
(3) Illiteracy – absence of education is also a contributing factor where women are continuously being blamed for giving birth to girls. Also lack of education and exposure to world keeps them from realizing the potential of their girl child.
(4) Advancement of Diagnostic Techniques – Through modern diagnostic techniques like Ultrasound and Amniocentesis, it is now possible to know the sex of the fetus as early as 12 weeks into the pregnancy. The government has placed strict regulations prohibiting pre-natal sex determination of fetuses in diagnostic centers and hospitals, but it is still prevalent under wraps, in exchange for bribes.
(5) Post-birth Discriminations Against Girls – In scenarios where pre-natal sex determination is not possible, people use brutal customs to get rid of the girl child if the need arises. Headlines like girl babies found abandoned in dumpsters, public gatherings and even trains are commonplace. In states of Rajasthan and Haryana, at many places new born girl child is drowned in boiling milk and even fed pesticides.
While the overall sex ratio of the country has gone up since the last census in 2001, from 933 to 940 in 2011, the child sex ratio in the age group 0-6 years has plummeted from 927 to 914.
Mizoram has the highest child sex ratio at 971, very similar to Meghalaya at 970. Haryana remains the state with lowest ratio of 830 per 1000 boys. Numbers are slightly better in Punjab with 840.
At the district level, Lahul and Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh has the highest recorded ratio in that age group at 1013. Jhajjar district of Haryana had the scariest of the numbers, a mere 774 girls against each 1000 boys.
Among the union territories, Daman and Diu has a child sex ratio of 618, while Mahe district in Pondicherry has the highest numbers of 1,176.
Overall, data from the 2011 Census reveals that all 29 states and Union Territories have shown an increase in child sex ratio as compared to the 2001 Census. But the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar and Gujarat have shown a decline in the sex ratio compared with the figures of Census 2001.
This decline in child sex ration figures is cause for alarm. At the same time it demands a serious re-thinking of policies to improve it. It is a matter of consolation that the decline rate has slowed down considerably in the last few years, probably due to the side-effect of growing urbanization and its spread to rural areas.
India has been termed as one of the most dangerous place in the world for a girl child to be born. In the most current data released by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), for 150 countries, for over a span of 40 years, has revealed 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. The data also depicts that a girl child between the age of 1 to 5 years is 75% more likely to die than a boy child.
Female feticides and infanticides, coupled with deaths of girl child due to neglect and abuse, have skewed the sex ratio and that may have long term socio-psychological effects. The surplus of males in a society leads to many of them remaining unmarried, and consequent marginalization in society and that may lead to anti-social behavior and violence, threatening societal stability and security. We cannot ignore the implications this man-induced alteration of demographic has on the social violence, human development and overall progress of the country.
Although sounding promising, the current scenario is far from being satisfactory. Despite legal provisions, incentive-based schemes, and media messages, many Indians across all societal strata are shunning the girl child from thriving.
Provisions for Safeguarding the Girl Child
Current policies have been directed towards the symptom rather than targeting the direct root cause. Instead of addressing the basic son preference/daughter aversion and low status of women in India, efforts are being made primarily towards the eradication of sex-selection practices.
The Regulation and Prevention of Misuse of Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act came into force in 1994. It was subsequently amended in 2003 to include prevention of use of pre conception diagnostic techniques as well. It is now called the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostics Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act.
The government has introduced plans targeted at countering the common psyche of people regarding girls as burdens. The Balika Samriddhi Yojana and Sukanya Samridhi Yojana have been started by the Government in order to help the girl child prosper and not be perceived as an economic burden. Campaigns like the Save the Girl Child and the more recent Beti Bachao, Beti Padao, have been started to create awareness against atrocities faced by the girl child.
Importance of the Girl Child in Indian Society
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had opined that “Women empowered means mother India empowered” and to have empowered women in future we need to empower our girl child of today. In ancient Indian societies, women enjoyed ample freedom and respect. Present day champions of women excellence in India are numerous – from a woman Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, to the heroic deeds of Kiran Bedi, the first woman IPS officer of India, there should be no doubt that our women. Girls are proficient in balancing multiple roles and they are naturally made for multitasking. Today, girls are applying for jobs that were once considered solely for men and tackling them with élan. Not just in their traditional roles of wife, daughter and mothers, girls are even the sole bread-winner of the family. The question remains of changing our perception about girls being fragile, weak and dependent. In today’s India, they are capable of anything. With projects like the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya aimed at providing young girls an increased chance at education, an educated daughter is surely to make their family proud. Investing in the education of a young girl will contribute significantly towards eradication evil practices like child marriage, premature pregnancy, child abuse etc. which, in turn, creates the vision of a healthier nation.
There are currently 31 million girls of primary school age that are not in school. A girl in Sierra Leone is more likely to be sexually abused than to attend high school and 1 in 9 girls in the developing world are married before the age of 15. There are 4 million more girls out of school than boys and 3 countries have over a million girls not in school. There are 774 million illiterate people in the world and two-thirds are female.
To many these are just numbers on a page, but for 31 million girls it’s a harsh reality. In 2016, statistics like these are unfathomable, and quite simply unacceptable.
Today we have the resources and the ability to eradicate these realities once and for all, and yet – as a global society – we sit back and allow them to continue. How is this possible? Amnesty International says that whenever and wherever a fellow human being is being persecuted, tortured, oppressed or abused you have the right to sit silently by; you also have the right speak out.
The time has come to speak out and fight for our girls education, and we want you to know why.
A girl’s education reduces child mortality
If women all over the world had a secondary education, child deaths would be cut in HALF, saving 3 million lives. Not just girls’ lives, but all lives. Christina Taylor, the Community & Bequests Officer for Plan International, notes, “All children are important, they have the same rights and deserve the same opportunities, however because girls face the double discrimination of being female and young it is so important that we focus efforts specifically on addressing their disadvantages and systemic abuse.”
Educated mothers improve child nutrition
According to UNESCO, if all women had a secondary education, 12 million children would be saved from stunted growth and malnutrition. Considering that malnutrition contributes to nearly half of all deaths in children under 5, it is undeniable that it is imperative that we educate girls who will become mothers. It is easy to see how a lack of education has a ripple effect across societies. A girl’s education not only provides knowledge, it gives them power and awareness over their own lives, which benefits all in the long run.
Do we want to create a positive ripple effect, or allow a poisonous one to continue?
Educated women are less likely to die in childbirth
It is estimated that 153 million children worldwide, ranging from infants to teenagers, have lost one or both parents. Imagine if we could reduce this by 98,000? Well, we can! According to UNESCO, if all mothers completed primary education, maternal deaths would be reduced by two-thirds. Every child deserves to grow up with the love and guidance of their parents, and by denying girls an education we are increasing the chances of a motherless childhood for so many.
Education narrows pay gaps and increases a woman’s chance of entering the workforce
Everyone deserves the chance to work for fair and equal pay; to provide for themselves and their family. Of course it is equally as valuable and admirable to stay at home and care for the family, but this should be a choice.
For many women who are in unsafe and unhappy marriages, leaving is not an option, because they have no skills and no education to allow them to find work and to provide an income for themselves. For these women, living in an unhappy or abusive relationship seems better than living on the streets begging for money; the lesser of two evils in a sense. Women should not be limited in this way, and this can be easily avoided if we afford all girls their human right to an education. Christina Taylor sums it up perfectly:
“Girls’ education is about so much more than knowledge. By ensuring that a girl has equal access to education, employment and adequate health care, the benefits will be passed on to her children (both boys and girls), community and her country.”
Many of us take our education for granted. We do not appreciate what it affords us. But imagine if you weren’t lucky enough to receive an education. Where would you be? Receiving an education empowers girls to take control of their lives, their families, and their future.
Girls with dreams become women with vision – let’s create a world where this vision runs wild and free.
In the face of these injustices it is easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless. But there are little things we can do each and every day to instigate change. Why not sponsor a girl, or make a donation to a child-focused organisation such as Plan, World Vision, ChildFund or Unicef? Become an Ambassador for an organisation that fights for the girls of our world. Host an event to raise funds and awareness for a specific girls issue you feel particularly passionate about. The best place to begin? Start the conversation. Inform yourself on the issues and be aware of the good and bad progress being made around the world. Visit a developing country and interact with the local communities, and most of all, simply talk about it to others. This is a conversation that needs to be had, and that’s something that each and every one of us can be a part of.
” Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
– Barack Obama
Lila has been brought up in a world where girls and women are expected to become Kamalaris—house slaves—in order to support their families. To work from the age of 14, as a Kamalari, Lila was given her board and lodging and earned 500 Nepalese rupees each year (AU$60). Years of tradition combined with a lack of training has led to many daughters of those in bonded labour being sold as Kamalari.
However, Lila did not want to be subjected to a life like this. She wanted something more. She wanted to break the mould. Thanks to Plan, Lila discovered the key to breaking free: an education. Thanks to Plan’s Kamalari Abolition Program, Lila was able to return to school as part of a growing generation of girls now earning an education, learning to read and write, and understanding their rights and reclaiming their voice – making choices for their own future.
She said, “As a Kamalari I had to work hard all day. I had no time for school or to read. Fortunately, that has now changed. I feel good and if I have children later, I’m going to do it differently.”
* The facts, statistics and quotes in this article were sourced from UNESCO, UNFPA, Plan International Australia and UNICEF Australia.