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.
Save the Girl Child
“Save the Girl Child” is a social initiative in India to fight against the practice of female foeticide. The initiative also aims are protecting, safeguarding, supporting, and educating the girl child.
Our present Prime Minister has requested every section of the society to give whole-hearted support to the “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao“ abhiyan (initiative). ‘Beth Bachao’ means ‘save girl child’ and ‘Beth Padhao’ means ‘educate the girl child.’
Poor households, when faced with the choice, often choose to send their male children to school instead of their female children, instead saddling female children with back-breaking household chores.
Female foeticide is both a national problem and a social evil. It’s unbelievable that the urge for a boy-child makes them so cruel that they dare to kill the yet to be born. As such it is crucial to step in and save the female children.
Causes of female foeticide
Various scholars have suggested different possible causes for the problem of female foeticide.
1. Low position of women: Women have been subjected to injustice since ages. Some people feel that the birth of girl child may lower their status in the society. There is an extreme desire for boy-child among some sections of our society.
2. Extreme poverty: People who live in extreme poor condition often think that the girl child would cause more economic hardship to them. The social evil of dowry system further worsens the situation. Some people think that they will to have to arrange for huge dowry for her marriage.
3. Illiteracy: Illiteracy is the leading of all social evils. Illiterate people are ignorant people, and not able to judge their actions in the right perspective.
4. Dowry system: Dowry system refers to the custom of paying money and other valuables to the groom’s family at the time of marriage. This tradition was probably introduced to give financial assistance to the newly wed couple. However, often, it is seen that the greedy family members of the groom’s family demand huge amount of money at the time of marriage. Dowry is viewed as a huge burden by the parents of the girl-child. (Please note that dowry is prohibited by law in India. )
How to save girl child?
1. Women empowerment: The women need to be empowered. A woman has every right to give birth to a baby. The girl child is a blessing of God. Just give her a chance, and she will make you proud with her achievements.
2. Awareness: Every citizen of civilized society should be made aware of the fact that a girl child is as important as a boy child. If she gets the right opportunity, she can provide economic support to the family and help them to come out of poverty level.
3. Education: Education raises the consciousness of a person. The mental pattern in favor of society should be transformed. This is the time for historic changes in the society. (Also read about women education here.)
4. Love, respect, and equality: Girls, just like their counterparts, deserves true freedom and equality. All children, girls and boys equally, deserve to be treated with love and respect. When we truly treat someone with love, we respect their autonomy and help them to achieve the very best that they can.
How to save girl child after her birth?
The girl child is not only unsafe inside her mother’s womb. Even after her birth, she has to face various hardships because of gender inequality. We must save the girl child after her birth as well. There is something that all of us can do to help girls all over the world.
- We all agree that girls’ education is very important. The girls should get a safe and comfortable environment at schools.
- The girl should get equal access to the educational resources of the school.
- There should be separate toilets for girl-children at schools.
- There is need for a shift in mental attitude in favor of equality between boys and girls.
- The belief that only a male-child can support the parents during the old age doesn’t hold true in today’s context. A girl can take care and support her family as well.
- The family members of the girl child should come forward to protect her rights, both within and outside her home.
- We can reach out to girls in our community and help them with their needs.
- The physical abuse and harassment of girl child should be dealt strictly. The guilty should be punished as per the law.
- Dowry stem should be effectively discouraged through media campaigns. Emphasis should be made to impart moral education to put an end to this evil system.
- Doctors and other medical professions should be encouraged to behave responsibly. They should never indulge in any mal-practices such as prenatal sex determination.
- We can promote strong images of powerful, successful girls and women that will serve as role models and help to combat gender based cultural discrimination.
- We can also donate money to schemes that are designed to help girls, or volunteer with charitable organizations overseas.
The ‘save the child girl, educate the girl child’ initiative is actively supported by the Government, corporate groups, human rights activists and NGOS.
Under the initiative of ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’, several social organizations have come forward to build toilet at girl schools.
The corporate India, as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), is also earmarking funds for the welfare of school going girls.
Legal status of prenatal sex determination
According to the laws prevailing in India, the determination of prenatal sex during pregnancy is illegal and punishable by law.
It is unfortunate that people still misuse the ultrasonography (diagnostic sonography) scan to determine the sex of the unborn baby. There is a need for:
- Strict enforcement of laws relating to medical scanning.
- Impart moral teachings on doctors.
- Educate people that there is no difference between a girl and a boy child.
Save Girl Child is a phrase that ought to be very important to all of us. We still, sadly, live in a very unequal world where girls and women are discriminated against according to their gender. Girls are at greater risk of gender based violence, and also from gendered threats such as female foeticide, forced marriage, lower pay due to gender based discrimination, child pregnancy, lower education levels due to the undervaluing of female education, sexual harrassment and much more. As such, it is important to take care of girl children and to give them all of the opportunities that they need to succeed in life.
We belong to the modern generation of humanity. We seek an environment where every human-being is considered free. We seek an environment where every unborn child is welcomed without any gender bias.
Mahatma Gandhi gave the slogan of ‘do or die’ to his countrymen for the cause of their motherland. The unborn girl-child is also seeking similar spirit among the countrymen in support of her cause.
Category: Essays, Paragraphs and Articles, Social Issues in IndiaTagged With: Social Issues in India