23 Jan :The inferior status of and the crimes and violence against the girl child that have emerged in the recent years is a matter of deep concern. The incidence of female foeticide has been increasing over the years denying the girl child the right to be born. Census figures reveal that the female sex ratio in the country for the 0-6 years age group has declined from 976 in 1961 to 927 in the year 2001. If this trend continues, it is feared that the girl child numbers will drastically reduce distorting societal fabric and leading to many social deviant patterns such as polyandry, trafficking and forced marriages.
Even after her birth, the girl child is discriminated against in many ways in terms of nutrition, education, health; she is also a victim to a number of atrocities and violence such as rape, trafficking, early marriage and pregnancies, and the resultant high maternal and child mortality.
A very significant reason for the poor status of the girl child is the perception of society that she is a burden and not an asset. Traditional and cultural customs too reinforce these perceptions. For example, traditional concepts perceives a girl as ‘paraya dhan’ and that she is not a permanent member of her birth family; that by giving her a share in the family property/assets, these assets will move away from the family after her marriage’ and dowry will deplete family resources; these misconceptions and myths affect the girl child’s worth and self esteem.
The Government has embarked on a multi pronged and multidimensional strategy for the welfare of the girl child both at the Centre and States for bringing about attitudinal changes in the society towards the girl child through legislative, preventive, advocacy and programmatic inputs. These include Kishori Shakti Yojana, which is a holistic programme for the self-development of adolescent girls. The National Programme for nutrition for Adolescents Girls provides additional nutrition to underweight girls. A proposal for combining the above mentioned two Schemes is on the anvil, in order to provide all developmental inputs to the adolescent girls in one package. In order to enhance the educational status of girls, specially from disadvantaged communities schemes such as Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya and National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level (NPEGEL), are being implemented.
With the objective of reducing the incidence of female foeticide and restore value and status to the girl child, the Ministry of Women and Child Development have launched in March, 2008, the Scheme of Dhanalakshmi, a Conditional Cash Transfer Scheme for Girl Child with Insurance Cover. This Scheme has been initiated as a pilot project in selected Blocks which are educationally backward. The Scheme provides for cash transfers to the family of the girl child on their fulfilling specific conditionalities – birth and registration of the girl child, immunization, enrollment and retention in school and if the girl child remains unmarried at the age of 18 years, an insurance cover of Rs. 1 Lakh will be given to her. For the survival of the girl child, the initiative of ‘Palna or cradle baby scheme’ has been incorporated in the proposed Integrated Child Protection Scheme, where the objective is to prevent female foeticide by rescuing unwanted baby girls and placing them in loving adoptive families.
To protect the girl child from social evils such as trafficking, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has launched in December 2007 the Scheme of “Ujjawala”, a comprehensive scheme which has specific components for Prevention of Trafficking and Rescue, Rehabilitation and Re-Integration and Repatriation of Victims of Trafficking of Commercial Sexual Exploitation.
In addition, there are a number of legislations for safeguarding the rights of the girl child such as Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 to prevent diagnostic sex selective techniques and subsequent abortion of female foetus. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 replaced the Child Marriage Restraint Act giving more strength to prohibit child marriages and enhancement of punishments for those who abet, promote or perform child marriages. The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, 2005 is being implemented to prevent violence and harm to women and girls in household. The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 prohibits women and girls from being indecently portrayed in public domain. In order to prevent trafficking of persons especially young girls for commercial sexual exploitation, Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 is being amended to make it more stringent against the perpetrators of the crime and thus reduce demand for exploitation of young girls and withdrawal of those Sections which earlier penalized the victims of trafficking.
India is a signatory to a number of International Instruments such as UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), its two Optional Protocols, and Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of discrimination against Women (CEDAW), thereby affirming its commitment to the growth and development of women and children.
In spite of the various initiatives there is a felt need to raise the consciousness of the society towards the girl child so that she can be valued and respected. It is imperative to bring to centre stage the different problems faced by the girl child and gender sensitization amongst the various sections of society, and help in transforming mind sets towards the girl child. For this purpose it has been decided that a particular day in the year be dedicated to the girl child with emphasis on wide spread sensitization programms on important issues pertaining to her survival, welfare, development and empowerment. The declaration of such a day will be beneficial in focusing attention of the Nation on her well-being and will definitely boost national awareness. The Government has declared January 24 of every year as ‘National Girl Child Day’. This day was specially chosen to commemorate the day when Late Smt. Indira Gandhi was sworn in as the first woman Prime Minister of the country which was a big step towards women’s empowerment. The Ministry of Women and Child Development is initiating a number of projects and activities to highlight the girl child and gender empowerment right from January 24, 2009 to March 8, 2009 which is the International Day for Women.