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

Bangalore, 11th October: 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.

Lookingclosely into the pattern of sex ratio at birth over the last decade, a similarnarrative comes to surface. There is only a marginal improvement recorded inthe sex ratio at birth over the last decade, as a comparative analysis of twoconsecutive 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 toWorld 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, UttarPradesh, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Delhi falls far shortof the bench mark, thus indicating a strong social preference for the boy childover girls. 

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

In terms ofenrolment in schools, the gross enrolment ratio stood at 56% in 2015-16 forhigher secondary education, which is the last mile of schooling, which meansonly 1 in 2 girls in the country complete school education (Source: U-DISE2015-16). Going forward, not only do more girls drop out as the educationprogresses, around 13.2 percent girls continue to be illiterate, compared to10% of boys (Census 2011). The onus of sibling care and household chores stilllie on her unready shoulders as the family prepares her young mind to bemarried off and become someone else’s property from the time she learns tocomprehend the world around her. 

Now that theRight to Education Act (RTE) has completed its seventh anniversary, andGovernment initiatives such as ‘Beti Padao, Beti Bachao’ in place, ideally allgirl 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 aremarried, and more than one third of them (4.2 Lakhs) have children. Furtherdata reveals that more than 44 Lakhs of girls under 14 are working, and morethan 3 Lakhs of them are married and working. These are children who are barelyinto their teenage – a critical juncture that plays a huge role in shaping theirlives (Census 2011). 

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

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

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