It's not easy to be a woman in India--this is a fact. Recognising the need for the empowerment of women, the government in 2008 decided to celebrate National Girl Child Day on January 24 every year. Through this campaign, the government aims to promote awareness about the various issues plaguing the girl child, ensure equal opportunity for girls, and create a society that learns to value girls.
According to the 2011 census, only 65.46 % of India's female population were found to be literate when compared to 82.14% men. Since then, the government has launched several campaigns and schemes aiming to help young girls, so that they grow up to be educated, empowered women.
On the occasion of National Girl Child Day, we decided to take stock of the situation of girls in our country. Although the government has introduced several schemes for the betterment of young girls, the country still has a long way to go when it comes to empowering the girl child. Here's how girls are doing on some of the most important sectors that will shape their future:
In August 2009, India passed the landmark Right to Education Act that made education free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 14. In an interview with TIME magazine, Ranjana Kumari, Director of Centre for Social Research, said that in the past decade, it’s become increasingly acceptable to educate girls, especially in rural India. “Young girls are also more aware of what they want to wear, what they want to do with their lives,” she said.
When it comes to the education of girls, the statistics seem to look good. According to the Teen Age Girls Survey (TAG) conducted in 2018 by the Naandi Foundation—which runs Project Nanhi Kali, an NGO that focuses on educating underprivileged girls—more of India's teenage girls are in school and fewer are married. The project surveyed 74,000 girls between the ages of 13 to 19 years, across 600 districts, and found that 81 percent of teenage girls are currently in school. And 70 percent of them wish to pursue higher studies, and 74.4 percent want to work after their studies and have a specific career in mind.
While the idea of young girls with aspirations is certainly positive, the government needs to make sure that they are realised. A report published in TIME magazine last year found that young girls are certainly enrolling in school, but a high number of them drop out before graduating. According to the 2018 Annual Status of Education Report, in 2018, the drop-out rates for girls between ages 11 and 14 years was 4.1 percent, but the figure significantly increased to 13.5 percent for girls aged 15-16 years. TIME found that the reason behind girls leaving school is that they are shouldering the burden of care and housework. Families are more likely to pull out girls to help with household, especially in rural India.
So while the government has made education compulsory, perhaps it needs to formulate some policies that ensure that girls don't just begin, but finish school too.
Health is still a major area of concern, especially when it comes to the girl child in India. While the government has been promoting its Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the TAG survey (2018) found that 40 percent of girls in the country still have to defecate in the open. Also, access to hygienic methods of menstrual protection is extremely essential for a young girl's reproductive health—but a staggering 45.7 percent use unhygienic materials during menstruation.
When it comes to health parameters, the findings of the same survey were extremely alarming. Only 51.5 percent of girls from urban areas and 46.8 percent of girls from rural areas have normal levels of haemoglobin. Every second teenage girl is anaemic, and every second teenage girl has a low Body Mass Index (BMI).
These figures clearly indicate that drastic measures need to be taken to improve health for young girls, and they need to be taken soon.
Owing to the widespread issue of female foeticide and a poor sex ratio, the government in 1994 passed the Pre-conception & Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (PC&PNDT) Act. India's sex ratio as of 2019 is 107.48, which means the country has 930 females per 1000 males. However, when it comes to individual states, some of them have a poorer sex ratio than others, because owing to the patriarchal culture prevalent there, people believe the girl child is a 'burden' to the family.
While it is illegal to determine the sex of the foetus before childbirth, recent data has us questioning whether it is being strictly implemented. In 2019, a government report found that not a single girl was born in 132 villages over a period of three months. When the issue was probed, government officials dismissed the figures as a 'mere coincidence', but women's rights activists cried foul. "This is completely unheard of that for three months, no girl child was born in so many villages," said activist and academic Nivedita Menon. "There must have been some process by which sex determination was done illegally and abortions were carried out."
A 2011 study by British medical journal, The Lancet, found that up to 12 million female foetuses were aborted in India in the previous three decades. In 2014, a United Nations report said the dwindling number of girls in India had reached "emergency proportions" and was contributing to crimes against women. These figures are raw proof that India is clearly not a country for women.
To address the alarming number of issues faced by the girl child in India, the government has formulated and implemented several policies to stop injustices against girls and create a safe, positive environment for them. Some of them include: the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojna, Balika Samridhi Yojna, the Dhanalakshmi scheme.
In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme, aiming to address the declining child sex ratio and to "change mindsets regarding the girl child". However, according to media reports, data released by the government shows that 56 percent of the funds allocated towards the campaign were spent on 'media-related activities' and less than 25 percent of the funds were disbursed to the states. In fact, 19.16 percent of the funds remained unreleased.
These figures don't exactly inspire confidence that India's 'betis' are in safe hands.
So while the government has devised policies to create a safe and secure society for the girl child, India's betis still have a long long way to go when it comes to becoming empowered.
Featured Image: Shutterstock
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