By Vivek Bhattacharya
The Census conducted in 1971 pegged the child sex ratio, defined as the number of females per thousand males in the age group 0–6 years in the Indian population, at 964. It dipped sharply to 918 in Census 2011, sending alarm bells ringing in Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. A very worrying prospect of such a statistic is that an imbalance in this age group will extend to older age groups in future years. Consequently, ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padao’ was launched with three objectives – prevent female infanticide, ensure that every girl child is protected, and ensure that every girl child is educated.
The programme has ambitious targets. It will identify the top 100 districts with lowest sex ratio, with at least one district in each state. However, in Haryana, 12 districts will be covered because of its notoriously skewed child sex ratio. In these districts, it will strive to improve sex ratio by 10% in a year, which translates into 10 more girls per 1000 babies born. It will augment the enrolment of girl students in schools by 79% by 2017, and install separate toilets for girls. In terms of absolute numbers, it entails over 95,000 toilets at primary schools,
and over 6,500 toilets at secondary ones, a tall order indeed. The 24th of January will be celebrated as the ‘Girl Child Day’, to ingrain the importance of this mission into national consciousness. Alongside, introduction of gender sensitivity has been proposed in schools, but no details of implementation have been released yet.
However, challenges are aplenty. The District collectors have been tasked to head a district task force, which will network with schools, colleges, NGOs, media and the youth, and will make use of funds, such as the ones from CSR spending. This segment is entirely bureaucracy-driven with no monitoring, and one wonders how effectively these words on paper will translate into action. In contrast, in North India, when child marriages become notoriously regular during Akshaya Tritiya, additional surveillance has been ordered, with the corresponding Panchayat held accountable if the marriage goes through. They will be monitored via a parliamentary forum of MPs drawn from 100 districts, making it an effective down-to-top monitoring mechanism.
Next, the issue of female foeticide has been addressed on a war footing. The Collector and the District judge are now required to submit monthly reports on Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) cases. Tapping into citizen activism, online portals will be opened for filling anonymous complaints, with reward system in place for information about doctors or quacks involved in sex-determination and illegal abortion. These account for new initiatives in place, and the pre existing schemes have also been strengthened. If a pregnant mother is registered under the Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana in her first trimester, her monetary support has been augmented to ₹3,500
Sexual abuse is an allied issue, too. Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, which came into force the same year has been brought under this scheme. So has the Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls (RGSEAG), popularly known as ‘Sabla’. It is a centrally sponsored program, which covers adolescent girls of 11–18 years in all states/UTs in the country, providing them with Iron and Folic Acid (IFA) supplementation, Health check-up and Referral services and vocational training for girls aged 16 and above.
‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ (BCBP) comes bundled with the ‘Sukanya Samridhi Yojana’. This is a small-deposit scheme which promotes bank accounts for girls below the age of 10. She can withdraw 50% of the money after reaching the age of 18. For initial account opening, a minimum deposit. ₹1,000 is required with a maximum deposit ₹1.5 lakh per year. The interest rate has been intentionally kept high at 9.1% compounded annually, with the interest earned being non-taxable. In launching this scheme, the Prime Minister personally expressed his intention in financially incentivizing parents of a girl child to come forward and make use of this programme.
But the author opines that irrespective of how well intentioned a piece of legislation might be, it cannot supplant the need to reform the common psyche, behaviour and societal outlook. They ultimately will be the pillars of a change which will curb the malaise of female foeticide and gender disparity. We need to be firmly convinced, unconditionally believe in, and advocate social customs such as similar celebrations for both the girl and boy child, and siblings tying ‘Rakhi’ to each other during Raksha-Bandhan irrespective of their sex. A sister vowing to protect her brother is as sacrosanct as the brother’s promise to her is. Daughters also need to be allowed to perform the last rites of their parents. They should have an equal claim to property
rights, outside the baseless argument that they are in no such need because their husbands provide for them. Weddings, single-handedly the primary reason which stigmatizes the birth of a girl as she is seen as an economic liability, due to the prevalence of the dowry system, has to be replaced by a social norm wherein the couple involved pay for the function out of their own pocket. Social conventions swing both ways – they are quagmires that can drag the society down to depths of gender injustice, or a force multiplier which ushers in a world where a girl is treated just like a boy, no more, no less.
(The above colour-coded map has no copyright restrictions and the author personally requests its publication with article, if at all.)
Vivek Bhattacharya majored in Electronics Engineering, and is a Foreign Policy and International Relations enthusiast. He was formerly associated with Non-Traditional Security Research Centre (NTS-RC) at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), and Observer Research Foundation, besides having written extensively to The Hindu and the Indian Express on similar issues. Other interests include constitutional and international law, socio-political issues and literature. He believes human stupidity is a far bigger threat to mankind than ISIS, and can be reached at https://www.facebook.com/
Edited by Madhavi Roy, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist