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Check health, check dropouts

New Delhi, July 1: The government has written to all states to ensure better sanitation facilities, including separate toilets and free napkins, to check the increasing dropout rate among girls once they reach puberty.

In a letter to all state secretaries, the rural development ministry has asked state governments to scale up the School Sanitation and Health Hygiene Education (SSHHE) programme under the ministry’s total sanitation campaign.

Written by J.S. Mathur, joint secretary, department of drinking water, the letter says “lack of separate facilities for girls in schools and reluctance of parents to send adolescent girls during menstruation has significant implications on attendance and enrolment of girls”.

It asks states to give extra attention to provide better sanitation facilities for girl students, including free napkins and napkin vending machines.

“Lack of availability of clean napkins, poor personal hygiene during menstruation and unsafe disposal of sanitary napkins in bins or in the open remains a serious issue impacting the education and health of adolescent girls,” the letter says.

The ministry’s directive to scale up its SSHHE programme came after the economic survey for 2009-10 revealed the fall in the gross enrolment ratio of girls between 11 and 14.

The survey indicated that while there were 108 girls for every 100 boys between classes I and V (6-11 years), the ratio fell to 69.6 between classes VI and VIII (11-14 years).

According to the letter, states that have made procurement of sanitary napkins in schools easy have seen a lower decline in the number of girls between classes V and VIII.

Citing the case of Tamil Nadu, which provides sanitary napkins for Re 1 for all, the letter says the state has the lowest gaps between the gross enrolment ratio for girls in the 6-11 age group and those between 11 and 14 years.

The letter from the central government asks states to provide in girls’ and co-ed schools the following facilities at the earliest:

• Separate toilets for girls and boys in all co-educational schools. The toilets must have dustbins for safe disposal of sanitary napkins

• Sanitary napkin production units and napkin vending machines on school premises

• Incinerators for safe disposal of sanitary napkins

The letter says education in menstrual hygiene may be undertaken in co-ordination with the school health programme of the ministry of health and family welfare and the ministry of women and child development.

The sanitation department has also asked the National Rural Health Mission to take steps to provide 10 sanitary pads to all girl students free of cost.

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