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STILL A LONG WAY TO GO

- Another opportunity for boys, girls and grown-ups to think about the burden of social roles

Last month, the Rajasthan state assembly approved the Rajasthan State Girl Child Policy, aimed at providing “equal rights, education, family support, proper health care among other things for girls”. Apart from emphasizing the protection of girls from domestic violence, it advocates a strict implementation of the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act to prevent sex determination of foetuses. In a state where female foeticide is extensively practised, the grand policy comes as a ray of hope. However, it is doubtful how much of what it has set out to achieve is practicable.

Almost two decades after the PCPNDT Act was framed, and in spite of six million girls missing, there have been less than 60 convictions. Although the overall sex ratio of the country is improving, child sex ratio declined from 945 to 914 during 1991-2011. Atrocities against the girl child — foeticide, infanticide, child marriages, child trafficking, forced prostitution, unequal treatment at home, among others — continue unabated. In 1997, more than 12,000 sex determination tests were carried out in clinics in Delhi alone. In the same year, 105 female infants had reportedly been killed every month in the Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu. In light of this, the National Girl Child Day, to “address and reverse the trend of the declining child ratio in the country”, seems both relevant and too ambitious.

The day of the year dedicated to the girl child is the same day that Indira Gandhi was sworn in as prime minister in 1966. January 24 was declared as the National Girl Child Day in 2009. Beginning with this day, the girl child is to be celebrated till March 8, the International Women’s Day. The programme aims at sensitizing society to the plight of the girl child, so that the systematic discrimination that she is put through can be curbed, and she can be respected and valued in society. It is ironic that the efforts directed towards the betterment of a nation’s youth as a whole need to describe policies that are designed specifically for girls. It is also sad that “respect” and “value” towards children of a gender have to be artificially brought about through government efforts. (There is no ‘Day’ marked specifically for the boy child.) The necessity of such policies underscores the fact that girls are summarily deprived. However, the need for such policies cannot be denied, for it is only in accepting a crisis that it can be addressed. It is disconcerting that even after numerous such efforts designed to improve the situation of girls in the country, very little has changed.

The Integrated Child Development Services (1975) aims to tackle malnutrition in the girl child till adolescence, among other things. The ‘promotion’ of the girl child to bring her at par with her male counterpart is a major component. The SABLA scheme (2011) seeks to empower adolescent girls by facilitating proper nutrition and education, and provides life skills and vocational skills. The Dhan Lakshmi scheme was launched in 2008 in backward blocks of seven states. It provided for cash transfers to the family of the girl child on fulfilling certain specific conditions. Other schemes such as the Balika Samriddhi Yojana, the Bhagyalakshmi scheme, the Ladli Laxmi Yojana and numerous others aimed to revolutionize the attitudes towards the girl child and to aid and encourage her family. Yet, in families with one girl child, the chances of a second girl being born remain as low as 54 per cent. In families with two girls, the chances of a third girl dip to 20 per cent. In 2009, among male children aged 12-23 months, 62 per cent received full immunization, while only 60 per cent girls in the same age group did. A sea change in the situation is yet to be seen.

On October 11 last year, the first International Day of the Girl Child, Plan India, a child centred community development organization, decided to illuminate iconic monuments in pink as a part of its “Because I am a girl” campaign. While schemes and policies for the girl child have been implemented fairly extensively, awareness programmes such as this one remain limited mostly to the cities and towns. The present state of the girl child only reaffirms that mere policies cannot succeed where there is a lack of adequate knowledge and understanding of a situation.