The Indian Girl Child
The paper below is a contribution from by Prof. Rekha Pande, from the in India . Today we recognize that to try and improve the position of women one needs to look at the girl child who is a woman of tomorrow. Only when we visualize a female child with high self esteem not merely in recipient roles but in active productive roles with a concern for human dignity will be have strong and empowered women. The ultimate goal is to have an active, healthy and confident female child unfettered by with equal access to knowledge information and opportunities.
Table of Contents
The Indian context
To have an empowered woman it is important that we start with the girl child. India’s National Policy for the empowerment of women, 2001, emphasizes that women become empowered through collective reflection and decision making.http://wcd.nic.in/empwomen.htm The parameters of empowerment are:
- Building a positive self image and self confidence.
- Developing the ability to think critically.
- Building group cohesion and fostering decision making.
- Providing the wherewith all for economic independence.
- Ensuring equal participation in the process of bringing social change.
- Encouraging group action.
Looking at the specific case of Indian society, certain trends emerge: our culture idolizes boys and dreads the birth of girls. The girl child is breast-fed for a shorter time and drawn out of school to take care of siblings. The cycle of deprivation and disadvantage is further compounded by early marriage, premature pregnancies and expected risks. The girl child needs to be empowered to enter the mainstream of economic and social activity. The ultimate goal is to have an active, healthy and confident female child unfettered by socio-cultural patterns and traditional roles with equal access to knowledge information and opportunities.
The early stages
A girl’s discrimination begins even before birth. Our statistics clearly point out to some facts that abortion of female fetuses is on the rise,It is reported that about 4,000 female babies are aborted in Tamil Nadu (southern India) every year. Sex determination tests are widely resorted to even in the remotest rural areas. Since most deliveries in rural areas take place at home, there is no record of the exact number of births/deaths that take place. Therefore, it is difficult to assess the magnitude of the problem. (Sneh Lata Tandon and Renu Sharma, University of Delhi, Delhi, India: “Female Feticide and Infanticide in India: An Analysis of Crimes against Girl Children” International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences Vol 1 Issue 1 January 2006., the ratio of female to male is decliningEven though the national sex ratio in the 2011 Census 944 is more than 2001’s 934, in states like Punjab, Haryana the sex ratio is about 899 and 885 respectively: http://censusindia.gov.in/2011-prov-results/data_files/india/s13_sex_ratio.pdf, there is reluctance to seek medical aid for ailing daughters. Regardless of the economic background the status of the female child has never been the same as that of the male at any level. Gender roles are conceived, taught and enacted in a complex set of relationships within the family and society at large. Needless to say, the media reinforces the same stereotyped gender roles. The girl child grows up with a low self esteem. She grows up with a notion of temporary membership in her natal home to be disposed off with assets and dowry. A traditional saying sums it up thus, a daughter is like ghee (clarified butter)—both will stay good only upto a point. If you do not dispose them off they start stinking. Her productive role is to continue the household drudgery added to which is her reproductive responsibility.
The role of society
Even as a reproductive machine, a woman’s life is worth only if she produces a son. Tradition and scriptures reinforce societal biases against the girl thus, “the birth of a girl grant it elsewhere, here grant us a son”. Sophisticated medical technology now strengthens societal biases against girls through tools like prenatal sex determination tests which have resulted in increased number of female feticide cases.India’s 2011 census shows a serious decline in the number of girls under the age of seven – activists believe eight million female fetuses may have been aborted between 2001 and 2011: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex-selective_abortion Education, global exposure and affluence, all of which translates into easier access to expensive technology have made it easier to select the sex of the child. If there is a choice it is always for the male child. Despite a stringent law, doctors and patients manage to evade it. Hence there has been a decline in Sex ratio .See Appendix i: Appendix1 Source = the Census Reports, published by Office of the Registrar General, India 2A, Mansingh Road, New Delhi-110 011, India
Sex ratio figures
A Report by India’s registrar general and census commissioner, the Ministry of Health and family welfare and the United Nations Population Fund, points out based on the 2001 census that in the 0-6 age group, the most prosperous states of India like Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat have the lowest sex ratio. The most affluent pockets in some cities show the sharpest drop. South west Delhi for instance where some of the richest and most educated Indians reside has a sex ratio of only 845 against 904 in 1991. The situation is no better in other major cities which show a downwards trend. Well-off states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana recorded more than a 50 point decline in the Child sex ratio since 1991. In Delhi many Districts recorded an unfavourable ratio of less than 900 girls out of 1000 boys. South west Delhi recorded the biggest dip. In Gujarat only eight districts continued to record a Child Sex ratio of more than 900, compared to 20 districts in 1991. In Haryana almost all the Districts recorded a Child sex ratio of 850. Sonepat was down to 783 from 878. In Punjab no district records more than 850 girls. Fatehgarh Sahib has a ratio of 754 girls, the lowest in India. As per the 2011 Census figures, the overall sex ratio has seen a rise by 75%, but there is a downward trend in states like Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat and Bihar. The sex ratio in the age groups of 0-6 years in Bihar has risen to 933 while the total sex ratio is now 916.
The role of technology
One argument in the current debates about the issue is that excessive availability of machines could be fuelling female feticide besides the poor implementation of law. Also if the enactment of law could curb this menace, it would have stopped a long time ago. In the past two years the monitoring committee of the Government of India found that the implementation of regulatory structures is very poor, particularly in Delhi. There are roughly 700 ultra sound machines in Delhi and the Department of Family Welfare confirms that there are 21,000 registered ultra sound Centres in India. A random inspection resulted in 400 cases of seal and seizure because they were not registered with the Government and in 40-45 cases the centers were advertising sex determination tests. Besides this abortion pills like MTPill and Misprost, which should not be sold without the Doctors prescriptions are available off the counter. Taken without medical guidance these often lead to septicemia, excessive bleeding and even death. Two decades ago, doctors used to openly advertise for sex selection tests for male heirs. Dr. Aniruddha Malpani of Malpani clinic in up-market Colaba became associated with infertility treatment. Her web site advertised on how one could choose the gender of one’s child, claiming to be one of the few in the world to pre-select embryos to guarantee a son. Today Malpani is facing criminal charges for mis-using pre-implantation diagnostic techniques like FISH (Fluorescence in situ hybridization) for sex selection. Dr. Aniruddha defends himself stating that in a democracy, people should be allowed to make decisions. He also asks how many can afford the pre- implantation technique, suggesting that only the rich can go for such a costly test.India Today, Nov. 10, 2003, p. 19
The role of legislation
The Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misues) Amendment Act was framed in 1994. Renamed the Pre- Conception and Pre- Natal Diagonostic Technique (Prohibition of sex selection) Act, it came into force in 2003. The Act prohibits sex selection before or after conception. It regulates, but does not ban the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques like ultrasound for detecting genetic abnormalities or other disorders. Any nursing home, registered medical practitioner or hospital that does the ultrasound test is required to state that it does not do sex determination. The State Medical Council can cancel a registration to a doctor guilty of violating the law. Under the Act any person who seeks sex selection can face a three year imprisonment (on first conviction) and fined Rs. 50, 000. Proper implementation of laws is just one facet of the war against female feticide. In India there is a big gap between the law on paper and its implementation and of every law there are hundreds of ways in which it is bypassed. Meanwhile, in a society that idealizes the boy being born a female is to be born less than human. All across India the birth of a son is announced triumphantly with the beat of a brass thali (plate) and the distribution of sweets and money while that of a girl is met with silence and dejection, if not condolence. In North India dowries are much bigger and dowry deaths more common.http://subsite.icu.ac.jp/cgs/article/0408008e.html In many states marrying a daughter can reduce the parents to penury.
Discrimination through life
The position of the girl child cannot be looked at in isolation. Her status is a product of the general societal attitudes towards women at large. Women face higher risks of malnutrition, disease, disability, retardation of growth and development. They have no access of control over resources. Their work is invisible and hence undervalued. All their disabilities are powerfully reinforced through our culture, media, education and socialization process. A look at some of the proverbs and saying in local languages throughout India sums up these attitudes. A popular Telugu saying from Andhra Pradesh is, “Bringing up a daughter is like watering a plant in another’s courtyard”. Another states, “If you tell lies you will get a female child”. Another states, “It is better to be born as a tree in a jungle than to be born a girl”. “It is easier to perform an Asvamedha Yagya (Horse sacrifice which the kings would perform in the past) than to perform a daughter’s wedding.” As a result of the cultural milieu the women’s self image as well as society’s image of her is negative. She has no value as an individual who contributes to the nation’s development. In this social context it is not surprising that the girl child like any other women has no value and her work is invisible and unrecognized.Pande, Rekha, 2004 The cycle of deprivation and disadvantage is further compounded by early marriage, premature pregnancies and their expected risks. The dedication of girls as devadasis, jogins and basavis in some regions of Andhra is a singularly reprehensible violation of human rights as it makes young and innocent girls available for sexual abuse in the name of religion. The young jogin does not marry and becomes the common property of the village and an object of sexual exploitation. Sensitising advocates, judges, police and administrative authorities, about prevention of “Devadasi” system and making them aware of acts pertaining to organised and commercial sexual exploitation of women and girl child are the main objectives of “Project Combat” launched by the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) Quoting the National Commission for Women, the authority says there are 2.5 lakh “Devadasi” girls who have been dedicated to Yellamma and Khandoba temples on Maharastra-Karnataka border. This includes 16,624 from Andhra Pradesh, 22,941 from Karnataka and 2,479 from Maharastra. The Devadasi system is prevalent in 10 districts of north Karnataka and 14 districts in Andhra Pradesh.The Hindu, National Daily, Monday, Jan 30, 2006 Girl children are entitled to equal access of all resources. This entitlement is frequently denied. Discrimination that begins at the girl’s birth has a cumulative effect on inequality, producing despair and powerlessness. The beginnings must be made with the girl child herself. Unless the girl internalizes the concept and experience of equity, as an adult she may tolerate and even perpetuate gender disparity. At present the girl child is denied the very acquisition of an identity. The right to personhood is a primary right and must be extended to the girl child. Also her rights to dignity, health, education are not visibly supported by the family or society. There must be concrete action on this count. A large number of girls, especially in rural areas, don’t even attend school and among those who attend school the drop-out rate is very high. This is because the girls have to engage in domestic and child care activities when parents are at work. Nearly 80% of the girls drop out from standards I to V. Out of the 100 girls that enroll in class 1 only 42 reach class V. Among Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes, many of those who live below poverty line of the 100 girls only 19 reach class V. Many of these girls work in the unorganized sectors such as the beedi industry .Two characteristics of beedi workers stand out: one, their being largely home based, and the other the predominance of women and girl children. The beedi sector represents the gender division of labour because most of the women along with girls sitting at home do the beedi making and boys are not involved in it.Pande, 2001 In spite of this most of the work of the girl child remains invisible.
Therefore an integrated and a holistic approach to the girl child’s development is essential for the creation of a new environment in which she can be valued and nurtured. This involves a process of social mobilization that will make the girl child every ones concern.WCD and UNICEF, 1999, 23 The media, the family, the community ads well as government and non government organizations have to join hands. By supplementing formal schooling with non formal schooling that confirms to local needs and constraints and by enlarging the ambit of child development programmes to include adolescent and pre adolescent girls and by creating an awareness on the rights of the girl child we can empower the girl child to enter the main stream of economic and social activity. Only then will the girl child be able to work out of the maze of neglect in which she has been lost for centuries. Traditions and rituals outline the existence of the Indian girl child. Amidst uproars of gender equality and law enforcement, female infants are still found dumped in trash, while unborn fetuses continue to be sniffed in the womb. Wrought with discrimination and prejudiced by rituals, our society has dealt the girl child a rough hand, starting even before birth, till the end of life. It is high time that we take this issue with all the seriousness it deserves.
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- The Hindu, Monday, Jan 30, 2006, http://www.hindu.com/2006/01/30/stories/2006013020130300.htm. Accessed, 8th December, 2011.
- The National Policy for the empowerment of women, 2001 http://wcd.nic.in/empwomen.htm, Accessed, 8th December, 2011.
- Pande, Rekha, 2004, The girl child in India, in Review of Women’s Studies, Vol.XIV, No.2, July-December, Philippines, pp.149-173.
- Pande, Rekha, 2000. Rolling ill health, Health Action,Vol. 14, No.8, August
- Pande, Rekha, 2004, The girl child in India, in Review of Women’s Studies, Vol.XIV, No.2, July-December, Philippines, pp.149-173.
- Pande Rekha ( with Bindu, K.C. Mumtaz Fatima, Nuzhath Khatoon), “Narratives of domestic violence, Reconstructing masculinities and Feminities”, in Singh, Manjit and D.P. Singh( ed), Violence –impact and intervention, New Delhi, Atlantic publishers and Distributors, pp. 121-140. 2008.
- Pande, Rekha, Op. cit.
- The Hindu, 2006, National Daily, Monday, January, 30th.
- Pande, Rekha,2001, Health issues of Women and Children-a study of the Beedi industry, Women’s Link, Vol.VII, No.2, pp.8-16.
- WCD and UNICEF, 1999, The lesser child, Produced by Department of women and Child welfare and UNICEF, New Delhi.