The decline of the girl child in India is a problem of deep-rooted societal discrimination against women and girls; one that has found foothold in the proliferation of cheap and readily accessible sex determination technologies, such as sonograms and ultrasounds. Through foeticide, infanticide and the intentional neglect of girls and young women, the women of India are fast disappearing. Also, decades-old government population programmes intended to encourage family planning and the “two-child norm”, have correlatively encouraged sex selective elimination (SSE), eroding the value of the girl child, and stripping women of their reproductive decision- making power. In some of the worst affected areas, such as the states of Punjab and Haryana, the scarcity of women is so acute that women and girls from impoverished outlying states are trafficked in the purpose of marriage.
The problem continues to be ignored today; more than a decade after the first national legislation on sex selection was passed in 1994. In 2001, brief renewed interest in the country’s deteriorating Child Sex Ratio (CSR) was sparked off after Amartya Sen publicly noted that the figures in the 2001 Census showed a dramatic worsening of the situation, especially in the country’s worst affected districts.
Thus a concerted campaign to end sex selection demands that India’s civil society enhance its pressure on the government to take action to curtail the misuse of preconception and prenatal technologies, and to regulate to behaviours of those seeking profit from the industry. It is imperative that a campaign to address sex selection recognizes the necessity of reformulating and changing the population control strategy with the goal of seeking the targeted gender balance strategies. Finally, education, public awareness, and promoting the value of the girl child in a small family will play a critical role in bringing about an end to the problem of SSE.
Work of Action India on Child Sex Ratio:Action India’s work on the CSR began in the 1980s when we joined the National Campaign against Female Foeticide. At that time, our approach was two-pronged: we worked to bring awareness and stimulate critical thinking about CSR and the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection Act), 1994 (PCPNDT Act) in and around Delhi with women at the community level; and we sought to target doctors, lawmakers, and law implementers to press for women-centered policies and the proper implementation of the existing laws.
A few of the initiatives that we have implemented in recent areas:
- In 2002 we undertook a formal campaign to mobilize women in and around Delhi. In collaboration with KARVAN, a network addressing violence against women, we identified foeticide and infanticide as “worst forms of violence against women” and hosted a symposium on female foeticide to draw attention to the issue.
- We undertook an opinion poll of 3000 women across the Delhi region, which was used to develop a programme called Stree Bhrun Hatya Roko Abiyan (Stop Female Foeticide Campaign) to conduct effective intervention at the grass roots level. Sixteen centers were identified and awareness programmes were conducted with women. Our groups marched through the streets, culminating in a Jatha, which included poems, songs, dances, puppet shows, and banners developed at the community level, proclaiming the value of the girl children.
- In 2004, with the aim of bringing the issue to the public and government focus, Action India, in partnership with the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA), spearheaded an advocacy campaign that attempted to address the issue at various levels, including with grassroots women, political leaders, and civil society
- A citizen’s forum has been working with the support of the Delhi Government to implement the PCPNDT Act.
- To further the policy side of our campaign, we partnered with MYRDO in southwest Delhi and Child Survival of India in the northeast district to conduct a study.
Some Important Facts:
- Of the more than 110 million children not in school, approximately 60 per cent are girls.
- By age 18, girls have received an average of 4.4 years less education than boys.
- World-wide of the more than 130 million primary school age children not enrolled in school, nearly 60% are girls.
- In some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent girls have HIV rates up to five times higher than adolescent boys.
- Pregnancies and childbirth-related health problems take the lives of nearly 146,000 teenage girls each year.
- In sub-Saharan Africa, a woman faces a 1 in 13 chance of dying in childbirth. In Western Europe, the risk is 1 in 3,200.
- At least one in three girls and women worldwide has been beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime.
- An estimated 450 million adult women in developing countries are stunted, a direct result of malnutrition in early life.
- Two million girls and women are subjected to female genital mutilation every year.
Key Areas of Improvement:
Legal/ Social: Despite the progress in efforts to enable girls to fully enjoy their rights, there is still a great deal of work to be done in order to achieve the objective. There are still many unresolved issues of discrimination, inequality, neglect, exploitation and violence against girls and women.
Educational: Nothing has as great an impact on children and especially girls as a quality education. Per UNICEF - 'A 10-percentage-point increase in girls' primary enrollment can be expected to decrease infant mortality by 4.1 deaths per 1,000, and a similar rise in girls' secondary enrollment by another 5.6 deaths per 1,000."
Health/ Physical: HIV/AIDS, the gravest challenge human beings face at the moment, complicates the problem as girls are at even greater danger than boys the same age of being infected.
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