India Empowering The Girl Child

In a short span of four and a half years, India has successfully fought hard against social prejudices against girl child, and achieved remarkable successes. The ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign was a timely intervention on the back of declining child sex ratio. India is celebrating the fourth anniversary of the campaign on January 22. Apparent social changes along with statistics point to a definite emergence of enabling environment for the girl children.

Reports of improvement in the child sex ration in the age group of 0-6 years along with increased enrolment ratio in schools are indeed happy trends. That the campaign could cover whole of the country in a very short span of time is also noteworthy. More remarkable is the aspect that the campaign hasn’t been just a government initiative, but accepted overwhelmingly by the people across the country. The net result is increased registration of pregnancies, institutional deliveries, and better health care expansions. Large-scale construction of toilets in schools has also given a major fillip to the campaign.

The 2011 Census had revealed worrisome trends. The national child sex ratio had slumped to 918. That five decades ago, the 1961 Census had registered the child sex ratio at 976 made the decline quite sharp. Some of the states, including Haryana, showed shocking trends. Haryana, in fact, reported just 830 girl child against every 1000 boys in 0-6 age group in the Census. Evidently, laws and public policies were crying for mass movement against the social evil of depriving girl child from taking birth.

Haryana appears to have reversed the trend, as the state has reported a ratio of 929 girls per 1000 boys according to the data of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Rajasthan too was seemingly in the company of Haryana, with child sex ratio of 888 in 2011 Census. Now, 10 of the 14 districts in the state selected for the campaign have reported improved sex ratio.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign from Panipat, Haryana, on January 22, 2015. The campaign soon gained social acceptance. Achievers in all walks of lives lent their voices. The government mounted unprecedented public awareness campaign. The civil society zealously joined the movement. It even became fashionable to share ‘selfies’ with newly born daughters on social media platforms. The Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign unveiled convergence of three ministries — Women and Child, Health and Family Welfare, and Human Resources Development — also proved to be a key policy intervention. The scheme was first launched in 100 districts. Another 61 districts were added afterwards. Records show that child sex ratio has improved in 104 of the 161 districts along with better school enrollment. By March, 2018, the campaign has been expanded to 640 districts in the country. The multi-sectoral intervention along with public appeal has proved to be the step for empowerment of the girl child.

The government backed the campaign with additional incentives. Through another landmark programme ‘Sukanya Samriddhi Yojna’, the government presented the financial security architecture for the girl child. It takes care of the girl child’s expenses for education and marriage. The scheme offers saving accounts with high interest rates free of income tax for girl child below 10 years. The account could be opened with just a Rs. 250 deposit in Public Sector Banks or Post Offices. The scheme allows a maximum deposit of Rs 1.50 lakh in the account in a year for tax exemption. It has turned out to be a remarkably success initiative with a deposit base of over Rs 25,980 crores, besides over 1.4 crore account holders.

The government must further increase the financial support to both the campaigns. Additionally, availability of trained health-care professionals must be expeditiously provided in rural areas.

Script: Manish Anand, Sr. Spl. Correspondent, The New Indian Express