As the world celebrates International Day of Girl Child, India is still toiling to eliminate discrimination and exploitation suffered by the girl child. Not only the physical abuses but also the emotional breakdown and mental trauma that they go through.
Young girls and women in India are fighting against gender stereotypes everyday and stories of young girls challenging gender-based discrimination and violence fill newspapers. And this year too, times have not been less testing for them.
A 10-year-old pregnant girl in India, who was allegedly repeatedly raped by a relative, was recently refused an abortion by the authorities.
India’s Supreme Court rejected the petition to allow her to abort, on grounds that she was 32 weeks pregnant and according to the Indian laws, terminations after 20 weeks into pregnancy are not allowed.
Incidents of violence against the girl child, female feticides, and sex trafficking are not new to India. According to UNICEF, a child under 10 is raped every 13 hours and around 240 million women living in India are married before they turned 18, which is the legal age to marry in India.
Coinciding with the International Day of Girl Child, the Supreme Court of India today criminalised sex with a girl who is below 18 years of age, either with or without her consent, under the Indian Penal Code.
Though marital rape is not punishable in India, as according to the government, criminalising it could destabalise marriages and make men vulnerable to harassment by their wives; the apex court also criminalised having sex with wife who is aged 18 years or less.
Illegal child marriages are predominantly rooted in India, and poverty, patriarchal norms and ‘family honour’ are often blamed. According to the 2011 census, child marriages in India decreased as compared to 2001, but still, more than 5 million girls were married before the legal marrying age of 18.
Surprisingly, the number of illegal marriages declined by 0.3 pc in rural areas, but increased 0.7 pc in urban areas, according to a recent report by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and charity Young.
Despite efforts to empower girls and harsher penalties, India is among the top 10 countries with the high child marriage rates, and with it, comes incidents of dowry deaths. Around 24,771 dowry deaths were reported in India from 2012-2014 with 2014 alone witnessing 8,455 deaths, according to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB).
Even today, a girl child is given less preference than a boy child in many rural as well as urban parts of the country, as girls are considered to be a financial burden while there are hopes that a boy will earn and support the family when he grows up.
In order to reduce the problem of female feticides and lack of female education across the nation, the government launched ‘Dhanalakshmi scheme’ in 2008, where it deposits INR 35,000 (about 500 euros) in the girl child’s name at different stages from birth till she turns 18. She gets the money on completion of her studies for standard X – 16 years old or standard XII – 18 years old age equivalent, along with the interest earned on fixed deposit.
However, according to a survey by UN, more than 69 pc people use such incentives to meet marriage and dowry costs for their daughters, while only 26 pc use it for the girl’s education.
Though more girls in India are going to schools than ever before and more of these schools now have girls’ toilets and menstrual hygiene management facilities, according to the International Centre for Research on Women, India loses nearly USD 56 billion a year in potential earnings because of adolescent pregnancy and high secondary school dropout rates.
Over the last decade, there has been a notable progress in improving the lives of young girls – with more girls enrolling in primary schools and receiving vaccinations in India. However, many still face challenges to obtain higher education, avoid child marriages and protect themselves against gender-based violence.
Close to 20,000 children and women fell victims to trafficking in India last year, which marks an increase of 25 pc as compared to 2015.
The International Day of Girl Child coincides with the days of turmoil, as the world faces challenges of forced displacement and extremism. According to the United Nations (UN), humanitarian crises affect women and girls the most, who account for more than 75 pc of the refugees and displaced people at risk. So much so, young girls are more likely to become vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation during conflicts and in refugee camps.
Thus with the theme for 2017 to ‘EmPOWER girls: emergency response and resilience planning’, the UN aims to protect girls from conflicts and violence.
United Nations awarded the West Bengal Government in June for its girl child scheme ‘Kanyashree Prakalpa’ that targets conditional cash transfer scheme aimed at promoting education among girls, which has already enrolled more than four million adolescent girls.
Around USD 500 million has already been transferred directly to the beneficiaries’ bank account, which is being implemented through 16,000 institutes and schools.
With schemes for the girl child like ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ (Save and educate girl child) and ‘Ladli’ (beloved girl), amongst many others, India does not lack initiatives to empower little girls. However, the road to achieve ‘freedom’ for girls is a long one.
Growing scale of abuse around the world
• Every 10 minutes, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence
• Girls are 2.5 times more likely than boys to miss school during disasters. Displaced girls are often married off as children in an effort to ensure their security.
• 71 pc of human trafficking victims are females
• 63 million girls have undergone female genital mutilation
• One in four girls gets married as a child