Despite multiple governmental and non-governmental initiatives to ensure the well-being of girl children, it’s still not easy being a girl child in India. On the National Girl Child Day, Number13 brings you thirteen facts about girl children in India.
By now, most of us are familiar with the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign introduced by the Narendra Modi government in 2015. But for a girl child born in India, things are still not so hunky-dory.
It was in 2008 that the Ministry of Women and Child Development in India introduced the National Girl Child day to be celebrated every year on 24 January. The objective behind the day is to bring public attention to the inequalities faced by girls and to promote awareness about their rights, education and health.
On the National Girl Child Day, Number13 brings you thirteen facts about girl children in India.
1. Child sex ratio
Globally, the sex ratio is defined as the number of males per 1000 females. In India, however, it is the reverse – the number of females per 1000 males. The latest Sample Registration System Report (2018) shows that during the years 2013-2015, the number of females in India per 1000 males was 900, a slight decline from 906 during 2012-14. The ratio is more skewed in states like Haryana, Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jammu & Kashmir.
The story of child sex ratio is no different. The report titled ‘Missing’ by the United Nations Population Fund showed that in the 0-6 age group, the number of girls per 1000 boys declined to 927 in the 2001 census (it was 945 girls per 1000 boys in the 1991 census). The census listed ‘ sex-selective female abortions’, ‘female infanticide’, and ‘‘female neglect’ as the major reasons behind this anomaly. That brings us to our next point.
2. Female foeticide
Across the globe, more male babies are born than females. However, studies show that females survive longer and exceed their male counterparts at any given point of time in most places. In India, it’s a different story.
Female foeticides and infanticides have contributed significantly to this skewed ratio. In a large number of households, girl children have traditionally been considered a burden, thanks to social evils like the dowry system and patriarchy. Initial records of this emerged during the British era. In 1808, the British Resident at Baroda reported that annually 20,000 girls were being killed in certain communities to avoid financial difficulties. The notion of the girl child being a burden continued through the years. It was so rooted in the society that soon after sex-determination tests were introduced in the 1980s, advertisements by abortion services advised people to ‘pay Rs 500 now instead of spending Rs 500,000 later’! In 1994, the government banned pre-natal sex determination tests. However, child rights activists believe that despite the law being in place, between 2001 and 2011 eight million female foeticides took place in the country.
3. Female infanticide
Those who could not carry out foeticide resorting to infanticide is also not a new practice in India. Historical records show that it was prevalent among certain communities to stop mothers from feeding their girl children leading to their deaths. Eventually, in 1870 the British government banned the practice of female infanticide in the United Province of Agra and Oudh. Later Punjab and Rajputana provinces too were brought under this law.
In separate studies conducted in the year 1998 by Premi and Raju, and Samuel and Hebbare, it was found that female infanticide was being practised in pockets of Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, by starving the baby to death, feeding her with poisonous substances, strangulation or asphyxiation.
In an effort to prevent such horrible practices, the Tamil Nadu government introduced the ‘cradle-baby’ scheme in 1992. Under this scheme, those who did not want girl babies could drop them at cradles placed at primary health centres, hospitals, orphanages and children’s homes.
4. Female infant mortality rate
As per data from UNICEF, India is the only large country in the world where more girl babies die than boy babies. The under-five mortality rate for girls in India is 8.3 per cent higher than for boys. According to the UN IGME child survival report 2019, this is in stark contrast with the global trend where the under-five mortality rate is 14 per cent higher for boys than girls. The general attitude of the society which pays less attention to the healthcare of the girl child plays a large role in this. According to the UNICEF data, the number of girls admitted in Special Newborn Care Units was 1,50,000 lesser than that of boys.
Female foeticide and high mortality rates of girl children due to lack of proper care together wipe out a whopping 50 million girls from India’s population, says the UNCF estimates. The trend is more pronounced in the northern states of India, suggest studies.
5. Health indices
The picture isn’t rosy even when it comes to the girls who managed to survive all those terrible attempts at their lives. According to UNICEF, some 42 per cent of adolescent girls aged 15-19 years are undernourished with a body mass index less than 18.5 kg/m2. Data also suggests that close to 54 per cent of adolescent girls in India are anaemic. Several studies have found out that girls in India are at a higher risk of malnutrition and growth retardation compared to boys. As per statistics from the NGO Save the Girl Child, one in every two girls in India is malnourished.
As per statistics from Oxfam, more than 47 per cent out of school children in India are girls. The trend gets worse when it comes to certain communities in certain states. For example, the literacy rate of females in Dalit communities in Bihar was as low as 38.5 per cent in 2011. It puts them 30 years behind when compared to India’s national average. That’s not all. In the global ranking of female literacy rates, India figures at the 123rd position among 135 countries.
In 2019, National Right to Education forum convenor Ambarish Rai revealed some shocking facts. One of those was that around 40 per cent of adolescent girls from the poorest families have never seen a school in their lifetime!
7. Child marriage
Children’s NGO ‘Save the Children’ reports that the highest number of child brides in the world is from India. In some states like Bihar and Rajasthan the number of girls being forced into marriage before they attain the legal age is more than 60 per cent. A 2016 analysis by IndiaSpend pins the number of girls married off before they turned 10 at a whopping 7.84 million. More than 11 per cent of girls in the 15-19 age group were married before they turned 18 and 7.9 per cent had teenage pregnancies, says UNICEF.
8. Abuse and violence at home
According to studies, close to 13 per cent of girls in the 15-19 age group are subjected to sexual violence by their husbands. UNICEF data reveals that 34 per cent of women between 15 and 49 years have experienced violence at home since the age of 15. The number of women and girls who die due to pregnancy-related issues stood at 35,000 in 2017. This however has been a significant 55 per cent drop from the year 2000 according to UNICEF.
9. Menstruation-related problems
Reports suggest that every year, 23 million girls in India drop out of school after they begin menstruating. Lack of awareness about hygiene, inaccessibility to sanitary napkins and non-availability of napkin dispensers combined with social stigma and superstitious practices force them out of schools. According to studies, 71 per cent of Indian girls are unaware about what happens to their body when they menstruate.
10. Superstitions and rituals
There has been no dearth for superstitions in India. Very often girl children happen to be the most vulnerable. A large portion of the superstitions happens to be around menstruation which is considered as ‘impure’ and ‘dirty’ in several parts of India still. In a large number of houses, girls are barred from entering the puja rooms and kitchens and are not allowed to touch holy books while they are menstruating. But it only gets worse from there as we move towards the more interior parts of the country. In some communities, women have to spend their menstruating days outside their homes in dirty shacks while some others are required to bury their ‘dirty clothes’. Some even believe that a menstruating girl touching a cow will render the animal infertile! Girls lynched after being accused of witchcraft, forced to marry trees and animals to rectify the problems in the position of their stars, pushed into the devadasi system and later into prostitution..the list of horrendous things inflicted upon our girls only grows longer.
11. Sex trafficking
According to records from the National Crime Records Bureau, 4,911 girls were listed as trafficked in the year 2016. More than 50 per cent of these girls were from West Bengal. It was followed by Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. Three in five persons trafficked in India are children and 54 per cent of them are girls. Forced labour and prostitution have been the major drivers of trafficking.
12. Girl child labour
The international labour organisation estimated the number of child labourers in India in 1991 as 23 million. While the exact percentage of girls among them is not available, experts note that the reluctance of parents to send them to schools over boys land a large share of them in brick kilns and bonded labour. Global figures suggest that 49 per cent of child labourers across the world are girls.
13. Top government schemes for girl children
The government has introduced several schemes over the years to ensure the wellbeing of girls and to prevent the attrocieties against them. Some of them include
- Beti Bachao Beti Padhao: The campaign stresses on the education of girls and attempts to thereby prevent female foeticides, ensure gender equality and provide a safe and healthy environment for girls
- Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana: Under this savings scheme the girl child is made the predominant account holder whereas the parent / legal guardian is a joint account holder.
- The Balika Samriddhi Yojana: It is a government scheme introduced to provide scholarship and financial support to girls and their mothers who are below the poverty line.