In India, the female gender has always been a victim of discrimination, both after and before birth. The gross neglect of women in India was highlighted by noted Indian Economist and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen in 1992 as he coined the phrase 'missing women'. Sen had estimated that more than 100 million women suffered from gender discrimination in India. The latest edition of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) showed 1020 women for every 1000 men in India. However, the sex ratio does not guarantee gender equality in the country.
Important Laws For Girl Child In India
While a lot still needs to be done to make India unbiased for genders, the government has put in place several laws that legally safeguard the interests of women. For instance, The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 provides a legal remedy and criminal provisions to prohibit child marriage and protect children. For centuries in India, people would marry off their young daughters due to several social practices and customs. However, the young girl has not yet matured to understand and shoulder the responsibilities of the family. Moreover, early marriages would make them more vulnerable to early pregnancies. Child marriages practically end childhood and negatively influences rights to education and health.
Since the cases of sex-determined abortions and female foeticide were rising exponentially, the government placed the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act in place. The Act prohibits medical professionals from conducting or helping anyone perform pre-natal sex selections, and only registered clinics can buy pregnancy-related medical equipment. Deccan Herald quoted that over 1.58 crore females have gone missing from 1992. Female foeticides peaked in 2005, with 6.77 lakh girls missing at birth that year. As of 2014, the Ministry of Finance had estimated that 63 million women in India had gone missing due to differential treatment or sex selection.
Until today, several families consider the birth of a girl child a curse. Under the current laws that prohibit them from aborting the girl child and the ban on female infanticide, they are left with no other choice but to abandon the newborn girl child on railway stations, bus stops, and even in dustbins and garbage piles. An NCRB data revealed that 3,500 girl children were abandoned from 2011 to 2017. These abandoned girls fall prey to trafficking and land up in brothels and prostitution centres when they reach their teens. Therefore, the Juvenile Justices Act provides special provisions for the protection, treatment and rehabilitation of girls under 18 years. The Act safeguards the interests of girls who land up in brothels due to child trafficking. There are Juvenile Welfare Boards that address the problems of neglected young girls and offer special protective homes and supervising officers.
Under Sections 372 and 373 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Court punishes those involved in buying and selling minor girls for prostitution. In such a scenario, the punishment for the convict can range from 9 to 12 years in prison. Moreover, inducing any girl under the age of 18 years to do any act with the intent that such girl may be forced or seduced to illicit intercourse with another person shall be punishable with imprisonment, which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine. Additionally, Section 363 A under the IPC prohibits any individual from kidnapping or maiming a minor to beg. The Indian Government had come up with the unique 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao', however, reports later showed that over two-thirds of the budget allocation for the scheme was used for advertising purposes.
The government was also considering raising the legal age of marriage for girls from 18 to 21 years, so as to guarantee them similar rights to their male counterparts. Recently, the Supreme Court has ruled that daughters have an equal right to their father's self-acquired property if he has died without creating a will.
Statistics Highlighting The Prevalence Of Gender Disparity
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimated 11 per cent gender differential child survival in India. Statistics reflect different community attitudes with fewer hospital admissions for girls than boys, showing that parents sometimes give less attention to newborn girls. In 2017 alone, 1,50,000 fewer girls were admitted to Special Newborn Care Units (SNCUs) than boys. On the other hand, the percentage of the female population that enrolled in schools increased from 68.8 per cent in 2015-16 to 71.8 per cent in 2019 to 2021. While there is a positive development in the enrollment rate for elementary education, thousands of girls drop out of school after attaining puberty.
The same NFHS report shows that only 41 per cent of women aged 15 to 49 years have ten or more years of schooling as opposed to 50.2 per cent of men. While 84.4 per cent of men in the country are literate, only 71.5 per cent of women are literate in comparison. The survey defined a literate person as anyone who has completed class 9 and can read a whole sentence or a part of the sentence. The stark gender disparity could be seen among internet users of the two most common genders. Only 33.3 per cent of women (15-49 years) have ever used the internet, whereas 57.1 per cent of men have had access to the internet.
For India to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it must overcome the shortcomings that hinder its progress. Releasing more schemes that guarantee gender equality and opening avenues of vocational training for women could make them independent and self-reliant. Moreover, the government must take adequate measures to include financial literacy in its curriculum for schools. State governments and district governments should conduct routine monitoring of the implementation of welfare schemes for girls at the grassroots levels of society.
In 2022, on the National Girl Child Day, it is time to take a minute to think how the laws made by the government are being implemented for the empowering girl child. The creation of rules would not result until the people realize their social responsibility and make the country a safer and more accepting place for their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters.