International Day of Girl Child
“International Day of Girl Child” is celebrated globally on 11th October, whereas “National Girl Child Day” is observed in India on 24th January every year since 2008 with the objective to raise awareness about the rights of girls, the importance of education, health and nutrition, as well as to highlight the inequalities faced by them.
Gender discrimination is a major problem faced by girls in every corner of the world. Conservative outlook of the rural people and religious mystification usually contribute to worsening the situation. Misconception still prevails in the present age as many parents living in rural areas think that if their daughter gets older, it will be difficult to marry her.
Daughters are angels sent from above to fill our hearts with unending love. Society should pack up all social evils prevailing since ancient times, evils like child marriage, dowry system, alcoholism, etc. These are all impediments in the all-round development of girls, which cannot be removed without active involvement of society. In this age of globalisation, slowly but steadily changes in mindset of society have happened, which is a positive sign for girls in their quest for human rights, respect, and equal opportunity.
Violence against girls and women, however, continues to occur frequently in our country. Incidents of eve-teasing, molestation, rape, gang-rape or acid attacks have shown us the ugly face of the human being. There should not be any mercy for such type of culprits and they should be sentenced through speedy trial. Domestic violence is also a curse in society, whose main cause is dowry system and alcoholism. There is a law against dowry system, but alcohol is prohibited in only a few states. It has rotted the roots of society, so there must be complete ban on alcohol all over the country.
Home is said to be the safest and most secure place for girls, but unfortunately, a large number of sexual abuses have been done by relatives or known persons who can be said to be responsible for the safety and security of the girls. In schools, guidance has been given to girls regarding good touch and bad touch. Psychological empowerment is also a crucial factor, as from the early day of their life, girls are equipped with a mindset that they belong to weaker sex, and a variety of restrictions and bindings are designed for them.
Female foeticide is another major issue which affects the demographic balance in India and other countries. There are also some communities which practice infanticide, i.e., the act of killing girls once they are born. Although it is illegal and punishable, but still it is prevailing in some social groups. Unfortunately, for such inhuman acts mostly women, whether they be grandmother, mother, aunty, sister, etc, have been found to be responsible for various reasons. As per Census 2011, the sex ratio in India is 943 and child sex ratio is just 919, reflecting the horrible picture in the country. The decline of child sex ratio from 927 in 2001 to 919 in 2011 reveals that the society is not just depriving girls of human rights but also depriving them of their right to live.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations have been designed to bring the world to various life-changing “Zeros” by 2030, which include zero discrimination against women and girls. Target-5 of the Goals is specifically concerned with Gender Equality and Empowerment of all girls.
Little girls with dreams become women with vision. So, empowerment of girls is a must for a brighter tomorrow. India has achieved success in women empowerment in the last few decades. In major parts of the country, girls are no more confined within the four walls of the house, rather, they are marching ahead in every walk of life. They are breaking the boundaries and barriers imposed on them in earlier periods and have established themselves in all fields, whether it be engineering, medical, law, police, pilot, journalist, agriculture, or be it dancing, modelling, music, games and big or small screens. There is hardly any profession they are not found in these days competing with men and proving their worth.
Girls must be given the wings to fly, and not chains to stay confined. In India, the Central as well as State governments have launched multifarious schemes especially for girls to eradicate discrimination and to provide them opportunity to march forward in life. Some such schemes are KGBV under Samagra Shiksha, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Girls Hostel under RMSA, Residential schools, National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level (NPEGEL), Pradhanmantri Matri Vandana Yojana, Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, and others.
When girls are educated, the country becomes stronger and more prosperous. Special emphasis on girls’ education has been given in centrally sponsored educational schemes like District Primary Education Programme-DPEP (1991-2005), Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan-SSA (2001-2018), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan-RMSA (2009-2018), Free & Compulsory Education Act 2009, Samagra Shiksha-SS (since 2018-19) and National Education Policy-NPE, 2020. Their direct impact is being noticed as female literacy, which was just 8.86% in Census 1951, has risen to 65.46% in Census 2011.
Several State governments have also initiated ambitious schemes, which are changing the age-old scenario. In Bihar, Mukhyamantri Poshak Yojana, Cycle Yojana, Kishori Swashthya Karyakram, Balika Protsahan Yojana, Balika Utthan Yojana, Kanya Suraksha Yojana, Hunar-Auzar Yojana, etc, have acted as catalyst for change in the life of girls. Mukhyamantri Sukanya Yojana in Jharkhand; Kanya Vidya Dan Yojana, Bhagya Lakshmi Yojana, Laptop Yojana in Uttar Pradesh; Gyan Deepika Yojana in Assam; Kanya Ratna Yojana in Odisha; Kanya Anupreran Yojana in Tripura; Ladli Lakshmi Yojana in Madhya Pradesh; Gargi Puraskar, Rajshree Yojana, Priyadarshini Yojana in Rajasthan; Dulari Kanya Yojana in Arunachal Pradesh; Kanya Prakalp Yojana in West Bengal are some prominent schemes which have been launched for well-being of girls.
The role of girls has changed from protected to protector. They are no more a burden but are the pride of the family. Parents have come forward to send their daughters along with sons for outdoor work and business. Gender reforms and sexual crimes, however, are both going on side by side. Along with awareness in society, the girls must empower themselves to fight against the social evils and gender crimes. They are competent to tackle such problems; the only thing they need is to let go of the age-old mindset that they are the weaker sex.
The International Girls Day is an occasion to think, analyse and act for the welfare of girls. Gender discrimination and disparity cannot be nullified only through government initiatives. Parents and society have the pivotal role and responsibility.
—The writer has a Masters in Engineering from MN Regional Engineering College, Allahabad.