India: Right to education advocated to combat toothless laws failing the girl child Print E-mail

Sunday March 16 2008

Declining sex ratio indicates second class status for women

Special Correspondent

CHENNAI: “Short-changing girls is not only a matter of gender discrimination; it is bad economics and bad societal policy,” former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, once said. As some of the leading lights of the Indian judiciary said on Saturday, the declining sex ratio in India indicated that the country still accorded women second class status.

In 1990, there were 25 million more men than women in India. By 2001, there were 35 million more. And, by the next headcount, there might be 50 million more, Supreme Court judge P. Sathasivam said at a function on the rights of the girl child at the Madras High Court.

The litany of indicators cited by four judges spoke for itself: of the 75 million malnourished children, 75 per cent were girls; over 6 million foetuses had been aborted in the past 20 years; three lakh more girls died than boys between the ages 1-6; 25 per cent of girls did not live up to the age of 15; and only 39 per cent of women were literate.

There were a plethora of laws and numerous Supreme Court judgments to prevent discrimination of the girl child­from sex selective abortion to child labour, sexual exploitation, domestic violence and dowry–but none was implemented effectively, said Supreme Court judge R. Raveendran. He felt that the root of the evil should be addressed before implementing the law.

The Hindu Succession Amendment Act, 2005, which is being implemented in the southern States, directly addressed the problem of dowry by removing the original reason for it­apportioning a section of family wealth to girls.

The one law that could be the most effective driver of change, the right to education for all, must be brought into effect, he said. And finally, women must demand their rights through the ballot box, holding their representatives accountable.

Female infanticide

Justice Prabha Sridevan highlighted the strategies used by the Indian Council for Child Welfare to stop female infanticide at Usilampatti and suggested that they be equally efficient in ensuring access to health for girls everywhere.

The strategies included forming clusters of self-help groups, focussing on adolescence, emphasising education for girls, creating a centre for abandoned babies, anti-and post-natal camps and counselling for pregnant women.

Madras High Court Chief Justice A.P. Shah said Tamil Nadu was the only State where the government could fine parents for not sending girls to school, but the provisions of this law had not been implemented.

The power of education, he said, was not only ensuring the protection of a woman’s rights but also benefited the community around her.

“For every year beyond the fourth grade that girls go to school, family size shrinks 20 per cent, child deaths drop 10 per cent and wages rise by 20 per cent.”