By Smridhi Khanna
Two key indicators of emerging markets are economic growth and social prosperity. Though India has fared well in terms of economic progress in the past few years, social indicators such as the declining Child Sex Ratio (CSR) seem to show a different story.
India’s CSR reduced from 927 females per thousand males in 2001 to 919 females per thousand males in 2011. The decline can be attributed to the strong preference for a boy child in Indian families forcing mothers to illegally abort the girl fetus. While there is no logical explanation for this preference, here are a few bizarre reasons that families use to rationalize/justify their behaviour:
- The economic side: Sons are assets who have the ability to earn money and add to the wealth of the family. Due to the same reason, they are often pushed more toward education than their sisters. Daughters on the other hand are born to be wives/mothers and hence are liabilities. Their birth has a single implication for the family: to start the practice of saving money for their wedding/dowry. In other words, daughters drain the wealth of the family.
- The social side: Sons complete the family as they carry the family name with them and perform the last rites of the parents. Secondly, it’s much easier to raise them without having the fear of ‘something happening’ to them. Daughters on the other hand are considered fragile and so require constant security and protection.
Though many governments have tried to fight this cause, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) initiative takes a holistic approach in addressing the issue. Launched on 22ndJanuary, 2015 in Panipat, Haryana, the program aims to save and empower the girl child by the following two ways:
- Creating awareness about the issue and using education as a solution for it
- Incentivizing families for bringing up the girl child
Creating awareness about the issue and using education as a solution for it
As step one, the NDA government did a detailed study of the current situation of gender imbalance in our society. The study indicated that regions with the most skewed gender ratios such as Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab and Bihar lacked awareness of the changing role of the girl child. And the only way to change the mindset of people is through educating the girl child and empowering her. As a result, the Modi government took the following few steps:
- Allocated a budget of Rs. 100 crore for the scheme in 2015. This amount was increased to Rs. 200 crore for the year 2016-17.
- Enforced the implementation of Right to Education Act, 2010.Under this, the Modi government pushed district-level education officials to take accountability in ensuring that the benefit of free elementary education reaches all the girls in their areas. The school management committees that are successful in achieving 100% transition of girl students at various educational levels are awarded under the BBBP scheme.
- Conducted awareness and advocacy campaigns in the 100 districts with the lowest CSR. These campaigns focused on shifting the mindsets of the people through training, radio advertisements, sensitization speeches, and community mobilization activities. Madhuri Dixit, the famous Bollywood actress, was selected as the brand ambassador to advocate the changing role of girls in society. A string of jingles and advertisements on radio and TVs respectively were played to urge families to send their girls to schools.
- The Sarpanch of a number of districts in Haryana were roped in for Prime Minister Modi’s #SelfieWithDaughter campaign. The campaign pushes Sarpanchs to post selfies with their daughters to advocate gender equality. In addition, National Service Scheme (NSS) cadets were pulled in to make demonstrations, give presentations, and to perform street plays etc. in areas that are affected by low CSR.
- Lastly, to close the loop and combat female feticide, district authorities were required to effectively monitor and ensure that the use of sex-determination tools by families and doctors lead to stringent action under law. Several CCTV cameras were put up in healthcare centres in Haryana and Rajasthan.
Incentivizing families for bringing up the girl child
To ensure that families drop their conventional and orthodox preference for a boy child, the government also decided to give them financial benefits to save and bring up the girl child. These include:
- A saving scheme called the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana that gives exclusive financial incentives to parents of a girl child (up to the age of 21 years). As a part of this scheme, parents or the legal guardian can open a Sukanya Samriddhi account with any bank or post office to save money for the daughter’s education and marriage. But rather than earning a mere 6 % p.a. (current FD rate), this account provides a saving rate as high as 8.6 % p.a.
A maximum of 1.5 lakh rupees can be deposited during the financial year with a minimum deposit of Rs. 1000. The interest and amount when withdrawn is tax-free and so is one of the best investment option.
- To make the initiative flexible and pro-investors, the scheme provides an option for partial withdrawal of 50% of the balance amount for higher education expenses.
Success of BBBP scheme
- The child sex ratio in Rajasthan had dipped to 888 in the 2011 Census from 909 in 2001. This ratio improved to 925 in the year 2015 due to the efforts of the Rajasthan Chief Minister and the BBBP scheme. Along with awareness campaigns driven by the central government, the state government promised money transfers to the girl child’s parents at different phases of her live: Rs. 2500 on birth, Rs. 14000 for enrolling in Class 1, Rs. 25000 for passing class 12 etc.
- In Haryana, more than 200 people were arrested in 300 cases under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994 for female foeticide. In addition, the sex ratio has improved from 800 to 900 girls per 1000 boys due to the awareness campaigns of the NDA government.
- Over 76 lakh Sukanya accounts were opened amounting to Rs 3,000 crores within the first one year of the BBBP initiative.
Hence, the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao initiative deals with the problem of gender imbalance in a holistic manner. Not only has the CSRs for various districts improved but there is also substantial increase in the number of accounts opened in the girl child’s name.
(Writer is a Policy Researcher based in New Delhi)