Empowering her to live

Watch the #DaughtersCan video here

The National Girl Child Day is celebrated every year in India on January 24. This was introduced by the Government of India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2008 to spread awareness about all the inequalities that girls face.

In India, gender inequality finds its most heinous expression in the form of sex selective abortions. Despite 17.3 million girls having gone missing, in the last three decades alone, due to sex selective abortions and other forms of pre-natal selection, it still hasn’t shaken our collective conscience.

ADF India initiated the Vanishing Girls campaign four years ago with the specific goal of combating the illegal act of sex determination by promoting the effective implementation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994.

Among other countries facing this crisis, South Korea is the first Asian country to reverse the trend in rising sex ratios at birth.  In that country, the sex ratio at birth was 116.5 boys for every 100 girls during the mid-1990s and has come down to 105-107 boys for every 100 girls since 2013. The initial campaigns by the Korean government stressed on the value of daughters like the 1983 slogan, “A daughter raised well surpasses ten sons” that was made in response to the traditional Korean proverb, “One son is worth ten daughters”. During the country’s transition away from attitudes of son preference, women holding higher quality jobs were seen to show less son preference than lower wage earners.

Such awareness campaigns, enforcement of sex-selective bans, societal transformation and socio-economic development led to gender rebalancing in South Korea.

India is also reportedly starting to see signs of improvement in the Child Sex Ratio in some regions. Sting operations conducted in several districts of Maharashtra by Advocate Varsha Deshpande, with pregnant mothers as decoys, led to the prosecution of several erring doctors and ultrasound clinics. Jhunjhunu and Sikar which had the worst child sex ratio of Rajasthan’s 33 districts as per Census 2011 have shown significant improvement due to the strict implementation of the PCPNDT Act.

While there are laws and ongoing awareness campaigns to protect the girl child in India, there is still a dire need to transform societal attitudes and provide more opportunities and access to socio-economic development for women in India. The National Girl Child Day serves as an annual reminder that daughters are valuable and capable, not a burden. We must consciously take steps to protect her and provide opportunities that empower her.

Inheritance Rights of women: Are we there yet?

Towards the latter part of this year, I met with some inspiring women during my visit to a rather quiet and serene village in the district of Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan. These women have been working as the ASHA workers – Accredited Social Health Activists in their village for as long as almost a decade now. Some of them who are now grandmothers shared their narratives of how their efforts and endeavours to bring a positive societal change has helped them develop a strong bond with the many families in their village.

While speaking to the ASHA workers about the legal rights of women especially the essential features of the Pre-Conception Pre Natal-Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994, we gravitated towards the rights of women in the inheritance of family property. Sulochana, an ASHA, brought to my notice that women in Rajasthan voluntarily do not claim ownership over their parents' property and sacrifice such inheritance rights, a custom which is called as ‘Haq Tyag’. When I heard this, my immediate response was ‘WHY?!' but this gave me an opportunity to delve deeper into the cultural traditions and norms of the state of Rajasthan. Upon asking them the many reasons behind such a custom, I learned that women have been led to believe over the past so many decades that it is morally wrong on their part to claim ownership over their parents' property, as it is deemed to be given away to the sons of the family. Furthermore, I was told that if a woman ends up claiming her inheritance over her family property, her brother/brothers abandon their relationship with them for their lifetime.

This revelation about the custom of ‘Haq Tyag’ made me realize that the first place that discrimination against women and girls is within our own homes. By denying women their rights of inheritance not by law but merely because of customary practice, we are depriving them of something so important which belongs to them equally as that to their brothers.

I would like to place emphasis on the term ‘Inheritance’ and its importance. The right to inheritance is one of the instruments that will result in the empowerment of women and girls. It helps in securing the future of girls as well as women. However, today there is a lack of awareness and knowledge among women about their own rights and the strong patriarchal traditions that have prevented many women from fighting for their inheritance rights.

While speaking with the ASHAs, I realised that they are willing to bring a change in their village with respect to even spreading awareness about the rights of women and girls in the family property, provided they receive the courage and support of the women in their community as well as more importantly men and husbands who would stand up for their rights.

When we look at the law, equal property rights of sons and daughters were recognized after the amendment brought in 2005 which stated that a daughter will have equal ownership in her father’s property even after she gets married. Prior to this amendment, daughters could only claim ownership over their father’s property until they got married, however, that has been changed with this amendment. More recently in 2018, the Supreme Court has made it clear that the law applies to any daughter, irrespective of whether they were born before or after the coming of the law and thus will be entitled to share in father’s property. Read the judgment here.

The Vanishing Girls Campaign actively encourages people to add their voices against the discrimination and violence experienced by women and girls on a daily basis through its pledge: Love, Inheritance, Freedom, and Equality. The first step to bringing change on any issue is to start a conversation about how women need to learn about their rights and especially about the right to inheritance. So why wait for others to take that first step, let us be the pioneers to bring about a change in mindsets with even this small gesture of initiating the dialogue of women’s inheritance.

Daughter’s Day Special

BY ELINA YOHANAN

So, it was Daughters Day on 22 September and honestly, I did not expect my father to even remember it, let alone post something on Instagram (yes, my father is on Instagram and sometimes it is embarrassing but most times it is cute to see him learn things about what he calls “modern day technology”). 

I opened my Instagram this morning to find that my father had posted a picture of him, with my sister and I, and a caption that read “Daughters Day. Blessings of God.” 

My eyes welled up a bit. 

My father has always been very proud of his two daughters, and I have often heard him tell people that he is glad God gave him girls. His heart swells with happiness every time he does. But this was something I was not expecting, and I will tell you why. Since my father is just learning about Instagram and usually takes help from my sister or me when posting or adding stories, he took the effort to do this one on his own! And that adds so much more to the weight of how special I feel right now. 

It is the best feeling to know that your parents put effort to show you that you are loved and cherished, especially when you are a girl in India. Many times, we get so caught up with our busy lives that we forget to pause, to look around, to ponder, to be thankful, to cherish our children, OUR DAUGHTERS. We see them as a burden and not a blessing and that’s the most hurtful thing a daughter could ever go through – feeling unloved and unwanted because of no fault of her own. 

There is a need to spread awareness on the reality of sex-selective abortions in India. Killing the girl child in the womb has become so common that people treat it as something normal. 

HOW IS THIS NORMAL?! 

I am blessed to have parents who have always sacrificially given their daughters everything they needed to get to where they are right now. My sister and I enjoy wonderful lives in India’s best cities with great jobs. We are so grateful that we have parents who nurtured us with love, respect, freedom and courage. They never wished they had boy children instead of us. 

But not all girls feel the same way. They do not get the opportunity. It is important that girl children feel loved and cared for; that they are treated well and grow up to be confident and brave, pursuing their dreams. 

Make daughters feel special. Not just on Daughter’s Day, but every day. 

Because they deserve it. Right?

Busting 5 myths about girls — Changing attitudes towards the girl child

— by Jemi Thomas, MA Clinical Psychology

Since 1990, 17.3 million girls in India have been aborted (killed, to say it as it is) due to sex-selective abortions and other forms of pre-natal selection. 17.3 million girls! 

Why did these 17.3 million girls lose their lives?

The answer is painfully simple. These girls were considered a burden by those who begot them. This notion that a girl child is a burden prompts people to determine the sex of the child in the womb and eventually abort the child. Such perceptions and attitudes that undermine her value, lie at the core of illegal acts like sex determination and sex-selective abortions in India. 

So, in an effort to alter these attitudes and eventually bring an end to these practices, we examine here 5 myths about the girl child still prevalent in the society:

She can’t carry on the family name - Khasi, an ethnic indigenous tribe in Meghalaya, has a matrilineal society. Khasi children take on their mother’s surname. It’s a way of honouring the mother for carrying the child within her. The point here is, if an entire tribe can survive for centuries through females, any family too could survive through a female.

She can’t support us when we are old - It is difficult to understand the origin and basis of this notion as varying estimates across different countries clearly indicate that 57-81% of all caregivers of the elderly, are women. In most cases, female caregivers are wives or adult daughters of the elderly person.

She is a burden - Komal Ganatra who hails from a small town in Gujarat left her NRI husband and her in-laws because of their incessant demands for dowry. To get away from social shaming, she then moved to a village in Bhavnagar, worked as a government school teacher earning ₹ 5,000 per month and struggled on to become Komal Ganatra IAS. She credits her success to her father who believed in her and taught her to dream big. Her story, like many other, is an example of the asset a girl child can be.

She is a Paraya Dhan - This is a tough one. Not because this notion is true but because there is an endless list of successful women to bust this myth. Check out our social media campaign #SheCanToo to learn about inspiring women who broke stereotypes and made it despite all odds. 

She needs to be protected - If you believe this to be true, then you probably haven’t met Mehrunnisa who works as a bouncer in a club in Hauz Khas, New Delhi. Describing her unconventional work, she says, “I am very proud of what I do, it's not an easy job. Taking care of people is a very big responsibility.”

John Watson, American Psychologist, once said, “Give me a dozen healthy infants, and my specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take anyone at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, and, yes, even beggar and thief”.

While John has his critiques, he does raise an important point— whether a girl child is an asset or a burden, comes down to the kind of environment we are willing to provide for her.

Women today have proved themselves capable, above and beyond, in every facet of life. Decades back, they could have been seen as a burden, considering the lack of opportunities, rights and education given to them. But the scenario is changing now. And change in times calls for change in attitudes.

DELHI STATE LEVEL TRAINING ON STANDARD OPERATING GUIDELINES AND CODE OF CONDUCT UNDER THE PCPNDT ACT

New Delhi

The Child Sex Ratio across the country has been on a decline after the last Census in 2011, where Delhi only having 871 girls for every 1000 boy. This implies that there is a dire need for strict implementation of the PCPNDT (Prohibition of Sex Selection) 1994 Act across Delhi.

To highlight the importance for an effective implementation of the PCPNDT Act, ADF India’s Vanishing Girls Campaign And Girls Count In Collaboration With Directorate Of Family Welfare, Health & Family Welfare Department, GNCT Of Delhi, are organizing a day-long training for the District Appropriate Authorities as well as the District Nodal Officers (PNDT) on the ‘Standard Operating Guidelines’ and the ‘Code of Conduct’ to be observed by them under the PCPNDT Act  on 26th July 2019 at India International Centre, New Delhi. 

The Chief Guest for the program, Hon’ble Health Minister of Delhi, Shri. Satyendra Kumar Jain will deliver the keynote address. Other speakers include Mr. Sanjay Parikh, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India; Mr. Uday Warunjikar, Advocate, Bombay High Court; Mrs. Varsha Deshpande Advocate, Lekh Ladki Abhiyan; Ms. Ifat Hamid, Consultant (Gender), PNDT Division, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt. of India. They will speak on ‘Demystifying the PCPNDT Act’ and the ‘Standard Operating Guidelines’. Anushree Bernard, Coordinator for the Vanishing Girls Campaign who will be moderating the day-long program states that “an enhanced implementation of the PCPNDT Act across Delhi will ensure that all girls will have the chance to live, dream and succeed”. 

The Roar of a Woman's Silence

by Anushree Bernard

The United Nations declared 8th of March in 1975 as International Women’s Day to celebrate the social, cultural, political and economic achievements of women across the world. This day gained prominence over the years and it grew from strength to strength as it gave a spectacle to all nations of the world about the rights and equality of women.

However, as we celebrate the International Women’s Day 2019, some very fundamental questions cross my mind primarily being that have we been able to achieve equality for women especially in India after all these years or are we echoing a utopian idea of equality for all women without acknowledging the ground realities that are being faced by thousands of them even today. Equality begins at birth, yet as a country, we rank with one of the worst sex ratios at birth in the world. Millions of girls are aborted in the womb as their birth is not welcomed in most Indian families resulting in the loss of 12 million girls in the last three decades in India. The practice of sex selective abortions carries on rampantly in various parts of the country with an average of 7000 girls getting aborted every day that continues to remain unnoticed despite being prohibited by the law. This practice has serious implications which will eventually lead to the extermination of the female gender in the longer run, as we have already lost 63 million women in the last decade due to several factors such as inadequate nutrition, neglect, poor healthcare, and sex selective abortions. However, this discrimination does not end inside the womb, but also after the girl is born.

In a recent incident that I witnessed in Rajasthan, a one-day old baby girl was abandoned and left to die near a garbage dump on a cold winter night around 25 kilometers away from Jhunjhunu, later rescued and taken immediately to the government hospital for immediate medical attention. While speaking to the staff at the government hospital, they informed us that out of the 12 newborn children that they have received in the past few months, 11 out of them were all girls, which shows the daughter aversion that the people of the district carry. Today, there are 21 million unwanted girls in the country who struggle to seek acceptance and love from their families.

Dowry during the marriage is seen to be one of the most compelling factors which have resulted in such hatred towards girls. The burden of the parents to pay a huge amount of dowry in the form of cash or gifts creates immense pressure on many Indian families to abort the girl child before itself. However, even after getting married, many women are subjected to gross violence and torture in their marital homes for bringing inadequate or no dowry at all during the wedding. This torture has resulted in 21 dowry deaths every day in India and according to the National Crime Records Bureau, as many as 7,635 women died in the year 2015 due to dowry harassment.

The violence against women has been shrouded in silence until 2018 which created a revolution of sorts with the rise of the ME TOO movement as it gave a voice to thousands of women to speak out about sexual harassment that they faced within their workplace and otherwise as well. Women emerged stronger than before for one pivotal reason that they were being heard.

Today as we celebrate International Women’s day, we must begin from the first step towards bringing equality for all women which is by hearing their voices out. We must ask ourselves some coherent questions such as do we see and treat women and girls as equal not only within our homes but also at workplaces and in society. Or do we blindly celebrate this day without understanding the basic essence of gender equality. Nelson Mandela said that “Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression”. Giving equality to the female gender, begins from giving them their right to be born, as all parents must make their daughters so capable that they wouldn’t have to worry about her marriage. Instead of saving money for her wedding day, spend it well on her education and most importantly instead of preparing her for her marriage right from her childhood, prepare her for being herself unapologetically so that she may grow up to be a strong independent courageous woman with wings that will give her the freedom to pursue her dreams.

*Anushree Bernard is the Program Coordinator, Vanishing Girls Campaign

The Cost of a Daughter

by Tehmina Arora

33,260. This number is the approximate cost of 10g of gold in the city of Delhi. Sadly, it is also the number that will determine how many girl children that are born in India, and how they are cared for.

According to research, the cost of a daughter’s marriage including having to pay an expensive dowry, is the single biggest factor in the minds of a parents when they decide to have an sex selective abortion. This coupled with the cultural norms that restrict a daughter’s access to property, education and most all agency, proves to be noxious cocktail for the little girls in our country.  

The 2011 census of India revealed that there were only 919 girls per 1000 boys in the 0-6 age group across India.  According to WHO, the normal child sex ratio falls in the range of 943-980 girls per 1000--- boys and any value lower than that is reflective of the gender discrimination against the girl child and girl infanticide, female foeticide cases. Conservative estimates place the number of girls missing from our society at millions.  

And this is not only a rural problem. Research suggests that the chances of survival for a second born girl after a first daughter are less if the family is well educated and rich. These families live in urban areas where they have access to ultrasound scans and can afford the price for the abortion. According the 2011 census, in Delhi, the child sex ratio stands at a dismal 871 girls for very 1000 boys. South Delhi district being the  worst offender.

In poorer communities, where there aren’t many ultrasound clinics, daughters are instead abandoned or killed after being born, or lost through neglect.  According to a Lancet study on under-5 mortality rate (U5MR) of women in India published in June 2018, estimated 239 000 excess deaths (169 000–293 000) per year in that age category. That would mean every minute approximately 27 baby girls ( ages 0-5 years) die due to neglect, malnourishment and lack of access to medical facilities.

More than 90% of districts had excess female mortality, but the four largest states in northern India (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh) accounted for two-thirds of India's total number.

The researchers found that the gender-based discrimination towards girls doesn't simply prevent them from being born, it may also precipitate the death of those who are born.

Savita, a young mother, explained this, “after my second daughter was born, my husband and in laws started abusing me…I had not been able to give them a son.” Then, the third daughter was born and the violence against Savita and the children grew more brutal. “When my little baby girl fell ill and finally died, the violence stopped,” she said.   

Yet, in spite of these terrible statistics and heart breaking stories, very little is being done to implement the Pre-Conception Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 (PCPNDT Act). The PCPNDT Act makes gender determination illegal and puts the onus on the medical fraternity to close monitor all ultrasounds.  Although prenatal sex-detection and sex-selective abortion are illegal, many clinics continue to provide these services in a clandestine manner across the country.

As per a press release by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare,  according the Quarterly Progress Reports up to December, 2017 submitted by States/ UTs the implementation of the Act in the States and UTs has resulted in the filing of total 3986 court cases and sealing and seizing of total of 2007 ultrasound machines by the District Appropriate Authorities for the violation under the PCPNDT Act across the country. However, the report also noted that from 1994 till December 2017, only 449 convictions have been secured under the PCPNDT Act and following the convictions, the medical licenses of only 136 doctors were suspended/canceled.

The 10th Common Review Mission in its 2016 Report on the National Health Mission noted that, “The level of implementation of PC-PNDT Act is abysmal. Lack of witnesses and insufficient evidence are cited as major reasons that result in cases falling through, thereby resulting in low conviction rates. The Act is inadequately used while drafting court complaints and the full force of the law is often not brought to bear in prosecution.”

Sex-selective abortions are a scandal of epidemic proportions and we cannot sit idly by while girls vanish for our cities, our neighborhoods and our families. We need to adopt a model of LIFE for all girls - Love, Inheritance, Freedom and Equality. The girls in our families and those yet unborn, need advocates who will love them, ensure that they have equal rights to family property as their brothers, their freedoms are protected and promoted and that in all things they are treated as equal dignity and respect.

*Tehmina Arora is a lawyer practicing in the area of constitutional law and human rights.

  1. Excess under-5 female mortality across India: a spatial analysis using 2011 census data, www.thelancet.com/lancetgh Vol 6 June 2018 available at https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S2214-109X%2818%2930184-0
  2. http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=178043
  3. http://www.nhm.gov.in/images/pdf/monitoring/crm/10th-crm/Report/10th_CRM_Main_Report.pdf