Five Indian laws that protect and empower the Girl Child

The National Girl Child Day is celebrated in India every year on January 24. It was initiated in 2008 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Government of India. It is a day set aside to call for increased awareness of challenges faced by girls in the country based on their gender.  

Over the years, the Indian government has undertaken various legal initiatives and measures to protect and empower the girl child. Let us look into five of them: 

1. Pre-Conception Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994:  

In India, gender inequality finds its most heinous expression in the form of sex-selective abortions. As per a study by Pew Research Center, at least nine million female births went “missing” between 2000 and 2019 because of sex-selective abortions. 

The PCPNDT Act is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to stop female foeticide and arrest the declining sex ratio in India.  The Act provides for the prohibition of sex selection, before or after conception, and for regulation of pre-natal diagnostic techniques for the purposes of detecting genetic abnormalities or metabolic disorders or chromosomal abnormalities or certain congenital malformations or sex-linked disorders and for the prevention of their misuse for sex determination leading to female foeticide and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. Learn more on the Act here.  

2. Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 

India does not have any uniform law regarding property ownership and inheritance rights of women, which means the law in matters pertaining to inheritance and sharing of property differs for people from different faiths.  

Equal property rights of sons and daughters were recognised after the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 which stated that a daughter will have equal ownership in her father’s property even after she gets married.  

Learn more on inheritance rights for the Girl Child here

3. Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009: 

Under this Act, all children between the ages of six and 14 years have the right to free and compulsory education. The RTE Act also states that a child cannot be detained in any class till the completion of elementary education. Although this law is gender-neutral, it encourages the education of girl children, by giving them enhanced access to schooling. 

4. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 

The minimum age of marriage in India for girls is 18 years. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act provides a civil remedy as well as criminal provisions to prohibit child marriage and protect the rights of the children. While the Act provides for relief to the child entering the marriage, it also provides for punishment of adults, who enter into a child marriage or perform, conduct, or direct child marriages. 

5. Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 

All children, including female children, have the right to be brought up in a safe and protected environment. Special provisions for the protection, treatment, and rehabilitation of girls under the age of 18 are included in the Juvenile Justice Act. This act protects girls trapped in brothels for child prostitution and protects any person engaged in an immoral, drunken, or depraved life.  

Juvenile Welfare Boards addresses the issue of neglected girls by providing special protective homes and supervision by probation officers.  The Juvenile Justice Act also makes it illegal for parents and guardians of children to abuse, assault, neglect, or abandon a child. 

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This National Girl Child Day, ADF India’s Vanishing Girls campaign is calling for proactive efforts by the Centre and state governments to improve the status of the Girl Child and ensure that prevention of the systematic erasure of our daughters to be of national priority. 

ADF India, with our network of legal experts across the country, would be glad to collaborate with you and organise free legal trainings for your organisation, church group, school, college, etc. to raise awareness about sex-selective abortion and other legal rights benefitting the Girl Child. You can reach out to us at askme@vanishinggirls.in. 

Defend the Mothers who defend L.I.F.E

In India, women face extreme societal pressure to produce a son. It is a sad reality for many mothers that they bear the full brunt of the scorn and shame for giving birth to a girl child. They consequently become victims of abuse, beatings, and sometimes, even murder. 

A research study (Voluntary Health Association of India, 2003) has shown that the most immediate cause of son-preference or sex-selective abortion is the perception of daughters as economic and social liabilities due to factors like dowry costs, protection of daughter’s chastity, bearing her living and education expenses with no expected return and concern about her marriage. (Thus, a notorious adage about raising girls is “watering the plant for somebody else’s garden".) Families desperate to escape the financial burden of having a daughter often resort to disowning the mother. The man is encouraged to remarry to increase his chances of having a son. Not only does the mother compromise her health and well-being, but she also loses “her status and honor” in society because of divorce or abandonment. 

In our efforts to end sex-selective abortion, ADF India, through its Vanishing Girls campaign, is committed to helping courageous mothers who go to lengths to save their daughters. 

In July 2020, ADF India allied lawyers helped Payal*, a young mother from Haryana, to be reunited with her four-year-old daughter Jaya* after nine months of painful separation. Payal had fled from her marital home with her two elder daughters, in 2019, after enduring years of unbearable pain and brutality at the hands of her husband and in-laws. Besides Payal, her daughters were also abused and tortured just because they were not the sons that the family wanted. Represented by ADF India allied lawyers, Payal successfully fought for her daughters in court and gained custody of Jaya.  

Another young mother in Jharkhand, Sunita*, was abused, disowned, prostituted, and shamed by her husband and in-laws for giving birth to two daughters. In this case, the husband had remarried in the greed to have sons. ADF India allied lawyers assisted Sunita to file a private complaint in court, and an FIR was lodged against her husband and those involved.  

The latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) data for 2019-21 indicates a slightly improved yet dangerously skewed sex ratio at birth–929 females per 1000 males. Such low ratios clearly expose daughter-aversion in the country. Sex ratio at birth is not just a medical record but an indicator of social attitudes and the gender balance which is necessary for the health of society.  

We cannot sit idly by while girls vanish from our country, our neighborhoods and our families. We cannot turn a blind eye to countless stories of how mothers are tortured or murdered for bearing daughters. 

ADF India is committed to defend brave mothers like Payal and Sunita, who defend ‘L.I.F.E’. (Love, Inheritance, Freedom and Equality) of the Girl Child. ADF India pursues this commitment by providing free legal aid and assistance to mothers who suffer abuse from their husband’s family and others for choosing to give birth to girls. This also includes women who are being forced to undergo sex-determination or sex-selective abortions. 

You can help us! If you see any woman in your family or community being treated unfairly because of son-preference, report it to the local authorities. You can also seek help by writing to ADF India at askme@vanishinggirls.in. 

Subsequently, by making a financial gift, you can protect mothers and defend the rights of girls to be born in this country. This gift will go towards providing the best legal help for securing justice for the mother and the girl child. 

Why India’s latest sex ratio of 1021 girls per 1000 boys is only a partial win

The latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) data for 2019-21 indicates that India has more females than males (1021 females per 1000 males), but ironically, also points towards a slightly improved yet dangerously skewed sex ratio at birth – 929 females per 1000 males. 

The report also highlights that the states of Jharkhand (899), Telangana (894), Odisha (894), Haryana (893), Rajasthan (891), Tamil Nadu (878), Himachal Pradesh (875), Goa (838), Chandigarh (838), and Daman & Diu (817) show fewer than 900 girls being born for every 1000 boys. Kerala shows the sharpest decline with respect to sex ratio at birth – falling 96 points from a robust 1047 girls per 1000 boys in 2015-16 to 951 in 2019.  

While it is a commonly known fact that naturally, more males are born than females in the human species, the sizeable gap between the number of boys and girls born in India clearly points towards the prevalence of the practice of sex-selective abortion. Couple that with the decline in India’s Total Fertility Rate, and we may face even fewer girls being both conceived and born.  

India has implemented the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994 that has illegalised sex-selection, both before and after conception. This Act, although a step in the right direction, is by no means enough by itself to curb this inhuman practice.  

Law and Culture must work together to make people realise the morbid future that female foeticide will plunge the nation into, and ensure that this evil is eradicated not only in practice, but from people’s mindset. Then only, will every Girl Child conceived will be guaranteed L.I.F.E. (Love, Inheritance, Freedom, Equality). Then only will the country truly enjoy stability and development in all aspects. 

Raising awareness is critical right now.  

To combat the evil of sex-selective abortion, ADF India’s Vanishing Girls campaign works with several like-minded allies, state government bodies, public prosecutors, legal and civic bodies, social activists, medical professionals and ASHA workers to provide legal support as well as training to ensure relevant laws are effectively implemented to protect the women and the unborn girl child. 

Our training focuses on:  

Our legal experts would be glad to collaborate with you and organise free legal trainings for your organisation, church group, school, college, etc. to raise awareness about sex-selective abortion and empower the attendees in taking a strong stand against it.  

To know more about organising trainings with Vanishing Girls, you could:  

Read more about our past trainings here.

In a society where raising girls is considered ‘a lot of work’, we must not shy away from the hard work necessary to ensure L.I.F.E. to her

The year was 1973. Some elders of a nomadic Rajasthani community considered the situation of a ‘sapera’ (snake-charmer) who was away for work, and his wife, who lay unconscious after giving birth to a baby girl – the seventh child of the family. They decided that the girl (born only a few hours ago) would be ‘a lot of work’. So, rather than giving her her rightful place at her mother’s bosom, they saw it fit to dig a hole and bury her alive. 

But the girl was rescued, and she survived. Her father fought for his daughter’s right to live, and readily chose to be abandoned by the community. The girl went on to take the folk-dance tradition of the Kalbaliya community to the world stage.

In 2016, Gulabo Sapera was awarded the coveted Padma Shri for her art. She brought recognition to the same community that didn’t see any value in her! 

Gulabo was fortunate that her parents, especially her father, were supportive in the face of a society that considers girls as ‘a lot of work’. But there are many who are not that fortunate and neither find support nor find the L.I.F.E (Love, Inheritance, Freedom, and Equality) that they deserve. 

The statistics are staggering, and yet there has been little to no reduction in the number of sex-selective abortions in the country. A 2021 ToI article pegged the number of convictions under the PCPNDT Act as only 614 over the past quarter of a century!  

Meanwhile, the girl child continues to suffer the consequences of being considered a liability and a burden to her family in our society, even before she is born. 

To combat the evil of sex-selective abortion, ADF India’s Vanishing Girls campaign works with several like-minded allies, state government bodies, public prosecutors, legal and civic bodies, social activists, medical professionals and ASHA workers to provide legal support as well as training to ensure acts have been implemented to protect the Girl Child are implemented effectively and adhered to strictly. 

Our training focuses on: 

Our legal experts would be glad to collaborate with you and organise free legal trainings for your organisation, church group, school, college, etc. to raise awareness about sex-selective abortion and empower the attendees in taking a strong stand against it. 

To know more about organising trainings with Vanishing Girls, you could: 

Read more about our past trainings here: vanishinggirls.in/trainings/ 

What does FREEDOM mean in a Girl Child’s L.I.F.E.?

Published on 26 Aug, 2022

We felt broken many times in the past 30 days: 

In the same span, we saw the ladies of the nation making our hearts swell with pride. 

Such starkly contrasting narratives about the daughters of the nation, in the same timeframe, are nothing short of alarming. 

The former reports make a case for ‘son preference’ still being widely prevalent (as does the National Family Health Survey 5) and destroying multiple lives in the process. Meanwhile, the latter stories stand, boldly on the podium, to show what daughters are capable of, if they receive the L.I.F.E. (Love, Inheritance, Freedom, and Equality), and that FREEDOM is an absolutely critical element here. Contrary to the belief (still held by many) that daughters only contribute to the legacy of someone else’s family, daughters have the potential to build the legacy of a nation, given their rightful freedom. 

A testament to this is also a 2017 ToI interview with PV Sindhu, where she highlights the freedom her parents gave her while growing up, which allowed her to live up to her potential. “There were many struggles, but my parents supported me a lot. Whenever I wanted anything, wherever I wanted to go...they were there for me,” says Sindhu. 

But, in terms of Girl Child, how do you define Freedom? Here are our two (actually, three) bits. 

1. Freedom of environment: For a Girl Child to live up to her full potential, she must have a safe and healthy environment. It is essential that the laws that safeguard women are strictly implemented and adhered to. Further to this, the mindset of society must undergo a major transformation towards respecting the will, the ambition, the purpose, and the consent of women. In light of the increase in the number of rape cases, we must build legal awareness for women to have safe spaces to report such incidents of violence, if any. 

2. Freedom of education: In a previous article, ADF India Allied Lawyer Anushree Bernard wrote about the importance of education in the Girl Child’s life. She emphasises on how delaying marriage (until at least the marriageable age can be attained and focusing on education can empower her. The self-dependence and knowledge from this endeavour would ensure her health but also help in rectifying the declining sex ratio in the country.  

But, for many girls in the country, the reality is far from ideal. A poll of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) conducted in India on International Women’s Day (March 8th) 2022 called the dropout rates of female students “alarming”. Also, the post-COVID dropout rate for girls in India stands at 14.6%, according to the Unified District Information System for Education Plus Annual Report 2020-21. 

3. Freedom of employment: According to a 2019 Forbes article, “the participation of women in India’s workforce has been abysmal and is one of the lowest in the world.” And 2020 was not great for female professional either. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), women bore the brunt of unemployment due to COVID-19 affecting businesses, and hence, employment. The article claims that while the overall unemployment rate was 7%, the unemployment rate among women was as high as 18%! That’s one woman in six! Not just that, the Gender Gap Report 2022 by the WEF ranked India as low as 135th in gender parity

Employment equals self-dependence and self-sustenance. When women are denied the freedom of employment, they are denied the opportunity, to not just make the best choices for themselves, but also to contribute to society at large. India's economy would grow manifold when women are free to contribute to it.  

So, our appeal to you today, dear reader, is to give serious thought to the Freedom of the Girl Child, which in the long run becomes the Freedom of the Indian Woman. Let’s start a conversation about all the ways we can contribute to ensure that she gets the freedom she deserves, as well as requires, to reach her full potential. 

Art imitates LIFE - How a 2022 film FINALLY opens the mainstream discussion on sex-selective abortion

Updated on 15 July 2022

Divyang Thakkar’s directorial debut Jayeshbhai Jordaar did not make big splashes with its release on 13th May 2022. The film also received mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike. Though with flaws, this social dramedy deserves appreciation for attempting to draw the attention of mainstream media to a topic rarely discussed – sex-selective abortion.

Set in a village in Gujarat, the film follows the quest of a renegade couple (portrayed by Ranveer Singh and Shalini Pandey) to save their unborn girl child’s life from their own family, especially the patriarch (played by Boman Irani).

Despite Thakkar declaring, even before its release, that the film was “designed primarily as an entertainer”, the team seems to have done a fair bit of research on the topic. The film ties together a lot of underlying themes, practices, norms, and notions in the journey of the main characters.

Here are five moments from the film that highlight the inhuman practice of son-preference.

And yes, spoiler alert!

#1: How ultrasound technicians communicate the sex of the baby

(Copyright: Yash Raj Films / Amazon Prime)

Sex-selective abortion has been illegalised as per the Pre-Conception Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994. Yet, many technicians have found creatively secret ways of indicating the sex of the unborn child. In the movie, the doctor (portrayed as largely well-meaning) indicates to the father (Ranvir Singh) that his baby will be a girl by simply saying “Jai Mata Di”. This is one of the most common ways used by technicians to communicate the sex of the baby.

#2: The pregnant wife feels duty-bound and guilty that she cannot “give the family an heir”

(Copyright: Yash Raj Films / Amazon Prime)

In many parts of India, the onus of birthing a male heir lies on the mother. This cultural notion has seeped so deep in the psyche of people that sometimes the woman feels guilty and responsible for not fulfilling the family’s expectation. It is sad to see how Mudra considers it her inherent duty to produce a son – something that is not in her control. Upon finding out that she is pregnant with a girl again, she despairingly asks her husband to leave her.

#3: A village that learns the hard way to appreciate and respect girls

(Copyright: Yash Raj Films / Amazon Prime)

The first episode of Aamir Khan’s 2012 show Satyamev Jayate, highlighting female foeticide, featured a village near Kurukshetra, Haryana where, due to an extremely skewed sex ratio, the men were unable to find a mate to marry. The village of Laadopur in Jayeshbhai Jordaar is loosely based on the village from the show, where the villagers have now fully realised the horrors stemming from sex-selective abortion. This also mirrors the probable condition of society at large, which can be adversely affected if the sex ratio continues to skew further. According to UNICEF, “Seven thousand fewer girls are born in India each day than the global average would suggest, largely because female foetuses are aborted after sex determination tests”.

#4: BIOLOGICAL FATHERS (not mothers) are responsible for the sex of the baby

(Copyright: Yash Raj Films / Amazon Prime)

Elementary biology lessons teach us that the father’s genes decide whether you will have sons or daughters. It is utterly illogical and unreasonable to blame the mother for the sex of the child.

#5: Girls should be seen as heirs and inheritors as much as boys

(Copyright: Yash Raj Films / Amazon Prime)

Culturally, daughters inherit the values, the culture, the traditions, and beliefs of their parents. They play an important part in imparting the same to future generations as daughters, mothers, wives, grandmothers, among other roles.

Legally, inheritance laws in India recognise that daughters are entitled to inheritance as much as sons.

GET INVOLVED

There is an urgent need to end the practise of sex selective abortions in India. Get involved in the Vanishing Girls campaign and host a film screening in your community to get a conversation started.  Write to us to let us know how we can help.

Or maybe you know someone who is being forced to undergo sex-selective abortion? We are a team of legal experts that can help. Reach out to us here.

Dear Fathers, your daughters inherit more than genes from you

17 June, 2022

We’ve all heard it – children attributing talents, temperament, mannerisms and physical features to their fathers. While reading this, many of you might even be led to think about all the things you have inherited from your father. That’s how we have been created. But inheritances are not just limited to facial, physical and behavioral legacy. The one we want to draw your attention to, on the occasion of Father’s Day, is legal legacy, or legal inheritance. 

The Indian Constitution guarantees gender equality before the law. Article 15 prevents the state from discriminating against any citizen of India or violating their equal rights on the basis of race, caste, religion, class, or sex etc. This equality cannot be achieved if women and girls are not economically independent. The right to inheritance is an important agency that empowers women and girls to secure this independence.  

India does not have any uniform law regarding property ownership and inheritance rights of women, which means the law in matters pertaining to inheritance and sharing of property differs for people from different faiths. 

Equal property rights of sons and daughters were recognised after the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 which stated that a daughter will have equal ownership in her father’s property even after she gets married. Prior to the amendment, daughters could only be ‘members’, not ‘coparceners’ (individuals who have a legal right to their ancestral property by birth). While coparceners could ask for partition and share of the property, members couldn’t. Once the daughter gets married, she stops being a member and therefore she loses her right to the share and maintenance of her father’s property. 

Landmark Judgements  

In many families across the country, strong patriarchal traditions have translated into fear of violence by their male relatives, preventing women from fighting for their inheritance rights. It has been 18 years since the amendment of The Hindu Succession Act (2005), but a lot of women, even educated ones, are in the dark about their inheritance rights.  

Here are 3 things every father/parent can do now to safeguard their daughter’s inheritance: 

  1. Stay informed on the different laws that apply to you as per your faith or custom 
  1. Draft a will. It is the best way to pass on assets. While nominations help in transferring movable assets like bank deposits or insurance policies, a will takes legal precedence over a nomination. Get a probate, if required, as it’s needed in some states 
  1. Talk to your daughter, as well as many others, about their inheritance rights. Spreading awareness about these rights is extremely important 

ADF India’s Vanishing Girls campaign is calling for proactive efforts by the Centre and state governments to enforce every daughter’s right to inheritance. Let’s move towards a future where daughters can freely claim their legal inheritance just as they claim other inheritances from you. 

YouTube disables DIY sex-determination videos after ADF India allied lawyers intervene 

Updated on 18 May, 2022 

Three months ago, YouTube took down several videos promoting gender-biased sex-selection after ADF India allies intervened. 

Targeted towards Indian married couples, these videos offered information on how to detect the sex of the foetus. It also endorsed and facilitated the indirect sale of gender determination kits/products. 

The fact that YouTube, which is owned by Google, allowed unrestricted streaming of content on gender-biased sex selection stands in clear violation of the Supreme Court orders in the case of Sabu Mathew George v. Union of India, (2018) 3 SCC 229

These videos further enable the viewers to gain information to circumvent the legislative intent underlying the restrictions of Section 22 of the PCPNDT Act, 1994

Addressing these issues, ADF India allied lawyers worked on a written complaint with Girls Count, one of ADF India’s Vanishing Girls campaign partners, and submitted it to Ms. Vidushi Chaturvedi, Former Director, Department of Health & Family Welfare on 12 December, 2020. The same was brought to the notice of the Nodal Agency, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, New Delhi via email on 6 January, 2021. Subsequently, pursuant to the above, the Nodal Agency had sought clarifications from Google’s legal team. They responded to the complaints with clarifications via email on 7 February, 2022 and a few videos were accordingly disabled access from the country domain. 

However, some of these YouTube videos still continue to circulate in contempt of the guidelines of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. Additionally, e-commerce websites such as Amazon and Dessertcart also advertise similar sex determination products, ready to be shipped in India.  

ADF India allied lawyers are working on a formal complaint to the Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare requesting to file a contempt towards the online content violations, against the Supreme Court orders in the case of Sabu Mathew George v. Union of India, (2018) 3 SCC 229, on behalf of the Ministry of State for Health and Family Welfare to ensure that the mandate of the PCPNDT Act, 1994 is scrupulously followed.   

LEGAL AID AND PREGNANCY HELPLINE 

ADF India provides free legal assistance through our panel of allied lawyers to women whose unborn girl children face in any way a hindrance to L.I.F.E (Love, Inheritance, Freedom, Equality). To know more, please visit www.adfindia.org/legal-aid.  

You may also call the pregnancy helpline at 0444 631 4300 or visit www.pregnancyhelpline.in 

SUPPORT  

We invite you to join us in our efforts to eradicate sex-selection in our lifetime and save the lives of thousands of girls who are aborted every day. To support our work, donate here

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Vanishing Girls is a campaign initiated by ADF India to raise awareness against the practice of sex-selective abortions and to advocate for effective implementation of the Pre Conception Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994. 

Humiliated, Assaulted and Prostituted for having Daughters, Mother of Two Seeks Justice and Dignity

Published on 14 April 2022

Abused, disowned, prostituted, and shamed—one can only imagine the horrors Sunita*, a 26-year-old mother in Dhanbad, Jharkhand, had to endure at the hands of her husband, Roshan*, all because she was expected to 'give' him a son!  

Sunita and Roshan got married in April 2010. After trying for a year, they had their first child, a girl, in December 2011. Instead of jubilation at the birth of the new baby, Roshan and her in-laws’ demeanor towards Sunita altered drastically overnight.  

"They asked me how I dared to deliver a girl. They wanted a boy," said Sunita. “My husband did not see any value in me anymore. He even invited his friends to sleep with me in exchange for money.” Roshan and his parents were so infuriated that Sunita failed to give them a son that they abused Sunita and her daughter for years because of this. 

Encouraged by his parents, Roshan also married another woman and now has a son with his second wife.  

Sunita gave birth to a second daughter in May 2017. This was the last straw for Roshan. He went as far as threatening Sunita to abandon the two daughters or face dire consequences. There were even plans to sell Sunita and her daughters off into sex trade. 

Sunita and her daughters

For Sunita, her daughters’ safety was the utmost priority. She had wanted to escape for a long time, but she had no support or income to rely on. Her own parents disapproved of this decision. In early 2018, with incredible resilience and bravery, Sunita mustered the courage and finally ran away from her marital home with her two young daughters. Determined to build a better life for them, she found a job as a salesperson and found a house to rent. 

Sadly, even after Sunita was separated from her husband, the harassment did not end. Roshan and his second wife found various ways to humiliate and hurt them. They edited fake obscene photographs of Sunita and her daughters and circulated these doctored images along with Sunita’s personal contact details on WhatsApp and Facebook, resulting in terrible hardship for Sunita and her young daughters. 

Desperate, Sunita reached out to ADF India allied lawyers for help. She has filed a private complaint in the Dhanbad court, and an FIR has been lodged against her husband and those involved. Our allied lawyers are working to ensure she has the protection she and her daughters so desperately need.   

“As a team, with many who themselves are parents to daughters, ADF India is standing firm with Sunita and her daughters to ensure that they receive justice”, said Adv. Rajlakshmi, ADF India allied lawyer. 

In India, women face extreme societal pressure to produce a son. Mothers bear the full brunt of the scorn and shame that arise from the birth of a girl child. Many face violence or abandonment in terrifying degrees, as seen in Sunita’s case. Many are still silent.  

The Child Sex Ratio in Jharkhand has dropped from 965 females per 1,000 males in 2001 to only 948 in 2011 as per government census. This clearly exposes daughter-aversion in the state. While the birth of a son is welcomed with distribution of sweets, fanfare and festivities, the birth of a daughter is considered a curse and attracts ridicule and even assault. 

LEGAL AID AND PREGNANCY HELPLINE 

ADF India provides free legal assistance through our panel of allied lawyers to women whose unborn girl children face in any way a hindrance to L.I.F.E (Love, Inheritance, Freedom, Equality). To know more, please visit www.adfindia.org/legal-aid.  

You may also call the pregnancy helpline at 0444 631 4300 or visit www.pregnancyhelpline.in 

SUPPORT 

We invite you to join us in defending the life, liberty and the inherent dignity of women like Sunita and her daughters. To support our work, donate here. Your financial gift today will transform a life tomorrow. 

*name has been changed to protect the privacy of individuals 

Pursuit Of Education: A Discussion On Child Marriage In India

by Adv. Anushree Bernard, ADF India Allied Lawyer

Nisha (name changed), a domestic help working in various homes in an affluent South Delhi locality works from 7 AM till 5 in the evening. At the end of a long and physically demanding workday, she returns to caring for her two daughters and an ailing husband. This was not the life Nisha had dreamt of while growing up in a small village in Bihar. She wanted to be a teacher. Much to her dismay, not only were her studies discontinued, but she was also married off at the young age of 12 to a much older man. Soon after marriage, while she was herself only a child, she became a mother.  

Sadly, Nisha's story is not unique. Census 2011 data reports that 30% of the women in India were married before the age of 18. Today, there are more than 17 million married children and adolescents in India, of which 75% are girls. 

A study by CRY1 stated that Child Marriage has been prevalent at different points in almost all societies around the globe. It is estimated that 5% of all girls in the world are married by the time they are 15 and one in every five girls in the world is married at 18 or younger. Almost 29% of the girls in South Asia aged 20-24 reported marrying before the age of 18, while 8% were married before the age of 15. The highest prevalence rate of Child Marriage reported by 20 to 24-year-olds among SAARC countries was in Bangladesh, followed by Nepal, Afghanistan and India2 

Despite such stringent legislative measures, the country has witnessed a sharp rise in the cases of Child Marriage, approximately 50%, in 2020 over the previous year3. During the Pandemic, India reported an all-time increase in the number of child marriages displaying the negative outlook towards girls across the country as a total of 785 cases were registered under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act4. The number of cases registered were the highest in Karnataka at 184, followed by Assam at 138, West Bengal at 98, Tamil Nadu at 77 and Telangana at 62. In 2019, 523 cases were registered under the Act, while in 2018, 501 cases were lodged5 6

Child marriage is also closely linked to gender discrimination that girls often experience in India right from conception. It is both a cause and outcome of the societal structure that is primarily based on son-preference.  

In India, sex-selective abortion is an established phenomenon that cuts across rural/urban, educational and socio-economic status divides. Due to the rising sex selective abortion cases across the country (that began in the 1970s with the introduction of ultrasound technology), the National Child Sex Ratio stands at 918 girls for every 1000 boys. Since 1990, approximately 15.8 million girls in India have been lost to sex-selective abortion and other forms of prenatal sex selection7

Recent studies have suggested that, if sex-selective abortions persist, an estimated 6.8 million fewer female births will be recorded across India by 20308. Academics from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia projected the sex ratio at birth in 29 Indian states and union territories, covering almost the entire population, taking into account each state’s desired sex ratio at birth and the population’s fertility rates. The cultural preference for a son was found to be highest in 17 states in the north of the country (including Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state) showing the highest deficit in female births. Researchers predict that the cumulative number of missing girl children in the state would be 2 million between 2017 and 2030. 

To counter this gender discrimination, the recent introduction of The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021 in the Lok Sabha to amend the law and raise the minimum age of marriage of women from 18 to 21 years is welcome.  

Child Marriage has serious consequences on the social and economic development of the country, especially educational and vocational opportunities for young girls, apart from raising serious health concerns.  

The practice essentially denies girls and female adolescents educational opportunities, separates them from family and friends, compromises their ability to seek health promotion practices and timely care, and enhances their vulnerability to considerable social evils (such as rape, assault, early pregnancy, etc.) Child Marriage significantly compromises young women’s decision-making ability and empowerment. When girls are married early, their educational trajectory is hampered. Consequently, low levels of education lead to limited employment avenues for women. 

However, mere amendment to the law will not solve the problem and must be followed with stringent implementation and awareness measures so that girls like Nisha stand a fighting chance to succeed in life.  

The first, and the strongest line of defence to curbing the issue of sex-selective abortion is the education and self-reliance of the mother. It is a LIFE-saver! A UNESCO study9 discovered that women with higher levels of education, besides avoiding serious health risks such as maternal death due to early pregnancy, are more likely to delay and space out pregnancies, and to seek health care and support. While pursuing education, they can, in all probability, delay not just getting married, but seek the self-dependence and fortitude to prevent becoming victims to sex-selective abortion, especially due to familial pressure. Educated mothers would have a deeper understanding of the long-term ramifications of sex-selective abortion on the country’s sex ratio and its harmful impact on the socio-economic condition of the country. Also, with higher levels of education, they would be aware that allowing sex-selective abortion (whether with her own pregnancy or with that of someone around her) would be a heinous crime against her own gender, and the laws (like the PCPNDT Act) that have been strictly enacted by the government against the evil. 

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[1] https://www.cry.org/downloads/safety-and-protection/Status-of-Child-Marriage-In-The-Last-Decade.pdf

[2] Unicef Global Databases, 2020

[3] https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/rise-in-child-marriage-cases-in-2020-more-reporting-may-be-factor-1854311-2021-09-18

[4] Ibid [5] Ibid

[6] https://prsindia.org/billtrack/the-prohibition-of-child-marriage-amendment-bill-2021

[7] https://www.pop.org/sex-selective-abortion-in-india/

[8] Probabilistic projection of the sex ratio at birth and missing female births by State and Union Territory in India : https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0236673

[9] https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000190214