In his last radio address to the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took inspiration from a village headman in Haryana and launched the #SelfieWithDaughter initiative, to draw attention towards India’s dwindling sex ratio. Recent news reports have stated that India’s child sex ratio (below six years of age) has plummeted to its lowest level in 70 years from 927 (girls per 1,000 boys) in 2001 to 918 in 2011. These statistics are a grim reminder that great violence continues to be perpetrated on the girl child, either through abortion or gross negligence. If India does not improve its child sex-ratio, it will lead to a deficit of 23 million women between the 20 and 49 years of age by 2040, according to a study by the United Nations Population Fund.
What’s worse, low child sex ratio has been found to be more prevalent in urban areas than in rural areas due to easier access to sonography centres for sex determination tests and other such illegal procedures. Despite the presence of strong laws and schemes, two of India’s most economically progressive states, Maharashtra and Gujarat, are failing to protect their girls, according to a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. In a damning indictment, the CAG report said that both states have failed to implement Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PC & PNT), which prohibits sex selection, before or after conception of the child.
The numbers support these claims. Between the 2001 and 2011 census, Maharashtra child sex-ratio plummeted from 913 to 894 (girls per thousand boys). In Gujarat, meanwhile, the child sex ratio stands at a dismal 886 (girls per 1,000 boys), according to the 2011 census. For those unaware, Haryana has the worst child sex ratio in the country with 834 girls per 1,000 boys. The UN study goes on to further state: “Scarcity of women would not enhance their position in society due to the simultaneous increase in pressure to marry, higher risk of gender-based violence, rising demand for sex work and the development of trafficking networks.”
Hence, the task before Prime Minister Modi to save the girl child is enormous. In addition to establishing a synergy between the Centre’s flagship insurance scheme and its initiative for the girl child, the Centre seeks to implement the Sukanya Samriddhi Account. According reports authored by the government, a savings account can be opened by the parent or legal guardian of a girl child of less than 10 years of age with a minimum deposit of Rs 1,000/- in any post office or authorised branches of commercial bank. Despite the plethora of schemes, implementation remains a problem.
As another study by the United Nations Population Fund says, “(Our) findings point to the need to simplify the eligibility criteria and conditionalities, and also the procedures of registration under each of these schemes.” In addition to these basic anomalies, there is a distinct lack of field-level monitoring of these schemes, besides a complete absence of grievance –redressal mechanisms. If Prime Minister Modi hopes to bring tangible change, he, in close coordination with state governments, must address these concerns urgently.