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Just another day or a step forward?

February 4, 2014

Just another day or a step forward?

It’s the annual observance of National Girl Child Day on January 24 mere tokenism or is there some substance to its goals? K S Narayanan looks for the answer.

Welcome to the world of the girl child. Her story across India is promising yet gloomy, hopeful yet mired in despair.

A girl child is the hand that rocks the cradle, the procreator, and the mother of tomorrow. A woman shapes the destiny of civilization.

Indian history is full of examples of successful women who have been leaders in various walks of life. Yet the irony is that a creation as beautiful as the girl child is also one of the gravest concerns facing India due to many cultural factors.

For instance a girl child faces a dozen threat foeticide, discrimination, sexual assault, lack of access to nutrition, sanitation, education and lack of opportunity on one hand and while she is equally burdened with drudgery of domestic chores (like fetching water and firewood for cooking), child marriage…

Realising this, Indian governments have undertaken progressive legislation and have implemented several schemes from time to time. Yet more needs to be done not only to ensure her survival and also to help her realise her full potential.

One such effort initiated by the United Progressive Alliance Government in 2008 is the observance of National Girl Child Day on January 24 every year.

Interestingly in 2008 UPA chairperson and Congress Sonia Gandhi had shot down Women and Child Development (WCD) Minister Renuka Chowdhury’s plan to celebrate November 9 as ‘national girl child day’. Reason: November 9 is Sonia Gandhi’s birthday.

All other ministries gave their approval straight away; the Home Ministry wanted to know whether November 9 was dedicated to any other national function. Once the WCD Ministry said November 9 was free for celebrating ‘girl child day’, the Home Ministry gave its approval.

With the Home Ministry’s approval, the WCD Ministry was in full swing to conduct a series of events on November 9 to create awareness about girl child rights all over the country. The ministry however got cold feet over the proposal when it learnt that Sonia Gandhi was not keen to celebrate November 9 as girl child day because it was her birthday.

So January 24 was chosen. And the reason is that on this day in 1966 Mrs. Indira Gandhi took over as the first woman Prime Minister of India.

In a bid to highlight the issues concerning the girl child, like female feticide, higher malnourishment among them and discrimination, the WCD Ministry proposed to celebrate November 9 as ‘girl child day.

Children in the age group 0–6 years constitute around 158 million of the population of India as per the 2011 census. These children in the age group of 0-6 are future human resource of the country.

Then, why celebrate just National Girl Child Day? The reasons are twofold-First is it is in honour of the 614.4 million female population of India. More important is the girl child continues to be the most vulnerable member of Indian society.

Protecting a girl child in India should not be limited to observing National Girl Child Day every year. Instead armed with strong legislative measures, the governments and other stakeholders – the community, civil society, business houses, neighbourhood and parents – must play a strong role to secure a safe life for the girl child in order to build a better society, better future and a better India.

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But this is not all easy to come by. Take for instance Mitu Khurana, is a doctor herself, whose husband and in-laws tried their best to get rid of her twin girls when they were in the womb. She is the first woman in India to have taken legal action under the PCPNDT (Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques) Act against her husband, in-laws and the hospital for the sex-determination test.

The lower courts gave awareness to her case but the hospital and doctor have appealed in the higher courts against cognizance and it has been pending since 2010. In fact, Mitu is fighting a dozen other cases including domestic violence, dowry and custody of children…

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