April 1, 2010 was the day when the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education came into force. The Act mandates that all children in India between 6 - 14 years will receive free, compulsory, quality education.
Girl children in India have been prevented from going to school due to various reasons - long distances from home to school, a lack of clean & separate toilets for girls, absentee teachers, household chores, taking care of siblings with both parents working... the list is endless.
It is estimated that a girl child has only a 24% chance of being enrolled in primary school and if she does get admitted to school, a 60% chance that she will drop out before she reaches high school. But this was before the Right to Education Act came into place.
Saida Sheikh resident of Cheeta Camp has decided to send all her four children to school after the school enrolment drive initiated by Mumbaiites for Child Rights (M4CR) - a CRY volunteer initiated citizen's network and the local residents of the area.
The group of activists went around the area explaining to the residents about the importance of educating their children and to get them admitted in the neighbourhood BMC schools. Says Saida, “I didn’t have so much money to buy books and other necessities so I had not sent my two younger children to school. The two elder children stop going to school after class 4 and 5. But now I would send all of them to school.”
The volunteers used rickshaws dressed up with awareness messages. Says Farid, local civic activist, who initiated the drive in the area, “The volunteers interacted with the parents and children in the area. They asked them the reason behind their not sending their children to school and also explained them the importance of sending the children to the municipal schools.” Every year BMC conducts this enrolment drive for a period of 15 days after the reopening of schools, focussing on enrolling children in the schools through parent meetings, and informational displays in the area around the school which are undertaken by the BMC school teachers.
Says Nitin Wadhwani, volunteer, M4CR, “This enrolment drive is an important tool in ensuring that we reach out to every child in the area. The parents were informed about the 27 items given by BMC according to its rules if they enrol their children in school which includes free shoes, school bag, tiffin box and even a rain coat. Also, every child in a BMC-run school is covered by a health insurance scheme.” Leaflets with information of the child’s entitlements were distributed in the M-East ward.
Says Rajkumar Sharma, civic activist who co-ordinated the drive in the area, “There has been huge drop in the admissions in the BMC schools as parents are getting their children admitted in the private schools. There has been a huge 38.8 percent drop in the number of Marathi-medium students, with around 68,000 fewer children admitted to BMC schools in 2009-10 than in 2004-05.
This is happening because parents are not aware of the facilities provided to children who go the BMC schools. Also the parents were under the impression that the quality of education in BMC schools was not up to the mark. So we wanted to clear all their doubts and thus make them understand that they all should educate their children for a bright future.”
Another volunteer Priti Bajaj along with her co-volunteers Nitin, Aastha and Ahmed were of the opinion that, “Every child should get education and there is no reason why parents should not send their children to school. We really hope that after this drive the parents would understand the importance of getting their children educated.” Adds Wadhwani, “The authorities should ensure quality education to each and every child. Also the concern of parents that there is availability of only primary education in the area should be taken into account and everywhere school should provide secondary education also. The quality of teachers should also be improved so that more and more students get motivated to enrol in school.” (source: Mumbai Mirror)
Posted online: Mon Jun 07 2010, 23:32 hrs It is a gender skew that has been introduced so gently and noiselessly that it has been barely noticed. In Bangalore and, more widely, in Karnataka, girls have outperformed boys in school board examinations in the past few years. Now, leading colleges in this city are using this as a reason to raise the entry bar for female applicants. It is college admission season in Bangalore. Caste-based and economic status-based reservations abound. But this sneaky move can only be viewed as a backdoor quota system for boys.
Prominent colleges like MES College and National College have set a higher cut-off percentage for admitting girls. In the much sought-after Science course at the pre-university (Plus Two) level at MES, the cut off marks for boys is 594 while it is 599 for girls. In another preferred Commerce course, the cut-off for boys is 553 and for girls 580.
This blatant discrimination is being explained away by colleges who say that girls are better performers so boys need a leg up to equalise classroom numbers. It is incongruous that colleges are being allowed to get away doing this in a country where education and opportunities have always favored the male gender.
“This is completely absurd,” says Dilip Thakore, editor of the Bangalore-based EducationWorld magazine. “In our education system, girls are thwarted every step of the way from the time they enter school to the time they leave college, so this is like piling on the injustice.”
Thakore says that the education system works heavily against girls, more so in rural and underprivileged neighbourhoods. “The scandal is that a critical necessity such as a toilet is unavailable in thousands of government-run schools making it impossible for girls to attend classes once they reach puberty,” says Thakore.
While the government is going all out to improve enrollment of girls in schools, admission inequities in a modern city like Bangalore only highlight old biases. “The colleges are sending out a message loud and clear — boys need education to pursue a career whereas a girl, even if educated, will get married, have children and abandon her career so why should she be encouraged?” says Manjula Babu, an aspiring law student.
Given the historical advantages that boys enjoy in Indian society, the move by Bangalore colleges is patently unfair says B.K. Anitha, associate professor at the school of social sciences in the National Institute of Advanced Studies. College education is driven by merit, and gender should not be a criterion, says Anitha. “If girls are bridging the education gap and are finally doing better, now is not the time to penalise them,” she says.
School enrollment numbers in rural areas have traditionally slanted towards boys but even in big cities, professional courses see a big tilt towards male students. In Bangalore, only 28 per cent of engineering students are girls, says Anitha. “Why won’t colleges first erase this structural inequality?” she asks.
Meanwhile, parents have begun questioning the legality of such discriminatory college admission policies. A girl who scored 94.67 at the pre-university level was denied admission despite the cut-off being much lower at the St. Joseph’s College of Commerce in the city. The college said it gave admission preference to boys.
The girl’s father has charged the college with gender discrimination and said he would fight on behalf of his daughter. He has filed a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court.
As more girls apply to get into colleges and push ahead to surpass boys, some people may be rattled. Nevertheless colleges need to create level fields based on merit, providing a chance for long-standing imbalances in education to be righted. “After all, if India wants to compete internationally, merit and nothing else should be counted,” says Anitha, the social sciences specialist.
No Improvement In Girl-To-Boy Ratio Over Past 5 Years; Census Unlikely To Paint Better
Going by the trend of recent years,the impending census could expose an ugly truth about Mumbai: the city has repeatedly snubbed the girl child. The previous census,of 2001,showed that Mumbai had 923 girls aged upto six years for every 1,000 boys in the same age group. Since then the ratio has shown no improvement.
In 2005,the number of girls per 1,000 boys dipped to 917, according to BMC statistics based on births registered. In 2006, 2007 and 2008, the BMC figures remained at a dismal 920,921 and 918,respectively. The latest figures show that Mumbai had 919 girls born for every 1,000 male births in 2009. Mumbai lags behind the national average. The 2001 census showed 934 girls for every 1,000 boys in the country.
So, where are the missing girls? The question hurls one into a murky world where the educated and more affluent are suspected to be using contraceptives and technological advances to ensure male children,and poorer,relatively uneducated people are clinging to age-old attitudes,which include having males to be breadwinners and carry on the family name.
Ironically, the positive aspects of Mumbai, such as literacy and affluence,appear to be major reasons contributing to the skewed child sex ratio. With the more educated strata, there is a possibility of stopping rule behaviour a term that means a couple has decided to have only one child,and so would prefer a boy, said Dr Arokya Swamy,of the International Institute of Population Sciences. Also, low fertility rates should be taken into account. With most affluent, educated people marrying late and having a baby even later, the fertility rate for the higher economic strata is around 1.5, which means that around 50% of people in this group are able to have only one child, said Swamy.
Sonia Gill,of the All India Democratic Womens Association,said,With the overall cost of life going up, everybody wants to have a small family, preferably with a son. Amongst the higher economic classes, fathers want to pass on their businesses to sons rather than sons-in-law. According to Dr Rekha Daver, member of the state advisory committee on Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques, the more access people have to technology, the more the girl child is at risk.
Tribal or rural people do not know much about technology and contraception. So,even though the old culture of male child upholding the family name is more rampant among the uneducated, the literate are more techno-savvy and have more contraceptive options. They know that an abortion is possible if they want it and can pay for it, said Daver. City pockets that had the lowest ratios for girls in 2009 were wards known for their upmarket areas, while they also have a healthy mix of middle- and lower-middle residents and slums.
A (Colaba,Churchgate,Fort) had only 867 girl births per 1,000 boys. C (Marine Lines,Mumbadevi,Marine Drive) had just 854 girl births and GSouth (Worli,Dadar) had 871. Interestingly, no ward had more girls than boys. That statistic was last seen in 2006. The highest ratio for girls was in B (Masjid Bunder,JJ Road),which had 986 girls, and H-West (Bandra,Khar,Santa Cruz),which had 943.
A L Sharda, of Population First, an NGO, said, one would have to wait for teh census for a clearer picture. When the data is collected for births registered on a yearly basis,the statistics are only a rough indication. A proper analysis can be done only when the census collects data for the zero-to-six age group, she said.
Excerpt from A Case Study on India by by Gendercide Watch
John-Thor Dahlburg points out, "in rural India, the centuries-old practice of female infanticide can still be considered a wise course of action." (Dahlburg, "Where killing baby girls 'is no big sin'," The Los Angeles Times [in The Toronto Star, February 28, 1994.]) According to census statistics, "From 972 females for every 1,000 males in 1901 ... the gender imbalance has tilted to 929 females per 1,000 males. ... In the nearly 300 poor hamlets of the Usilampatti area of Tamil Nadu [state], as many as 196 girls died under suspicious circumstances [in 1993] ... Some were fed dry, unhulled rice that punctured their windpipes, or were made to swallow poisonous powdered fertilizer. Others were smothered with a wet towel, strangled or allowed to starve to death." Dahlburg profiles one disturbing case from Tamil Nadu:
Lakshmi already had one daughter, so when she gave birth to a second girl, she killed her. For the three days of her second child's short life, Lakshmi admits, she refused to nurse her. To silence the infant's famished cries, the impoverished village woman squeezed the milky sap from an oleander shrub, mixed it with castor oil, and forced the poisonous potion down the newborn's throat. The baby bled from the nose, then died soon afterward. Female neighbors buried her in a small hole near Lakshmi's square thatched hut of sunbaked mud. They sympathized with Lakshmi, and in the same circumstances, some would probably have done what she did. For despite the risk of execution by hanging and about 16 months of a much-ballyhooed government scheme to assist families with daughters, in some hamlets of ... Tamil Nadu, murdering girls is still sometimes believed to be a wiser course than raising them. "A daughter is always liabilities. How can I bring up a second?" Lakshmi, 28, answered firmly when asked by a visitor how she could have taken her own child's life eight years ago. "Instead of her suffering the way I do, I thought it was better to get rid of her." (All quotes from Dahlburg, "Where killing baby girls 'is no big sin'.") A study of Tamil Nadu by the Community Service Guild of Madras similarly found that "female infanticide is rampant" in the state, though only among Hindu (rather than Moslem or Christian) families. "Of the 1,250 families covered by the study, 740 had only one girl child and 249 agreed directly that they had done away with the unwanted girl child. More than 213 of the families had more than one male child whereas half the respondents had only one daughter." (Malavika Karlekar, "The girl child in India: does she have any rights?," Canadian Woman Studies, March 1995. Indian state governments have sometimes taken measures to diminish the slaughter of infant girls and abortions of female fetuses. "The leaders of Tamil Nadu are holding out a tempting carrot to couples in the state with one or two daughters and no sons: if one parent undergoes sterilization, the government will give the family [U.S.] \\$160 in aid per child. The money will be paid in instalments as the girl goes through school. She will also get a small gold ring and on her 20th birthday, a lump sum of $650 to serve as her dowry or defray the expenses of higher education. Four thousand families enrolled in the first year," with 6,000 to 8,000 expected to join annually (as of 1994) (Dahlburg, "Where killing baby girls 'is no big sin'.") Such programs have, however, barely begun to address the scale of the catastrophe.
Girls across India are learning lessons they ought not to. In the villages they are learning to take care of their house (or their in-laws'), while in the cities and towns, many school-going girls are grappling with dreams they cannot pursue because of societal pressure and stereotypes of what a girl should or shouldn't do. Unfortunately, in both the cases, the casualty is her dreams and her spirit.
Voice your thoughts, spread the word. Only if we, together, stand up for her rights can we end the discrimination.