New Delhi, October 2020.
On the occasion of the International Day of the Girl Child, observed every year on 11th October, Population Foundation of India, a leading national non-government organisation, today urged everyone to treat this Day as a special one and commit towards improving life of every girl child.
Speaking on the occasion, Ms. Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India, said, “Today, we grapple with the greatest health and humanitarian crisis in centuries, it is imperative for us to acknowledge and address barriers, biases and discrimination faced by girls right from the moment they are born, which determine their status in society. COVID-19 has had a disproportional impact on both women and girls as is also evident from the emerging global and national evidence. In a world facing the challenges of poverty, economic insecurity as well as limited access to quality education, employment opportunities and health services, COVID-19 has undoubtedly exacerbated the situation. This International Day of the Girl Child must therefore be treated as a special one. We must commit ourselves even more resolutely to helping improve her life.”
Girls in India continue to be born into a social system that is steeped in discrimination. Research and recent events clearly show that gender discrimination and violence against women in India are prevalent and persistent. According to the fourth National Family Health Survey, NFHS-4 (2015-16), overall, 28% of women aged 15-49 in India have experienced physical or sexual violence. UNFPA estimates that sex selection accounts for about 2 out of 3 of the total missing girls in India. Of the 142 million women missing globally, 46 million of those are missing in India. These figures are a frightening reflection of the inequality and violence that is a reality for all Indian women and girls.
According to the fourth round of the National Family Health Survey, 86 lakh girls in the age group of 15 – 19 years are married before the legal age of marriage and half of them (45 lakhs) have become mothers during adolescence. 1.2 crore adolescent girls who wish to delay their pregnancy or do not want more children are not able to access contraceptives. This has far-reaching socio-economic impact. Early pregnancies deprive young girls of their right to education, skill development and the ability to be financially independent. Hence, it restricts their overall development and productivity and has a debilitating effect on the future generation.
The pandemic’s lockdown measures, especially closures of schools has affected girls disproportionately and more severely across the world and this will definitely have long-term negative consequences. The probability of early and forced marriages has substantially increased especially as young girls are forced to drop out of school, help their mothers with domestic chores, and abandon the pursuit of higher education. Reports from the field show that during this period the closure of schools and a lack of protection for girls led to forced child marriages and sex transactions between young girls and older men as a means of economic survival. This has rendered girls vulnerable to all forms of violence.
Results from Population Foundation of India’s recent study to assess the knowledge and impact of COVID-19 on young people in three states of UP, Rajasthan and Bihar showed that more than half (51%) female adolescents experienced an increase in workload during the nationwide lockdown, as compared to under one-fourth (23%) of male adolescents.
Young girls need support from each of us to live their lives free of discrimination and violence and achieve their dreams and aspirations. It is our societal responsibility to ensure our girls are valued and provided with equal opportunities across all spheres. As we continue to empower women and girls, we must simultaneously provide systematic and sustained engagement of boys and men to be responsible and equal partners.
This International Day of the Girl Child in the words of iconic feminist Kamala Bhasin we must help girls “rewrite their worlds” and commit to addressing issues around the lifecycle of violence they face every day. We must add our voices to theirs.