Governance

Beti Bachao Beti Padhao – Need of the Hour

It is difficult for India to be called a civilised country, when the sex ratio is as dismal as it is. India’s child sex ratio (CSR) is at an all time low, as per the 2011 census. It has reached alarming proportions where the figures are put at 918 girls per 1000 boys in 2011 from 976 girls per 1000 in 1961. The decline in CSR has been unabated since 1961. In response to this, the government has launched Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) which is an initiative undertaken by the government to improve the child sex ratio (CSR) in initially 100 districts of India. This scheme has now been extended to 61 more districts[i]. It seeks to eliminate gender biased sex selective elimination, ensure survival & protection of the girl child and ensure education and participation of the girl child through Mass Communication Campaign and Multi- sectoral action (which involves coordination among Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ministry of Human Resource Development) as stated in the website of Ministry of Women and Child development.

Though this campaign has shown some results, especially in states like Haryana, the problems facing women in India are deep rooted and complex.

The two basic problems that the initiative seeks to address are of saving the girl child and educating her.

As for saving the girl child, there are two principal acts which seek to do this. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTP), and Pre- Conception and Pre- Natal The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 (PCPNDT) which has been further amended into the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) (PCPNDT) Act in 2004. The MTP prohibits abortion except only in certain qualified situations, while PCPNDT Act prohibits the sex selection of a foetus with a view towards aborting it The Indian Penal Code from Sections 312-318 also punishes the person who commits the offence of foeticide or infanticide.  The Indian Government responded to the problem of falling prices for sex selection diagnostic tests in the 1980s and 1990s, by passing the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostics Techniques (PNDT) (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act in 1994, and the same was further amended into the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) (PCPNDT) Act in 2004 as a powerful legal instrument to foster positive change in this modern sociological trend. But, as shown by several studies, its implementation has been weak resulting in an abysmally low conviction rate. In more than 15 years of the law being in place, a little over 600 cases have been lodged using the law across India[ii] and barely 3,000 cases have been filed against violators of the act over the past 21 years though half a billion medical crimes have been committed.[iii]

States have been slow in implementing the Act, which has occurred more through judicial intervention than through the willingness of the government[iv] including directions to establish authorities at the district and sub district levels[v] As late as January 2015, the Supreme Court issued directions to search engines to not advertise or sponsor any advertisement which would violate Section 22 of the PCPNDT Act in Sabu Mathew George v. Union of India as an interim order. Despite this, there are still numerous advertisements for sex determination freely available on the internet as was contended by the petitioners in subsequent hearings.  The Union Minister for Women and Child Development even advocated an alternate view point about monitoring the foetus till its birth rather than prohibiting sex determination. This statement was of course heavily criticised, but it points towards the difficulty that even the government is facing in implementing the Act.

For more effective implementation of the Act, there needs to be more accountability in the action and performance of appropriate authorities. There is also needs to be greater vigilance over the clinics and diagnostic centres and penalties need to be more strictly enforced[vi]. Unless there is serious and collective will to ensure the implementation of this Act, it will never be effective.

The second objective of the scheme, which is education, has shown much improvement. At primary stage, enrolment is 48.35% of girls and 51.65% of boys, in upper primary enrolment 47.71% are girls and 52.29% boys, while in the secondary stage 46.47% are girls and 53.53% are boys, and in the higher secondary stage, 45.46% are girls and 54.54% are boys.[vii] The reasons for progressively lower enrolment into higher classes are many, ranging from safety, domesticity to lack of basic amenities like functional toilets. Focusing on one major cause, lack of infrastructure in schools in India, a study by the Right to Education (RTE) Forum stated that more than 95 percent of schools across India still don’t comply with RTE standards for infrastructure even after two years of the Act coming in force.

While the initiative is laudable, the fine prints of its implementation need to be clarified further. But more than anything else, nothing succeeds better than success. Thus achievement of targets and showing results is the need of the hour.

By: Rukmini Mukherjee

References

[i] Meenal Thakur, “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme extended to 61 more districts”, Feb 11, 2016, livemint.com, available at http://www.livemint.com/Politics/5moOK2G7SmxaVjx3I6CzaI/Beti-Bachao-Beti-Padhao-scheme-extended-to-61-more-districts.html

[ii] Challenges Faced by the PCPNDT Act 1994 due to the Rapid Development of Science and Technology and the Rigid Patriarchal Mindset., II JCLC (2014) 186

[iii] Sabu M. George, Sex Determination: Answer this, The Indian Express, Feb 15, 2016 available at  http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/sex-determination-answer-this/#sthash.TbivDaxL.dpuf

[iv] See directions issued in Voluntary Health Assn. of Punjab v. Union of India (2013) 4 SCC 1

[v] Centre for Enquiry into Health & Allied Themes (CEHAT) v. Union of India (2013) 4 SCC 1

[vi] Challenges Faced by the PCPNDT Act 1994 due to the Rapid Development of Science and Technology and the Rigid Patriarchal Mindset., II JCLC (2014) 186

[vii] NCERT, 8th All India Education Survey, available at http://aises.nic.in/8th%20AISES%20Concise%20Report.pdf

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