By Neha Mahal
The trend of decline in the Child Sex Ratio (CSR), defined as number of girls per 1000 of boys between 0-6 years of age, emerged broadly in 1991 census data. The continued decline in CSR from 945 in 1991 to 927 in 2001 and further to 918 in 2011 is a major indicator of women disempowerment and lack of value attached to her1. Successive governments introduced several cash incentive schemes, based on assumption that arrival of money on the birth of girl would increase her value and bring down practice of female foeticide. But such initiatives have failed to improve CSR because they do not deal with deep rooted socio-economic causes of declining CSR such as patriarchal attitudes, practice of dowry, and preference for male child due to their ability to economically support parents in old age2.
To holistically engage with social and attitudinal factors responsible for low CSR, PM Narendra Modi’s has launched Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) initiative, urging people to change their patriarchal attitudes towards girls and give up the practice of female foeticide. The initiative aims to improve the present low CSR of 918: 1000 and increase the value of girl child by focussing on three pronged strategy for empowerment of girl child- raising awareness on sex selective abortions for attitudinal change, better implementation of PN&PCDT act- convergence of flagship schemes on health and education to improve quality of life of girl child3. BBBP will be implemented across 100 districts with critical CSR for focused intervention. As a symbolic gesture to highlight the urgency in dealing with this issue, the PM launched the scheme from Haryana in January, 20154.
BBBP’s Focus on Girls’ Education and Issues Herein
As the name of the scheme suggests, there is special focus on increasing access to education as a means to empower the girl child. It emphasizes the significance of education in making available better avenues of employment, skill development and turning girls themselves into agent of social change in their lives. Thus, the scheme has marked targets such as increasing enrolment at secondary level from 73 to 76%, reducing drop-out rates at upper primary and secondary level, and reinvigorating School Management Committee to enhance girls’ access to education5. Thus, the scheme essentially depends on making existing schemes such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RSMA) to make the initiative a success. But, it provides no blue print to tackle the critical points of failures in existing schemes responsible for continued low level of girls’ education.
Enrolment of girls is steadily increasing at the school level. It stands at 100.6 for primary level, 90.3 for upper primary and 73.7 for secondary level but it is offset by high drop-out rates at upper-primary (32.9%) and secondary level (46.7%)6. Traditional attitudes towards the girl child enmeshes with economic factors reducing participation of girls in education. According to a study on enrolment and drop-out percentages among boys and girls in secondary level in India, early marriage or child marriage, looking after their young siblings and supporting mothers as domestic help, seasonal migration of parents for work are main causes of drop-out for girls7. Another study on barriers to girls’ education in Madhya Pradesh states that sexual safety of girls at the onset of puberty also contributes to the drop-out of girls at secondary level8. Hence, such demand side obstructions require a holistic approach oriented towards community mobilization and attitudinal change in society towards girls’ education.
SSA has an important aspect of Community Mobilization to bridge the gender and social gap in education. But, track record of allocation and expenditure towards community mobilization in SSA by various states show gross underutilization implying lack of focus on this aspect by respective state governments9. A study on allocation and expenditure in education sector shows that funds reach the grassroots level after substantial delay and in a staggered manner and thus, when received, schools and ground level committees focus on creating tangible use of funds such as whitewash, toilets, boundary walls, blackboards and dusters10. It is due to the perception that a tangible use of funds would be seen as indicating action undertaken, rather than structural reform and changes which would represent only future value. Thus, long term structural initiatives such as community mobilization required to improve enrolment and tackle drop-out take a back seat.
Hence, the scheme focuses on reinvigorating community participation through SMCs for enrolment and reduction of drop-out rates. SMC consists of elected local authorities, parents of children admitted in school and teachers. It is an integral part of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA) intended to bring in community ownership of SSA and accountability. Thus, SMC is an important platform to bridge gender gap in access to education but the initiative presents no road map to remove the inherent loopholes in the functioning of SMC responsible for its failure so far.
According to a study, most parents are not aware of their membership in SMCs and PTAs. Also, many parents are apprehensive to approach the teachers due to their illiteracy and socio-economic status11. Further, there are issues such as lack of awareness on the very working of the system. Such a wide gap between the community and the government functionaries such as teachers reduces the communication needed to raise awareness about the value of education for the girl child and to eradicate the traditional beliefs about girls’ roles.
BBBP has announced construction of 500 hostels for girls to allow them to continue education without concern for distance or safety12. But, among five states with lowest CSR, Uttar Pradesh is the only one to send proposals for building of hostels in 201513. Such a state wise variation in realization of these targets substantially undermines the objectives of the scheme to improve girl child’s education and quality of life. Unfortunately, state wise disparity may further increase with the implementation of 14th Finance Commission report. With the increase in states’ share in taxes to 42% from existing 32%, Union government has reduced funding of several social welfare schemes including those with intended impact on girls/women such as Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyaan (RMSA), ICDS14
According to the budget for 2015, the allocation for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) has been reduced from Rs 27,758 crore to Rs 22,000 crore, Mid-day Meal Scheme Rs 13,215 crore to Rs 9,236 crore and the allocation for RMSA has been reduced from Rs 5,000 crore to Rs 3,565 crore15. Also, the available funds have been made untied to conditions, allowing states to spend them as per their own priorities. Although, it may provide much needed flexibility to states to spend as per their preference but child and women’s rights activists opine that give the track record of many states in implementing schemes with special focus on girl child, a genuine concern arises as every state may not equally prioritize the issue of girls’ education and compensate for the reduced funding by the centre16.
BBBP is a step in the right direction, bringing much needed focus on issue of girl child and declining CSR. The initiative sets itself aside from others as it has direct support of the Prime Minister giving it much needed political impetus to function. However, it is important to understand that steps to improve their quality of life through education needs intervention beyond targeted goals of enrolment. The high drop-out rates of girls is a result of socio-economic issues at play outside the school. And, they can be tackled only when deep-rooted and everyday silent exclusion of marginalized families and parents in community participation is addressed so that community can be gradually made aware of the value of education for the girl child. Secondly, though the initiative is a union government led programme, its objective of increasing educational opportunities for the girl child for improved quality of life is significantly dependent on participation of the state governments. Therefore, if the scheme has to succeed, it needs engage at a more in-depth and sustainable level to effectively tackle the blind spots responsible for low value of girl child in our community.