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Voiceless Girl Child: PANEL CAN’T STAY POWERLESS, by Dr. S. Saraswathi, 18 Apr, 2012 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 18 April 2012

Voiceless Girl Child


By Dr S Saraswathi (Former Director, ICSSR)


The miserable plight of the girl child and merciless eradication of female foetus in parts of the country are reported in the media almost daily, but have not provoked public anger to the extent these should in a civilised society. They are all crimes and crimes with an odious stigma of social devaluation of the female population.


Recent incidents like the brutal killing of baby Afreen in Bangalore, and the fight for male baby and abandonment of the girl baby in a hospital in Rajasthan should make heads hang in shame. But, sadly it is not so. Worse, everyone knows that for one incident exposed and legally pursued, there are hundreds ignored and suppressed. 


It is common knowledge that catching the culprits and awarding punishment are not enough in gender-related issues without a change in social attitudes. And in India, there are many obstacles in the way of law and justice too. As in many spheres, there is no dearth of progressive laws and regulations, but implementation is tardy. Law must act to change and shape social attitudes also.


It is a sick society that helps under-reporting of incidents of crimes against girl children, that positively protects the offenders and aids suppression of evidence of crimes against women and children, and wants the release or under-punishment of the guilty. The crimes cannot be solely linked with ignorance and privations of the socially-economically backward sections of the population, but travel vertically to cover the well-to-do.


India is a signatory to the UN Convention on Rights of Children (CRC), 1989, and has established the Commission for Protection of Child Rights in 2007 under an Act of Parliament. Interestingly, the same year witnessed a huge increase in crimes against children to an extent of   7.6% of total crimes and an incredible increase of 68.5% in foeticide cases compared to the previous year.


It is a shame that India, that is, the legendary Bharat, tolerates female infanticide/foeticide though traditionally children in any condition are venerated as worshipful objects and embodiment of purity even for those under ceremonial purification. The contradiction is nurtured by social- structural factors and is man-made and not inbuilt in biological and other natural factors.


The CRC views children not as recipients of services but as holders of rights. It upholds the right of children to “self-determination” – a concept that cannot go with Indian patriarchal system. It recognizes the right of children to form associations and participate in decision-making processes at all levels. It contains 54 articles on civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights. As a signatory to this convention, the Government of India is committed to protecting and ensuring children’s rights and is accountable to discharge this commitment before the international community.


The Government of India has adopted a National Charter for Children in 2003 to reiterate its commitment to children and to see that no child remains hungry, illiterate, or sick. The charter makes specific mention about taking appropriate measures to address the problems of female infanticide and foeticide and all other emerging manifestations that deprive the girl child of her right to survive with dignity. 


It also provides that all children have a right to be protected against neglect, maltreatment, injury, and trafficking, sexual and physical abuse of all kinds, corporal punishment, torture, exploitation, violence and degrading treatment.


Protection of the girl child is ensured against all forms of discriminatory practices and abuses including child marriage. The charter is so elaborate that it touches every aspect of child life, and if implemented would make the life of children ideal and open a uniformly bright future for all of them.


The Indian Penal Code that is over 150 years old recognizes seven types of crimes against women. Further, a number of  special laws have also been enacted to curb the practice of dowry, the atrocity of bride burning, sex-determination tests, rape, sexual harassment at workplace,   trafficking in women and children, and eve-teasing.


For illegal sex-determination tests, law prescribes punishments for concerned clients and others seeking pre-natal diagnostic tests, medical practitioner, owner or employee of the genetic counseling centre or laboratory or clinic, and for the doctor involved in sex-selection.  Punishments vary and go up to imprisonment for three years and fine up to Rs. 50,000 and even suspension of the registration of the doctor.  But, we hear of few convictions.               


Alas! Despite conventions, charters, legislations, awarding punishments and existence of protective agencies, abuse of children, and prejudice against girl child with corresponding son-preference mentality continue unabated. As a result, census shows alarming decline in sex ratio indicating that in some pockets polyandry may have to be resorted to in view of scarcity of girls for marriage; the National Crime Records Bureau records increasing crimes against women; and newspapers and news channels frequently carry reports of horrifying stories of female infanticide and foeticide committed by parents themselves, aided and abetted by close relatives.


In many western countries, children’s ombudsman is appointed to protect and promote the rights and interests of children in general and specifically for particular categories in need of special care. There is a European Network of Ombudspersons for Children and also sub-regional networks. 

The prompt and angry reaction that India expressed against retention of two Indian children by Norwegian authorities is missing in the case of offences against children and the unborn within the country. We have no reason to be proud of our record in child protection.   


Is this apathy largely due to failure of legal instruments, or powerlessness of protective agencies, or social-ethical blindness? The first two in our society must engage in social education as part of their activities. 


Unfortunately, the Children’s Commission’s activism does not meet the urgency and the gravity of the situations. Our law, institutions, and authorities have to take the tasks assigned to them to ensure rights and privileges not as half-hearted social service but as important duties. The Commission must fulfil its mandate – its role and functions and exercise all its powers lest they should lapse by non-use.--INFA 


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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