In a landmark verdict on October 11, upholding the rights of over 20 million child brides of India, the Supreme Court ruled that sex with a minor wife, in the age group of 15 to 18, would be considered as rape and will be treated as a criminal offence. The court order came even as India along with the rest of the world commemorated the International Girl Child Day around the theme of ‘The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030’ to celebrate and empower girl children around the world.
According to a United Nations Population Fund report last year, India accounts for a third of the world’s child brides. About 47 per cent of girls in India are married before they turn 18. Though the trend of child marriages has been declining, India still has a long way to go to eradicate the menace completely. The latest Supreme Court order is a major milestone towards achieving that goal.
As part of United Nation’s international day to create greater awareness on the issues impacting girl children around the world and to promote steps for their empowerment, several countries have undertaken major programmes to highlight and support girl children and to end gender discrimination.
In a unique initiative in India, several diplomatic missions in New Delhi along with a child rights organisation, Plan India, came together to mark the occasion with a series of activities to promote girls’ rights. Around 22 girls will get an opportunity to step in the shoes of ambassadors and high commissioners for a day. An official statement said, “With the support of Plan India, a child rights organisation which strives to advance children’s rights and equality for girls, the ‘takeover’ will provide an opportunity for young women of different backgrounds to interact directly with Ambassadors and High Commissioners and take on their role for a short time.” About 30 diplomatic missions are supporting the initiative.
Need for changing mindset
In India, girls have lagged behind boys in almost all social indicators for decades. However, the country has taken great strides toward fighting this disparity and supporting girl children bringing about a great transformation in the last several years. Besides active women’s rights movements that have contributed immensely to the upliftment of girls, several government schemes like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana and Sabla have been set up to fight issues like pre-birth sex determination, free access to education, and to provide equal opportunities addressing the distinct needs of girl children. However, despite the government’s initiatives, the number of girls enrolling in schools still lags way behind the desired numbers.
The latest gender ratio data released by National Family Health Survey (NHFS) is hardly heartening. It shows national capital Delhi having the lowest gender ratio at birth at an alarming 817 girls for 1000 boys falling way short of the benchmark of normal sex ratio set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Six other Indian states – Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha – have fared poorly on the WHO benchmark. According to Non-Governmental Organisation Child Rights and You (CRY), which compiled the report, unless the fundamental mindset of the society towards girl children changes, not much can be achieved.
(Soumya Nair contributed inputs for this article)
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