The campaign Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save the girl child, Educate the girl child) was launched in 2014 by the Modi government with the aim to address the declining Child Sex Ratio (CSR) and to empower the girl child.
The specific objectives of the scheme are to prevent “gender-biased sex-selective elimination, ensuring survival and protection of the girl child and ensuring education and participation of the girl child”. Its focus is on awareness and advocacy, multi-sectoral action enabling girls’ education and effective enforcement of the Pre-Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PC&PNDT) Act.
Can initiatives like this overcome the mentality that sons are more valuable and are to be cherished, while the daughter is always considered a burden. Moreover, do these schemes actually change the orthodox mindset? What happens to a girl if, due to governmental directives, was born to parents who did not want her (this is in no way a justification for sex-selective abortion)? Will her parents and family accept her once she is born?
Can initiatives like Beti Bachao overcome the mentality that sons are more valuable and are to be cherished?
Yes, government directives are good in terms of taking care of the social construct of gender ratio. We definitely need girls to be born, but can laws make the parents accept and love her? What is the fate of an unwanted girl whose family does not want her? Life can be difficult for her knowing that she is not really loved, but is just grudgingly tolerated. In worse case scenarios, there are parents who openly tell their child that they did not want her.
Even though a child is fed and clothed and educated, it is not enough for a child. A child needs loving care to thrive. According to Prof. Charles Nelson, a professor of Paediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, “Without someone who is a reliable source of attention, affection, and stimulation, the wiring of the brain goes awry”. This can result in long-term mental and emotional problems.
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Personally, I have known two cases wherein the second girl child was unwanted by the parents. These were educated parents working in the government sector but nonetheless harbouring the mentality of prioritising sons. In both cases, the second girl child was unwanted. I have seen these girls struggling, sad, lost and unable to connect with people around them. Both of them committed suicide in their late teens.
To grow up knowing that you are unwanted is very traumatic. Every day you struggle to find a meaningful reason for your existence. Your mental health is definitely compromised. Parental rejection is devastating.
In my own case, post my mother’s death at the age of 11, I became the nuisance child. My father hated having to be responsible for 2 kids. Every day we had to listen to his taunts and threats. There were many occasions when I just wanted to end it all.
Even though a child is fed and clothed and educated, it is not enough for a child.
What are the options for a girl child when her family does not want her? Are there any support systems for women in India who have to cope with hostile families?
Though the Beti Bachao, Beti Padho initiative helps a girl child get a good start in life, we still need more policies that will help a girl overcome the prejudices of her family. First, we need good mental health support services to help overcome trauma and boost a girl’s self-esteem. Next is the need for safe houses/affordable housing, where women unwanted by their families can find shelter and solace.
Moreover, there should be effective laws which will protect her inheritance and property rights. In short, the policies should cover a girl child from birth right up to old age. You cannot force anyone to love you, not even your family. But it sure helps to have society’s support to live with dignity.
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