Alarmed by the sharp drop in baby girls over 1991-2001, the Centre has decided to provide a new set of monetary incentives to parents at regular intervals to ensure they keep their girls in reasonable health, well educated and unmarried until they turn at least 18.
The sex ratio dropped sharply from 945 girls per 1,000 boys in the age group of 0-6 in 1991 to 927 in 2001. In Delhi and in the Union territory of Chandigarh, among the richest cities in India, there are only 865 and 845 girls, respectivley, for every 1,000 boys.
The government also plans to raise the amount of money to be given to the very poor families in both urban and rural areas to Rs10,000 from the Rs7,000 offered under a scheme called Balika Samriddhi Yojana (scheme for prosperity of the girl child), run by the states.
The new scheme for conditional cash transfer to incentivize the birth and subsquent education of girls, announced in the 2007-08 Budget, will be tried out from June on a pilot basis in 10 blocks of the poorest districts of poorer states such as Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa and Chhattisgarh.
It will be implemented through village-level panchayati raj institutions and, much like the Yojana, be fully funded by the Centre. It will work as a part of the popular Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme, which takes care of free immunisation and nutrition of poor mothers and their children.
The average annual income of an Indian family that is below the “poverty line” is roughly Rs5,000. The ministry of women and child development, which is still putting finishing touches to the plan, says that getting Rs10,000 after a girl is born could work as sufficient incentive for a poor family to register her birth as well as complete her immunization. Since the immunization process is completed within six years, the scheme might make a difference to the sex ratio as well as contribute to the overall welfare of the girl child.
The falling child-sex ratio shows that even as the country is growing richer in terms of its economy, baby girls are still routinely killed, either in or out of the womb.
This is happening despite two laws passed—the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique Act in 1994 and the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act in 2003.
The trend is also more pronounced in the northwest region of India. According to census figures, districts with the worst sex ratio are all in Punjab and Haryana, two of India’s wealthiest states, with sex ratios of 793 and 820 each. The shortage of women in these states have given rise to increased trafficking in women of late, as well as brides being brought over from other states.
The Yojana, launched in 1997 as a centrally sponsored scheme but recast three years later, has been widely regarded as a failure because of which the administration of the scheme was transferred to states from the 10th Plan (2002-07) onwards. The main reason for this is that the girl or her family has to wait until she is 18 for the money and, even then, she gets it only if she has remained unmarried.
Under the Plan, the girl gets Rs500 at birth, Rs2,000 in four instalments on completing primary school, and Rs3,500 in four instalments on completing secondary school. The amounts are deposited in a post office savings account in the name of the girl, and by the time she is able to withdraw it, the maturity amount comes to Rs7,000. If the girl dies, the family gets nothing. If the girl is married off before 18, she gets only the initial Rs500 along with interest. “For a very poor family, a girl is such a huge burden to carry and educate for 18 years, especially since she will move to a different family after marriage. It is simply not worth their while to wait that long for the money,” says Manjula Krishnan, joint secretary, ministry of women and child development.
Even the states have been reluctant to take advantage. Out of the Rs100 crore allotted for the scheme over the 10th Plan, the actual amount sanctioned was less than half. At the end of the Plan, money still lies unutilized with states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
The new scheme will be a vast improvement over the Yojana as it will make the mother eligible for withdrawing the money regularly, provided certain conditions are met, one of which being 80% attendance in school. It will link the money to the progress of both education and health of the child. It will not only raise the amount of money to Rs1,000 at birth, but also make sure that the family gets sufficient incentives for registration and immunization, along with life insurance. It would pan out in a conditional manner, raising the incentives as the child completes primary school and then secondary and finally reaches adulthood unmarried. The total payout is expected to be around Rs10,000.
The money allotted for this is only Rs15 crore, and Krishnan is concerned about how she would manage to set up a dedicated unit, conduct workshops and carry out field studies out of the sum. Help has, however, come from the World Bank and the UK’s Department for International Development, which will do a pre-project summary appraisal of the blocks.
However, the ICDS scheme itself has come under severe criticism from a parliamentary committee, headed by Vayalar Ravi, which went into the working of the department of women and child development and submitted its report in 2005. About the Yojana in particular, it said “the committee is left with no other alternative but to conclude that the scheme suffers from inherent drawbacks… The committee doubts whether the funds released so far have reached the targeted beneficiaries. It feels that in the event of a decision being taken for continuance of this scheme, then very effective monitoring mechanism and also sufficient publicity for making the targeted beneficiaries aware will have to be an essential component.”
Says Enakshi Ganguly, general secretary of the Delhi-based Haq:Center for Child Rights, an NGO, “The government is virtually bringing back the scheme, but it remains to be seen if states would be interested in this at all. Any way, all such schemes should ideally be seen as an interim measure until there is a change in parental attitudes. A girl should be brought up to adulthood and safety just because she is as valuable as a boy, and parents shouldn’t need to be bribed for that.”