New Delhi: The decline in Rajasthan’s child sex ratio in 2011 alarmed the government. Census 2011 data showed that there were only 888 girls per 1,000 boys in the 0-6 age group, compared with 909 girls in 2001. Rural Rajasthan was seen contributing the most to this decline.

Four years later, the figures look much better. For the period between April 2014 and March 2015, there were 1,620 girls compared with 1,460 boys across 30 gram panchayats (village councils), according to the data on live births collected from 110 anganwadis (child and mother care centres).

Soon after Census 2011 data was released, the Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR), in collaboration with the JRD Tata Trust, launched a three-year project in 2012 in six districts of Jaipur and Jodhpur divisions to crystallize a coordinated response led by the panchayats.

CFAR state programme manager Rakhee Badhwar said rural Rajasthan contributed significantly to the steep 21-point decline in the ratio and the Census 2011 data was a “strong wake-up call"—one that had made panchayat leaders realize that they could no longer live in denial.

“It resulted in CFAR working in partnership with 180 gram panchayats spread over 54 panchayat samitis, to reach out to more than 21,000 people and create a strong team of volunteers and change agents drawn from representatives of panchayats, frontline workers, local opinion makers, teachers and NGOs," she added.

Vinita Rajawat, the sarpanch (village head) of Daulatpura Kotada village in Amber district, said the programme had indeed made a big difference to the issue.

Immunization of the girl child was another important agenda for anganwadi workers. Rajawat said that the root of the problem lay in the social bias against women, who had to battle it themselves. “Being from a Rajput family, I had to come out of purdah (veil) to set an example to all other women Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) so that we as women could participate, assert our views and address issues that we think are critical for the development of women and girls," she said.

Om Prakash Bairwa, sarpanch of Lalpura in Dausa district, said bringing about any change in mindset was a complex process and that initially even health workers were reluctant to talk about various issues.

Among the many challenges that anganwadi workers faced were unfounded fears about immunization and the notion that girls do not require nutrition and healthcare, which had led to an increase in infant mortality rate in some of these districts.

The other issue, of course, was killing of female foetuses. In some areas, quacks used only a stethoscope to declare the sex of the foetus, forcing gullible villagers to abort, said Rajawat.

The CFAR team reached out to more than 5,600 pregnant women and lactating mothers, who were provided information regarding child health, reproductive rights, safe abortion, the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act and medical termination of pregnancy, rights of women laws and immunization.

Shobita Rajagoplan, associate professor at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), Jaipur, said, “While the project had created a strong discourse on the rights of women and girls, encouraged a far more assertive and combative body language among women and brought a tangible change in cultural norms, we need to be wary of over-estimating it."

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