EQUALITY INDIA NEWS / A SHAKTI VAHINI RESEARCH INITIATIVE
24th January is being celebrated as National Girl Child Day. To mark the occasion, Ministry of Women and Child Development organised deliberations on the theme of ‘Adolescent Girls: Issues and Challenges’ in New Delhi on 21st January, 2011. The celebrations were presided over by Minister of State (Independent Charge) Smt. Krishna Tirath. Addressing the audience on the occasion the Minister said that adolescence is a critical phase in a girl’s life when she is on the threshold of womanhood. There are several needs and concerns which require to be addressed, including those of health, nutrition and education. The Adolescent Girls needs to be informed and empowered to be able to face the challenges of life such as the issue of Domestic Violence, Child Marriage, and Dowry etc. She said that the ‘SABLA’ scheme was launched in November, 2010, with the aim of all round development of the adolescent girl, taking care of their nutritional, health, life skills and awareness requirements that will empower Adolescent Girls.
She added that the girl child faces numerous challenges and her Ministry is committed to focus attention on the adolescent girls in overcoming the challenges faced during the most eventful periods of mental, emotional and psychological development. It is crucial for adolescents to achieve full potential of their individual capacities in a safe and enabling environment. Smt. Krishna Tirath emphasized that it is very important that Adolescent Girls become aware of all the facts of life, have the right to education under RTE Act, have access to good nutrition and health and are aware of their legal rights. It is also important that young girls are informed about legislations such as: Dowry Prohibition Act 2006, Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 and Domestic Violence Act 2009, in order to be better prepared to face the numerous challenges in her life.
In India, there are 8.3 crore girls in the age group of 11-18 years which constitute 17% of the total female population of 49.65 crores. The female literacy rate is only 53.87%. Nearly one third of the adolescent girls are undernourished. About 56.2% women in the reproductive age group 15-49, are anaemic as reflected in NFHS-3 survey. Thus, they have considerable unmet needs in terms of education, health and nutrition. This is largely due to the lack of targeted health services for adolescents and widespread gender discrimination that prevail and limit their access to health services. The practice of early marriage and child-bearing that persists puts adolescent girls and their children at increased risk of adverse outcomes. Adolescent girls are harbingers of the next generation; they can transform not only their own lives but also the lives of every member of their family and the wider society around them. An investment in their well-being and development is also an investment in the well-being of the country. Further, addressing their problems and developmental needs at this formative stage of life would remove the disadvantages that may limit their potential in later life. Thus, it becomes essential to adopt a multi-pronged approach to provide a conducive environment for their optimum development and realization of full potential, Smt. Krishna Tirath added. The Adolescent Girls need to be looked at not just in terms of their own needs as AGs but also as individuals who can be productive members of the society.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development has taken a number of initiatives to enhance the status of girl child through various schemes at national and state level, the recent one being Rajive Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls, named as ‘SABLA’ which aims to empower the adolescent girls. ‘SABLA’ will use the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) platform and under the scheme groups of adolescent girls will be formed who will be provided an integrated package of services. These groups will be headed by ‘Sakhis’ and ‘Sahelis’ who would act as peer motivators. The WCD Ministry also implements a conditional cash transfer scheme ‘Dhanalaksmi’ under which cash transfers are made to the family of the girl child on fulfilling certain specific conditions relating to birth and registration, immunization, school enrolment and retention up to Class VIII. The Right to Education Act entitles free and compulsory school education to each and every child.
Speaking on this occasion the Secretary, Ministry of Women & Child Development Shri D. K. Sikri said that the theme is aptly chosen as ‘Adolescent Girls: Issues and Challenges’ to celebrate this year’s National Girl Child Day. The term “Adolescent” literally means “to emerge” or “achieve identity”. Its origin is from a Latin word “Adolescere” meaning, “to grow, to mature”. It is a significant phase of transition from childhood to adulthood. In India, the legal age of marriage is 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys. NFHS-3 data has shown that 45% of girls get married before the age of 18. This often results in early and multiple pregnancies, low birth weight babies and unmet needs of health and nutrition. There is a high correlation between the age at marriage, fertility management and family health with education. However, their ability to understand these changes and adapt successfully to them is something that requires right guidance and direction. In the process of evolving their sense of identity, they seek to define themselves, and in so doing they are influenced strongly by their own perceptions in this rapidly changing world. She has to say no to dowry and early marriage, be educated, be aware of her rights to be truly independent and evolve to be truly independent.
Three Adolescent Girls from different parts of the country, shared their own experiences; challenges and how they have managed to overcome these to come out of the difficult circumstances. They flagged the need to sensitise parents about the special needs, both physical and emotional, of girls going through adolescence. They spoke about the fact that gender discrimination and conditioning, which starts from childhood itself, takes root in the minds of boys, as well as, girls and has long term consequences, therefore, it is important that it should be addressed early. They emphasised the need for counselling and guidance, be provided to young mothers. a Panel Discussion was held on the occasion with eminent Panelists including Shri Anil Bordia, former Secretary, Education, Government of India and Ms. Indira Jaising Additional Solicitor General on board. Several issues including focus on unmet needs of adolescent girls in terms of education, health and overview of rights of Adolescent girls were discussed. Legal provisions of Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, Juvenile Justice Act and Domestic Violence Act were also discussed. Besides, the Joint Commissioner of Police spoke about the experience of enforcement of various legal provisions of women.
The event was attended by school children, Development Partners and representatives from NGOs and related Government Departments. There was a very lively interactive session, in which the school students and NGOs raised a number of questions to the Panel, regarding implementation of various Acts, awareness generation and the role of various law enforcement agencies.
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