Nurturing the Girl Child to be a Self-reliant Adolescent
Aatma nirbhar bharat ke liye aatma nirbhar ladakiyan, (self-reliant girls for a self-reliant India) is my theme for adolescent girls.
Just recently India concluded commemorating the Girl Child Week. The Government of India started this program in 2008, to create awareness regarding safety and nurturing of the girl child.
There are 943 females for every 1000 males. All of us are aware of the various reasons for this difference. Females constitute 48.5% of the population but only 27.4% are part of the workforce. Only 65.46% of women are literate against 82.14% of men. One in 3 women have experienced some form of physical or sexual abuse. But since onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, these statistics have changed and we are seeing more child marriages and school dropouts.
The cycle of survival, growth and development has to change. Undernourished mothers leading to low birth weight (LBW) babies again leads to undernourished, less aware, vulnerable adolescent girls. In turn, they get married early, get pregnant and the cycle continues.
The cycle of stunting is also similar, here a stunted malnourished child grows up to become malnourished girl. She becomes a malnourished mother giving birth to underweight babies and again the cycle continues.
Female foeticide is prevalent even now. The medical profession is responsible for sex determination and termination of pregnancies. After birth, the girl child may be neglected in terms of nutrition, health and love. The girl child is considered a burden to society as she is not the bread winner and considerable money has to be spent for her wedding as well as dowry.
Child marriage is a social evil, which still exists in India. The National Family Health Survey (MFHS) data in 2015-2016 shows women married before 18 years among 20-24 years group in urban areas was 17.5% and in rural areas was 31.5%. Total fertility rate (children per woman) in 2015-2016 in urban areas was 1.8 and in rural areas, 2.4.
Consequences of Child Marriage
- Health – the cycle of stunting, as explained earlier.
- Reduces opportunities – Every three in four girls have babies before 18 years of age due to child marriage. This reduces likelihood of girls completing their secondary education. Reduces future earnings of the girl. Less decision-making ability leading to risk of household violence
- Menstruation – this is a natural process in girls. Because of lack of awareness on menstrual hygiene, girls face a lot of difficulties. Only 48% of girls are aware of menstruation before menarche. The mother is the source of information for the girls and 70% of mothers consider it dirty and polluting. Hence, only 55% consider menstruation normal.
- School Dropouts – 23 million girls dropping out of school due to lack of menstrual hygiene management. The reasons are lack of sanitary napkins, lack of functional toilets. Hence simple information regarding menstrual awareness like informing them that the uterus lining is getting shed, usage of sanitary napkins and providing functional toilets can avoid school dropouts.
- Adverse childhood experiences – These include physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, parental substance abuse, mental illness, suicide or death etc.
Considering all these social evils, how can we protect our girl child so that she grows up to be a self-reliant adolescent?
This has to start from the grassroot level. The mindset of the population has to change. This can be done by spreading the message and awareness about girl child protection. One of the ways, is by celebrating the girl child and adolescent week all over the country, by teachers, doctors, community health workers, voluntary organizations, etc. It is good if we involve all the children – girls and boys, then the boys will understand the changes they have to make in their behavior.
All men, women, boys and girls of the society should work together for the welfare of children especially the girl child.
In fact, the community can also be involved so that the message spreads faster and wider. The COVID-19 pandemic has a countrywide presence; hence our healthcare workers should motivate the population to fight it starting at the grassroot level.
They can spread the message with pamphlets as they go about the immunization work. There are various central and state government schemes for the benefit of the girl child. Most of our population, even the educated, is unaware of these even among the educated population. Beti Bachao Beti Padhao program, the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, Balika Samriddhi Yojana, CBSE Udan scheme, National Scheme of Incentive to Girls for Secondary Education, Dhanalakshmi Scheme, etc. are some of the Central government schemes. The Karnataka government offers the Karnataka Bhagyashree Scheme.
The Beti Bachao Beti Padao programme ensures girls are born, nurtured and educated without discrimination and as proud citizens with equal rights.
- Girl child protection awareness could be a part of preconceptual care. When a lady is given advice regarding her health issues, we could also make her aware of hazards of sex determination and pregnancy termination.
- A pregnant woman who comes for her first antenatal visit can be counselled along with her husband and relatives regarding protection of girl child. A pamphlet can be given informing them regarding all central and state government initiatives for the girl child protection. Most of the rural population is unaware of these initiatives.
- After delivery, the antenatal health card informs the parent regarding nutrition and health care of the new born and the immunization schedule.
- Preschool children to be motivated to join school during the booster immunizations, information regarding all the government initiatives can again be re-emphasized. Also, information regarding any NGOs and other organizations who can help the girl child in her education should be given.
- In children, the emphasis on continuation of schooling should be done by the teachers to all the parents by calling them for monthly meetings at school. Information about the government initiatives and any local NGOs who could provide financial aid to needy students should be discussed.
- During the 10 years’ booster the local health workers and community heads can give a talk to all the children emphasizing on life skills and family life education, to both boys and girls. Certain subjects to be emphasized in detail are prevention of child marriage, menstrual hygiene, self -defense, legal implications of rape. Use of condoms, sexually transmitted infections, abstinence till marriage, masturbation, etc. During this time any school dropouts and their families should be counselled to restart their schooling. Plus, the reasons for the dropout should be corrected.
- Holding recreational activities for all the adolescents in the village once a month will strengthen issues of continuing education. Show examples of local women who have done well after education as a source of inspiration.
With all these initiatives aatmanirbhar ladkiyan (self-reliant girls) will become a reality soon in the whole country.
We conducted a programme for adolescent girls on January 2021 at a shelter in Bengaluru. Forty girls in the age group of 9 to 15 years attended the programme. We held a painting competition, poster competition, and a one-minute JAM talk. All the girls participated.
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