October 11, 2016: With a population of 225 million, girls account for 48% of India’s children. Yet, a girl in India continues to faces discrimination from the womb. In order to tackle the underlying gender inequality that holds girls back, India has to re strategize and undertake focused investment for its girl children. To analyze progress and revisit strategies to plan change, data forms the basis of intervention. In India, however, this planning is not as effective since data for many critical indicators is not available and for most indicators it is available at a gap of 8 to 10 years.
Investing in research is thus a critical area and requires India to fill up many gaps. The existing data on girl children is limited and intermittently available and does not allow for a focused and longitudinal assessment of the changing situation of the girls in our country.
There exist gaps in knowledge relating to almost all the different facets of lives of girls in India.
1. Sex Ratio: Beti Bachao Beti Padhao is the Government’s flagship scheme for protection of the girl child. To gauge the outcome of the host of measures undertaken under this scheme, annual or bi-annual data on child sex ratios is required at least in the 100 identified critical districts. However, child Sex ratio data is available only once a decade from the Census survey. Data on female foeticide is extremely difficult to collect and remains under-reported. Data on maternal health and care are collected via health surveys such as National Family Health Survey (NFHS) and District level Health Survey (DLHS) which are also conducted once a decade. Unless the scheme design consciously invests in monitoring of outcomes, the effectiveness of such goals and policies aimed at reducing gender- based inequalities and various other challenges will continue to be undermined by knowledge gaps.
2. Girl Child Nutrition – In a country where every second child is malnourished and preference for a male child is no hidden truth, possibly the biggest data gap for girl children is on their nutritional status. There is no gender-segregated data on nutritional status of children under 5 years of age, which makes it impossible to gauge the health of girls in their early childhood. There is no data on health and nutritional indicators on both girls and boys between 6-14 years – a yawning gap that does not allow for evidence-based policies and programs.
3. Data on girl child health – Health system consists of multiple functions both as demand and supply end. While we may know the number and status of facilities like hospitals and primary health centres, it is extremely critical to have gender-based data on community health seeking behaviours like immunisations, household investments in girl child health, out of pocket expenditure, medical attention sought for girls etc that allow for an understanding of socio-cultural dimensions of girl child health.
4. Data on Education of Girls – Education data is the most comprehensive amongst the datasets available on the status of children in India. DISE data so available is school based data which indicates educational indicators vis a vis a school but not with respect to children. Adding on to the gaps, most of the indicators are status-related and do not allow for keen insights into facets such as impediments to girl child education, access issues, social barriers and perceptions on girl child education etc. There is very little information available of the protection aspects of girls in school or any other educational facility.
5. Girl Child Marriage – Early marriage is one of the severest violations of girl child rights prevalent in India. Age-wise data on number of married girls 8 years of age is available only in Census of India which is released only once a decade and does not allow for annual tracking. Apart from that, NFHS captures some facets around age of marriage. While the available data is indicative of area wise trends there is little done to find qualitative reasons which is basic to action for change. Data on reasons for and perceptions on marriage among communities, and the willingness of the girl to get into an institution of marriage is essential apart from numbers to accurately target the root cause for action.
6. Girl Child Labour – The Census of India is the largest repository of information on working girls in our country but provides for only decadal trends. While it clearly indicates millions of girls in economic roles, there is no specific information to specify where they are working and what specific roles are they playing. There is no clear understanding of paid and upaid work undertaken by girls such as household chores, sibling care, domestic work etc. Other aspects such as abuse at workplace, occupational hazards are largely left unexplored. The law of the land allows children to help in family employments but given the present dataset, there is a high chance that girls ‘helping’ in family occupation would tend to get omitted and would fail to get counted. The census data on economic roles and labour participation is compiled from the perspective of looking at labour trends rather than from the perspective of the child and therefore is very insufficient for planning intervention.
7. Child Abuse – Incidence of the physical, mental and sexual abuse suffered by children in the country remains completely invisible. There is no survey commissioned to collect this much-needed information about the lives of children in India. The latest available data on girl child abuse is a study by WCD Ministry in 2007, almost a decade ago. There is no tracking or a repeat study done after 2007. The NCRB releases data on Crimes against children annually which gives us records of the number of cases registered each year under various categories. However, a large extent of the abuse goes unreported and never comes to light.
8. Information on Missing children and Child Trafficking – Human Trafficking is one of the most organised crimes in the world. India recognizes that girl child trafficking is rampant in the country for labour, marriage, organ trade and sex trade, yet the only dataset available is NCR which is indicative of reported cases rather than the actual number of girls trafficked. Many of the states, especially North eastern States share porous international borders with other countries and have become hubs for trafficking of girls. This data thus remains grossly inadequate to understand the magnitude of the problem.
9. Child Participation – Child Participation as a Right for children is a vastly unrecognised in the very framework of approaches to changing children’s lives, especially girls in the country. India remains rooted in patriarchy, and systematically enabling girl child participation remains a distant dream. NFHS collects limited data on decision-making powers and awareness levels of late adolescent girls in matters relating to them but otherwise there appears to be neither data nor a compelling demand for data.
10. Equally dismal is data on implementation and progress of various schemes and initiatives by the Government, which are largely output oriented and not outcome-oriented. Greater challenge also lies when a particular scheme gets introduced for a short period of time. There is a need for investment in strong Monitoring and Evaluation mechanisms for feedback and input to various program approaches.
The biggest gaps remain not in data itself but in the way the data is collected which remains uni-dimensional and doesn’t allow the policy-maker, the civil society and the country at large to get a picture of the complex inter-linked vulnerabilities faced by girls in our country. Komal Ganotra, Director, Policy, Research and Advocacy, CRY – Child Rights and You adds, “These existing gaps in data on girls and young women, lack of systematic analysis and limited use of existing data significantly limit our ability to get a clear picture. Tracking of such critical and girl focused, girl relevant data would ensure programs, policies and services to effectively respond to the specific needs for girls. Real progress towards greater accountability in domains of critical importance to girls is not possible, unless investments in programs for girls are complemented with corresponding investments in data.”