LEGAL RIGHTS OF GIRL CHILD IN INDIA

INTRODUCTION

Girl children are one of the most vulnerable sections of society. They are denied their human rights and other basic requirements which are essential for survival, on top of that they are subjected to multiple waves of abuse by society and even by their family members. The girl child falls under one of the most important topics of the Beijing platform of action, 1995.[1] A girl child is always at high risk of exploitation like sexual abuse, child marriage, removal of female genitals, early pregnancies, and many more discriminations in society. Culture plays a vital role when it comes to discrimination against the girl child for example female fetuses and infanticide are very common in South Asian nations like India and China where sons are preferred due to cultural influences. The status of girls is significantly less in such nation’s leading to neglect and discrimination. Girls are more likely to be denied basic rights of education, health, and nutritive food. Despite government programs and policies many evil practices like child marriage, abortions, denial of education, and a healthy lifestyle still prevail in society.

INTERNATIONAL SCENARIO

Children around the globe still witness adversities in one or the other forms and girls being vulnerable are the easy targets of such practices even in the 21st century. Evil practices like female infanticide which is the deliberate killing of a girl child and female feticide which is referred to as killing the child while in the mother’s womb, are done after determining the sex of a child and if the child is developing in the womb of the mother is a girl, it is aborted. Many countries have already banned the practice of knowing the sex before birth but still, such practices are carried on in many Asian and African countries.

Honour killing is the other practice that is carried about very commonly. ‘Improper’ behaviour of a woman is considered as the grounds for the killing. According to The United Nations Populations Fund (UNPF), around 5000 females are killed every year as a result of Honor killings.[2] Honour killing is most prevalent in Muslim nations like Bangladesh, Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, etc. although neither Islamic religion nor law sanctions the practice.[3] Female genital mutation and child marriage are other widely followed customs by the people. Both the practices are a violation of human rights under the United Nations Convention. According to UNPF, around 100 million women have already gone through genital mutation and 3 million are still at risk. ‘Girl child’ being one of the key areas of Beijing platform for action 1995 and also of the U.N convention on the rights of the child includes non-discriminatory goals, participation in family and social life, provides full protection from abuses and harm. To achieve these goals the organizations mainly focus on obstacles like child marriage, female genital mutation, and sex-selective abortions. There are many different organizations at the international level having specific goals to achieve like the Yemini woman union (YWU) which focuses on reproductive health and family planning by organizing educational workshops. Another organization named KMG founded by Dr. Boga letch Gebre supports education and economic opportunities for women in Ethiopia through several ways like fundraising, community-based research, and protest.[4]

INDIAN SCENARIO

India is one of the most diverse countries having people from different cultural backgrounds often leads to gender discrimination on the grounds of traditions and customs. This practice has now become a social issue for centuries. Even today, the birth of a baby boy is celebrated as families still prefer a boy over a girl child. In some states of India, sex-selective abortions are still prevalent and a very easy indicator of that is the sex ratio of India which is for every 1000 boys there are 908 girls.[5] Most of the dropouts from the schools are girls, society considers girls as a burden hence, they are preferred to get married at a very young age even before their legal age that too to an adult male such practices are followed in Indian villages where traditions are above laws. Despite banning all these practices and framing laws for the same such abuses are still happening with the children. The practice of sex determination and female feticide still prevails even after the formation of the prenatal diagnostic technique act of 1994. This is not the only case scenario; discrimination exists in every aspect. The following figures would depict the patriarchal system of Indian society.

  1. According to the 2011 census, there are around 45 lakhs of girls who are under 15 years of age and married with children. Out of these 70% of them have 2 children.
  2. Presently, 42% of married women were married when they were a child. (Study carried out by District Information System for education)
  3. 1 in every 3 child brides in the world belongs to India. (UNICEF)[6]

Besides the abuses that are carried out with a girl child one of the most heinous ones is sexual harassment. According to a recent study conducted by NCRB around thirty thousand cases were recorded in 2017 and forty thousand cases related to sexual harassment in 2018 under the POCSO Act. Such crimes lead to many health-related problems at early ages and unwanted pregnancies are a part of it. In India, minors are given the right to abort an unwanted child under The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. The act itself consists of many aspects and the right to abortion for a girl child is a part of it.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971

Many countries have liberalized their abortion laws and India after introducing this bill shows its support for the cause. The MTP Act, of 1971 talks about different aspects. But here the highlighted provision would be that related to the right of a girl child to abort. Section 3(4) (a)[7] states that “no pregnancy of a woman, who has not attained the age of eighteen years, or who have attained the age of eighteen years, is a lunatic, shall be terminated except with the consent in writing of her guardian. Such provisions give a fair chance to a girl child to live her life her way and have a sense of ownership of her own body. There are certain conditions attached to the process of abortion like there is a specific period before which only abortions can take place and also the consent of the doctor is very necessary before the same.

Constitutional commitments to the children

Various provisions specifically talk about the rights of children like articles 14[8], 15(3)[9], 21A[10], 24[11] Certain directive principles of state policies are also laid down for the same, these are articles 39(a), (e), and (f), and article 45. Landmark cases like Vishal Jeet v. Union of India[12] talk about the problem related to child prostitution. Parents, due to poverty and living crises sold their children specially the girl child as servants to perform household duties but the brokers or the pimps sold the children for the ‘flesh trade’. Certain sections were introduced for the cause like directly concerned laws were formed and authorities were designated to take speedy actions. Steps were taken to provide adequate rehabilitation centres for the victims.[13]

CONCLUSION

After talking about the conditions of a girl child still prevailing in the 21st century and knowing about the steps that are taken up at the international and national levels. The conclusion could be easily drawn that now people are aware and value equality and are giving due importance to that section of the society which was earlier neglected and abused. Special organizations have been formed at the international level to seek justice for the innocent lives who are forced to submit themselves in front of age-old customs and traditions. Specifically in India where practices like child marriage, sati, and dowry existed on a high scale, it is interesting to observe some landmark changes in the society and the Indian constitution. Today, several schemes and laws are protecting the rights of girl children and giving them equal opportunities as to their counterparts. But still, there is a long way to cover and achieve many goals and implement laws because still there are certain loopholes in the social implementation of laws which is hindering the development of girl children in India and many other parts of the globe.

Author(s) Name: Parul Roy (Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies affiliated by GGSIPU)

References:

[1] Bureau of International Information Programs, U., 2022. Chapter 12: Rights of the Girl Child. [online] Opentextbc.ca. Available at: <https://opentextbc.ca/womenintheworld/chapter/chapter-12-rights-of-the-girl-child/> [Accessed 21 March 2022].

[2] Manjoo, R., 2012. [online] Available at: <https://www.ohchr.org/> [Accessed 27 March 2022].

[3] Youth Advocate Program International. 2022. Discrimination Against the Girl Child. [online] Available at: <http://yapi.org/childrens-rights/discrimination-against-the-girl-child/> [Accessed 20 March 2022].

[4] Bureau of International Information Programs, U., 2022. Chapter 12: Rights of the Girl Child. [online] Opentextbc.ca. Available at: <https://opentextbc.ca/womenintheworld/chapter/chapter-12-rights-of-the-girl-child/> [Accessed 21 March 2022].

[5] Ibid.

[6] Bureau of International Information Programs, U., 2022. Chapter 12: Rights of the Girl Child. [online] Opentextbc.ca. Available at: <https://opentextbc.ca/womenintheworld/chapter/chapter-12-rights-of-the-girl-child/> [Accessed 21 March 2022].

[7] Section (4) (a)- No pregnancy of a woman, who has not attained the age of eighteen years, or, who, having attained the age of eighteen years, is a lunatic, shall be terminated except with the consent in writing of her guardian.

[8] Article 14, Constitution of India

[9] Article 15 (3), Constitution of India

[10] Article 21 A, Constitution of India

[11] Article 24, Constitution of India

[12] Vishal Jeet vs Union of India And Ors 1990 AIR 1412, 1990 SCR (2) 861

[13] RACOLB LEGAL | QUALITY IS ALL THAT MATTERS. 2022. Child Rights in India: An Account of Landmark Decisions and Regulations | RACOLB LEGAL. [online] Available at: <https://racolblegal.com/child-rights-in-india-an-account-of-landmark-decisions-and-regulations/> [Accessed 19 March 2022].

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