In an effort to stem the practice of female foeticide, the Indian government has announced a new incentive scheme for poor families with young girls.
Soon a minority? Girls in India
Under this scheme, called Dhan Laxmi -- after the Indian goddess of wealth -- poor families with a young daughter would be given cash incentives for registration at birth, immunization, enrolment in a school, and delaying marriage till their daughter is at least 18.
The government will pay roughly 15,000 Indian Rupees -- or 300 Euros -- to poor families in phases.
It is planned to introduce this scheme in seven states across India -- particularly where the problem of gender selection and selective abortion is most deep rooted and has led to an imbalance in the ratio between men and women. The scheme will later be extended to the entire country.
Tens of thousands of girls to be saved
Ms. Renuka Chaudhury, the Indian Minister for Women and Child Development, believes this cash policy will encourage families to look upon daughters as assets rather than liabilities. She expects the scheme will save the lives of tens of thousands of girls.
Kalpana Sharma, a columnist on women's issues for the Hindu newspaper says the scheme will also help improve India's dismal female literacy rate.
'For education of girls – to encourage poor parents to send their daughters to school, the Indian government has been giving them money. That's how you can break the backbone of widespread female illiteracy in India. This (scheme) is linked to the same thing --- (to encourage) appreciation, and importance of the girl child.'
Dismal sex ratio
According to a study the British Medical Journal, the Lancet, about 10 million female foetuses have been aborted in India over the last 20 years following illegal sex determination tests. The sex ratio in India was 945 female per 1,000 male babies in 1991, declining to 927 per 1,000 in 2001, according to the last official census.
'The reasons are fairly simple. It has to do with the issues of property and inheritance, and therefore there is son-preference. There is still a belief that only sons can carry forward the family name. Girls are always seen as a burden – you have to marry them off, pay for their dowry.'
In the 12 years since selective abortion was outlawed only one doctor has been convicted of the crime. The government is also considering giving life sentences to doctors found guilty of the offence. But it still is quite a challenge to clamp down on illegal ultrasound clinics offering sex-determination tests.
Dire social implications
The social implications of India's "missing girls" has worried many researchers. Some point to surveys which show brides are being trafficked across India. Other social scientists have predicted a crime explosion as unmarried young men turn to violence, unable to ever find a mate.
Kalpana Sharma questions whether the cash incentive will have any effect in wealthier cities, with a high proportion of better-educated people. In prosperous corners of Punjab and the nation's capital, Delhi, the sex ratio is even more skewed, there are only 900 females for every 1,000 male babies.
'This attitude has grown more prominently among the prosperous classes. The sex ratio among the tribal groups, for instance, favours girls. Where as, in the most prosperous states of India like Punjab, western Maharashtra, and Haryana, you'd find a skewed sex ratio. In those areas, people are able to afford the technology – which allows them to pre-detect the sex of the foetus and abort it. The whole thing is diabolical – ironically, wealth and prosperity has contributed in eliminating the girl child.'
The Indian government feels the scheme is just a start. Changes on the ground will only happen if mindsets change.