Friday March 9 2007 07:01 IST
By T F Thekkekara
The move to have a government supported cradle programme for unwanted girl children amounts, in fact, to supporting the abdication of parental responsibility towards girl children. The alarming drop, nation-wide, in the female ratio has prompted the move; but we ought to have, instead, reflected on the basic issue — why do parents reject a girl child? — and attempted to address it.
Dowry is often cited as the reason why girls are devalued in Indian society. Actually, however, dowry is the symptom and not the disease. In a world where girls and boys are equally favoured, there would be no dowry because girls would have equal property rights as boys. The preference for sons is driven by the perception that boys are assets and girls, liabilities. Boys remain within the family and take care of parents in their old age. Girls marry and ‘go away’. Thus there is a pragmatic economic reasons for this parental preference.
In the West this trend was arrested only when social security measures reduced anxiety about old age and widespread education of girls enabled them to gain in economic status and become independent. Therefore any move to get rid of dowry and streedhan in India, in the absence of stringent measures to protect and implement women’s right to property, would be ill-advised. It would leave women worse off than before. There are millions of women who flee from violence in their marital homes and survive until they reach a safe haven all because of the little yellow metal their parents had bestowed upon them when they married and which they carry on their necks and arms.
Since modern technology is being used in India to destroy female foetuses, the problem has become urgent. We cannot wait for the slow evolution over decades of social norms. The answer then is to change parental preferences — to incentivise ‘girl child parenthood’ so that parents begin to perceive an economic advantage in having daughters. I would argue that the government must step in to make the parents of girl children ‘Gold Card Citizens’. Tamper-proof identity card should be issued to each parent of a girl child, carrying the necessary data. The possession of such a card must give the parents of the girl child every economic advantage that the government can bestow. This must cut across all social divides, and be applicable even to well-off families. It is, after all, the better-off in the richer areas of the country that have registered lower sex ratios.
‘Gold Card’ holders should be eligible for 50 per cent of allotments of petrol pumps, gas agencies, ration shops, industrial plots, housing plots in housing schemes like that of the DDA, telephone and gas connections, municipal permits for shops and other facilities, RTO licences for autorickshaws, taxis, bus services and transport vehicles and all types of industrial licensing.
But to avail themselves of the ‘Gold Card’, the parents of a girl child must fulfil certain essential conditions. For one, their daughter should be at least two years old — this would be important in ensuring the survival of the girl child. Second, as far as it is legally feasible, all the allotments and licences should be in the name of the girl child as owner/allottee, with the parent-guardian as user.
In rural areas there can be other incentives. The birth of a girl child should entitle the parents to a housing plot — in the joint names of the parents and the daughter. The lease can be renewed every two years and given on ownership only when the girl child is 18 and has completed at least 10 years of schooling.
The birth of a girl child must be made to be seen as a joyous event and a source of immediate advantage. Extra sugar and kerosene rations must be given for a year to a family having a ration card, on the birth of a girl child. All employees should also be entitled to a special increment on the birth of a girl child, which should continue every year until the child turns 18. The payment of this financial incentive should be a tax-deductable expenditure for the employer. Other fiscal incentives could also be explored — such as a special 0.25 per cent rebate on sales tax on the production of the Girl Child Gold Card.
In matrilineal societies, the birth of a girl child has always been greeted with great rejoicing, since the family line continued through the girl and the property also descended through the female. If a slew of economic and social advantages are given to parents of a girl child in India, we could see a correction of our skewed sex ratio in time.
The writer is managing director, State Women Development Corporation of Maharashtra firstname.lastname@example.org