Rights panel chief says education, skills training is the key

Three-month-old Afreen, on whom her father allegedly inflicted savage injuries for no reason except that she was a girl, has shaken our collective conscience for the sheer scale of cruelty. She was bitten, burnt with cigarette butts and brutalised to a point of suffering brain haemorrhage.

The infant had been battling for her life since Friday last at the Vani Vilas Hospital and died of cardiac arrest on Wednesday.

Beyond the specific case and the knee-jerk reactions it has evoked, there are larger questions to be answered on why a girl child is still seen as a “burden”, notwithstanding government schemes, programmes and a plethora of non-governmental organisations working exclusive for her welfare.

Nina P. Nayak, Chairperson of the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, speaks about prejudices against the girl child that run deep and what can be done to protect them.

Q: It is a combination of cultural, economic and social factors that result in the girl child being seen as a liability. What should change fundamentally if this has to change?

A: Girls are trapped in situations where they see no way out. Afreen's mother, Reshma Bano, felt helpless even as her child was being battered for the same reason. We need to create a situation where a girl or a woman has options and feels empowered to exercise them. There should be scholarships and schemes that help a girl to complete her education at least till Class 10 and there should be options for skill training later, so that she has access to jobs. This should target the 16 to 18 age group, a period when many girls are married off. The demand for Kasturba and Morarji Desai residential schools is testimony to great desire for quality education.

Is there convergence between departments to ensure schemes meant for the girl child reaches her?

No. Four departments — Labour, Education, Women and Child Development, and Social Welfare — all have a role in ensuring that every girl child gets educated. But often, there is no clarity and fixing of responsibility, resulting in many things falling in between stools. It is very important not to have a fragmented approach.

What can be done to achieve convergence? You have been talking to minorities' commission and women's commission too on this issue.

Firstly, we need to map all the available services meant for women and children, be it Santwana Kendras or the Sahaya Vani services, so that we have an idea if they are accessible and, if so, who is accessing them. We need to have quick response units in places that women can access.

Do you agree that prejudice against the girl child cuts across class, caste and religious barriers?

Yes, this is evident by the pattern of sex ratio, with many regions which score high on development indicators doing poorly in sex ratio. There are instances of wealthy people going out of the country to detect the sex of the foetus.

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