Praveen, 6, finishes her homework while sitting on the boundary wall of her house in Hirmathala village in Mewat district of Haryana state, in August of last year (AFP Photo/Prakash Singh)
India must address antiquated attitudes that devalue girls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Thursday, as part of a national campaign aimed at tackling the country’s lopsided gender imbalance.
“I am begging you to save the lives of the girl child,” Modi said in a speech while launching the government’s latest campaign promoting the rights of girls, Beti bachao, beti padhao — which translates to “save the girl child, educate the girl child”.
“If we do not need daughters, where will our daughters-in-law come from?”
Modi launched the campaign in northern India’s Haryana state, which has one of the lowest sex ratios in the country.
“Our mentality is still that of the 18th century,” Modi said. “As a society, it is our responsibility to spread awareness about the girl child.”
The sex ratio in India is 943 females to 1,000 males, according to 2011 Indian census data, the most recent national figures available. In Haryana, the ratio falls to 879 females for every 1,000 males.
Modi appealed to medical practitioners to address the problem of sex-selective abortions.
“Society has made you doctors to save lives and cure illnesses, but not go kill girl children,” he said.
An additional campaign launched Thursday aims to boost prosperity, offering girls younger than 10 a bank account with interest and tax benefits.
Maneka Gandhi, the minister for women and child development, said the overall campaign was aimed at creating awareness of the declining sex ratio and changing people’s mindsets about the value of girls. The government will keep track of sex ratios in key districts and offer incentives for villages to attain a balanced sex ratio.
Ranjana Kumari, the director of the New Delhi-based Centre for Social Research, called the government campaign a “welcome step”.
“Though such efforts should have been taken earlier, it is never too late,” she told ucanews.com.
Kumari said the preference for boys over girls remains a pressing issue in India. Girls are “not preferred because they are considered an economic burden and they have safety and security issues,” she said.
India banned pre-natal sex determination in 1994, but the practice continues today. Recent media reports suggest that in 130 villages in three Haryana districts, not a single girl was born in the last year, though a local government medical officer has disputed the findings.
Kumari said the government must do more to ensure existing laws are actually implemented and those who violate the laws are prosecuted.