During a year when the world has been ravaged by a severe health pandemic, it has become even more important to think of our protecting and investing in our future – our children. Every year, a day in November is observed as World Children’s Day and this year the theme is in line with the urgency that the issue demands. “Investing in our future means investing in our children,” is an apt theme for a country like India where many students, especially girls need to be invested in or given special attention.
As a nation, we are depriving almost half of the girl population of their legal right to study. Almost 40% of girls aged 15-18 years in India are not attending school, revealed a report from NCPCR (The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights).
The issue of girl education demands immediate attention from government and society alike. The government needs to make its girl education programmes more robust ensuring that there is special focus on girls from marginalised communities, including scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes and minorities. It is equally important that the scholarships and other payments like transport, uniform and books etc. are made on time to help girls continue their education smoothly.
A robust plan for girls to continue their education will not only make girls financially independent but also prevent them from child marriage and teenage pregnancy. Estimates by UNICEF suggest that at least 1.5 million girls under 18 get married in India every year. This makes the country home to the largest number of child brides in the world.
A study published in The Lancet in 2019 said that the health costs of teenage pregnancy in India can be lifelong and intergenerational. Early marriages not only impinge on the social and health rights of girls but also leads to school dropout, scarcer livelihood choices and lower bargaining power within a household.
According to National Family Health Survey (NFHS) – 4, almost 11.9% of girls were married in the age group of 15 – 19 year olds. There are almost 12 states in the country which show higher prevalence of child marriage than the national average.
Studies show that teenage mothers are more vulnerable, poorer, undernourished, have lower agency, and were excluded from health services.
Adolescence marks the transition from children to adulthood and is a critical life phase. It is crucial that the school-based adolescent education programmes are strengthened to build a generation of healthy and empowered young people.
The central government’s Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK), which focuses on topics including sexual and reproductive health (SRH), nutrition, mental health, injuries, domestic and gender-based violence, substance misuse and non-communicable diseases needs to be implemented uniformly across the country. Inclusion of comprehensive sexuality curriculum in school to equip girls with the knowledge of their body and choice is a must.
Only when education and scholarships are a key focus for girls and there is universal implementation of a comprehensive health and nutrition curriculum will we be actually investing in their future in the true sense.
(Neha Sethi and Ashish Mukherjee work on matters related to girls’ empowerment at IPE Global, a development sector consultancy)
Disclaimer: The original story had incorrectly attributed Right to Education Forum and Centre Budget Policy Studies for a report that was published by The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights. The error has been corrected.