India ranks 90 among 144 countries as the hardest place to be a girl, a report by an international NGO shows, underlining the challenges faced by women in a highly patriarchal society.
The ranking, based on schooling, child marriage, teen pregnancy, maternal deaths and women in parliament, placed India lower than all its neighbours -- Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
The report by the non-profit Save the Children -- Every Last Girl: Free to live, free to learn, free from harm – also said girls as young as 10 are forced to marry in many countries including India, which has enacted stringent laws that make marriage of underage girls a punishable offence.
The findings highlight the challenges faced by the BJP-led government’s efforts to lift the status of women in the country by ensuring gender equality.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who launched the ‘Beti padhao, beti bachao’ (Educate girls to save the girl child) campaign after assuming power, on Tuesday cited the legend of Sita to exhort people to kill the evil of gender bias.
Thomas Chandy, CEO of Save the Children in India, said the age-old challenge cannot be addressed only through government policies.
“We have to change mindsets in the rural as well as urban areas…Discrimination in India against girls begins even before birth and the cycle of inequality continues to play out throughout their lives,” Chandy told HT.
The report said a young girl under the age of 15 is married every seven seconds worldwide, and 15 million girls are married before their 18th birthday each year.
“The good news is that data from 18 states shows that child marriage is down across India, including in states where it was rampant, like in Bihar, where it is down from 60% a decade ago to 39 %,” Chandy added.
India’s 2011 census data substantiates this fact.
Close to one in three (30%) married women in India were wed before they turned 18, the legal age of marriage, down from 43% in 2001. Of them, 2.3% were married before the age of 10.
In absolute numbers, 15 million girls became child brides in India between 2001 and 2011.
“Girls affected by conflict and natural disasters such as floods are more likely to become child brides as many displaced and refugee families marry off their daughters as a way to protect them against poverty or sexual exploitation,” Chandy said.
The report cites Nepal as a success story, where good lower-secondary school completion rate for girls, which, at 86%, is similar to Spain’s, is delaying the age of marriage.
(With inputs from Kumkum Dasgupta)