A milestone in checking child marriages and female foeticide
Rubaya Khan, 13 wants to become an engineer. She has decided that she will not marry till she starts earning. She has received the first instalment of Rs 2000 in the 6th grade and is hopeful that the money she gets in the following years under the Ladli Laxmi Yojana (LLY) will help her reach her professional and academic destination.
Namrata Kewat, 16 has a dream to become a doctor. She has seen her father, a daily wager, toil hard trying to meet the ends. The LLY, she says has kept her dreams alive. Small steps, like this can bring about a big change, she says.
Krishna Malviya, 37, got herself sterilized after her second daughter. Both her daughters are registered under the LLY. She does not have any qualms on not having a son. Both my daughters are like my sons, she says while acknowledging the efforts made by LLY in making her daughters empowered.
Kashish Malviya, 16 wants to become either a teacher or a banker. The LLY has played a pivotal role in scripting her dream. She recalls the time when her family faced severe financial hardships when she was in class six. It was because of the money that she got from LLY, that her education was not derailed.
These four stories symbolise the wide-ranging impact of more than 44 lakh beneficiaries of the Ladli Laxmi Yojana (LLY) in Madhya Pradesh—a scheme driven by a conviction that when you invest in women and girls, you invest in the people and progressive growth. Launched in 2007, the objective has been to empower the girl child and their families by bringing about an improvement in the educational and economic status. Since its introduction, it has brought a positive change in the social attitude towards the birth of a girl.
Besides bringing about a social empowerment, LLY has played a pivotal role in curbing child marriage and female foeticide & improving girl child enrolment and sex ratio in the state. It has taken a strategic new outlook to empower and educate the state’s girls so they can participate equally towards progressive goals. This broad spectrum has reshaped the social apparatus of the state.
Motivating the girl
Since its introduction, it has brought a positive change in social attitude towards the birth of a girl. Under the scheme, the girl covered under the scheme is given Rs 2000 on getting admission in class 6th, Rs 4000 on getting admission in class 9th, Rs 6,000 on admission in class 11th and Rs 6,000 in class 12th. When the girl reaches the age of 21, she will be paid Rs one lakh—summing the total disbursement on each child to Rs 1,18,000. The girl should have been born after January 1, 2006, her parents should be native to Madhya Pradesh and they should not be income tax payees. This incentive has been a game changer for girl child in the state, with more than 44 lakh beneficiaries
Under the Ladli Laxmi Yojana 2 launched in November 2022, the beneficiary is given a scholarship of Rs 25,000 for higher studies to be disbursed in two equal amounts in two years.
A milestone in curbing child marriage
Child marriage is closely linked to perpetuation of poverty across generations. A girl forced into an early marriage will drop out of school, derailing the prospects for economic development and autonomy. Child marriage violates a girl’s right to the highest attainable standard of health and is associated with early, poorly spaced, repeated pregnancy and childbirth. Research shows that girls who are married early are very likely to perpetuate traditional gender roles, to hold stereotypical notions and to transmit these norms to their own children. Child marriage has other threads with it like dowry deaths, sex trafficking and should therefore be checked.
At a national level, there has been a 3.5% decrease in women aged 20-24 years, pushed to child marriage between 2015-16 and 2019-21(from 26.8% to 23.3%). Striking a positive note, there has been a greater fall (9.3%) in Madhya Pradesh (from 32.4% to 23.1%) during the same period.
According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), the most recent in the series, less than one-fourth (23%) of women in Madhya Pradesh aged 20-24 years got married before attaining the legal minimum age of 18 years, down from 32 percent during 2015-16 and 57% during 2005-6. The LLY that resonates on self- reliance of a girl child has catalysed the social change.
Another achievement, albeit small was that the number of victims of child marriage in the state decreased from 5 in 2020 to 4 in 2021. This is encouraging against the backdrop of a national increase of 34 percent from 792 victims in 2020 to 1,062 in 2021.
Teenage pregnancy, which is essentially an indirect reflection of child marriage, has come down from 7.9 percent in 2015-16 to 6.8 percent in 2019-21 at the national level. The corresponding decrease in Madhya Pradesh during the same period has been from 7.3 percent to 5.1 percent.
Celebrating the birth of girl
In India, female foeticide - the sex-selective abortion of girls - has led to an alarming "gender gap" in the country's population. Female foeticide is associated with several demographic, sociological, and ethical challenges. Sex-selective abortions and female foeticide are rooted in Indian patriarchal perceptions. While the practice has usually been presumed to be most prevalent among the poor and illiterate, studies have revealed that this is also being practiced among the rich and affluent. The spread of sex-selective abortion is often framed as a simple case of modern science being abused by patriarchal, misogynistic cultures. A lack of education among women, insufficient female leadership, and negative perceptions of women as “economic burdens” contribute to this view.
The only way to combat the issue of such a complex problem is to solve the root causes: skewed benefits, lack of economic opportunities, and unenforced legislation. The LLY has set the momentum in the right direction by opening up avenues for the girl-child. Female foeticide cannot be addressed in isolation; the scheme has therefore developed a holistic intervention in political, institutional, societal and individual level to abolish the practice.
According to government data the number of deaths due to foeticide was 18 in 2010 which climbed to 38 in 2011 (a percentage increase of 111.1). This spiralled to 64 in 2012(an increase of 68.4% from 2011). But in the intervening period between 2014 to 2021--the total number of cases registered under foeticide in Madhya Pradesh plummeted from 30 to 27 –witnessing a 10 percent decline.
While there is no specific category of female foeticide, most of the foeticide is generally of girls. So, a decline in the state reflects hope in the battle against the social malady.
The journey that started in 2007 has filtered a social change. But many roadblocks remain to be addressed. There has to be a proper record of selection of the beneficiaries. It should be ensured that the beneficiaries are not fake and meet all the social and economic criteria. Monitoring and supervision should be made more robust. A new communication strategy should be devised to popularize the scheme in the areas where it has not percolated in full strength. The volunteers at the grassroot level should constantly monitor the educational performance of the beneficiaries.
This is a beginning towards bridging the gender gap, a road towards social cohesion.
(Author: Prof. Sachin Chaturvedi, Vice Chairman, AIGGPA, Professor Sachin Chaturvedi works on issues related to development economics, involving development finance, SDGs and South-South Cooperation, apart from trade, investment and innovation linkages with special focus on WTO.)