No country for girl child

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Women and girls continue to be vulnerable to misogyny and violence worldwide. According to the UNFPA’s State of the World Population 2020 report, the number of girls ‘missing’ due to sex selection procedures, whether pre- or post-natal, has more than doubled over the past 50 years. ‘Missing’ girls are those who would have been born into this world had they been allowed to, i.e., if they had not been intentionally eliminated simply because they are girls. Worryingly, India accounts for a significant proportion of the girls so eliminated — a third of all ‘missing’ girls are from India, the report says. India has the highest rate of excess female deaths at 13.5 per 1,000 female births or one in nine deaths of females below the age of 5 due to postnatal sex selection. In India, around 460,000 girls went missing at birth, which means they were not born due to sex-selection biases, each year between 2013 and 2017. India (40%) along with China (50%) account for around 90% of the estimated 1.2 million girls lost annually to female foeticide. A part of the reason for the doubling of ‘missing’ girls is the availability of medical technologies in recent decades that detect the sex of a foetus. People are using ultra-sound technologies to find out the sex of their unborn child and then choose to abort it if it is female. But technology alone cannot be blamed for the malaise as girls are not spared after being born either. The number of post-natal ‘missing’ girls is no less alarming. The UNFPA also found that one in five marriages that take place today is to an underage girl. With 13.5 deaths per 1,000 female births among girls below the age of five, which may be attributed to post-natal sex selection, India has the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of excess female deaths in the world. The UNFPA report provides distressing insights into the many kinds of violence that women and girls are suffering the world over. The practices of female genital mutilation and child marriage continue. An estimated 4.1 million girls will be subjected to female genital mutilation this year, the report estimates. The report lists at least 19 harmful practices, ranging from breast ironing to virginity testing, which although harmful physically and emotionally, persist with the full knowledge, consent and participation of families and communities. Girls and women will be even more vulnerable to violent elimination in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns. Reports have been drawing attention to rising domestic violence. Lockdowns are impoverishing people, and many will push their underage daughters into marriage or worse to escape the responsibility of providing for them. With services and programmes that would have normally supported girls shutting down on account of the Covid-19 crisis, an additional 13 million girls may be forced into marriage and two million more girls may be subjected to female genital mutilation between now and 2030, the UNFPA warns. Governments and civil society need to work together not only to prevent violence against women but to dismantle social institutions and beliefs that prejudice against women.

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