Monday, February 28, 2011

Empowering Indian Girls

UNICEF: State of the World’s Children 2011 Report, “Adolescence−An Age of Opportunity”
Deccan Herald: Condition of Adolescents in India Among the Worst: UNICEF
The Times of India: World’s Teen Capital, but Raw Deal for Girls
The Hindu: Many Challenges Remain for India’s Youthful Population

A new U.N. study, UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2011 Report, “Adolescence−An Age of Opportunity,” reveals the challenges India faces in improving the lives of its adolescents, especially the lives of its girls. India has 243 million adolescents, which is the largest population in one country and 20% of India’s population. The study, which defines an adolescent as someone aged 10 through 19 years old, also shows that 88% of adolescents live in developing countries.

A significant part of the study focus on gender differences and the status of girls. Forty-seven percent of India’s girls are underweight, the highest percentage in the world, and 56% of girls in India are anemic. The two conditions have serious implications during pregnancy, because the mother is not as strong as she should be when delivering her baby, leading to higher miscarriage and mother mortality rates. Having children is likely for Indian girls as 30% of girls from ages 15 to 19 are married or in some sort of relationship. Indian girls are also more likely to get married in their teenage years than men. Three in five women from the ages of 20 to 49 were married as adolescents while only one in five men were married as adolescents.

In terms of nutrition and empowerment, the study shows that Indian girls are even worse off than their Sub-Saharan African counterparts. Although the government has tried to empower Indian girls with the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006 (“PCM”), the prevalence of child marriage is 29% in urban areas and 56% in rural areas. Even though the number of girls who got married before age 18 decreased from 54% in 1992-1993 to 43% in 2007-2008, India still had the eighth highest rate of childhood marriage in the world.

The PCM shows that India is taking seriously its girls’ future. D.K. Sikri, Secretary of the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, pointed to the Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls (“Scheme”) as evidence of India’s continued effort to support female empowerment. The Scheme will focus on improving health, nutrition, and education by making education the rule and not the exception for girls in India. The details on how the Scheme will improve girls’ lives are still vague. India’s girls are a vast resource of human capital, and changing Indian culture and infrastructure to utilize those girls will be key for India’s development.

1. Pakistan’s child marriage rate is 25%, less than half India’s rural child marriage rate. Why is there such a large difference?
2. Women’s rights are correlated with GDP/person. Is this causation or correlation?

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