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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
09MUMBAI142
2009-04-01 12:38:00
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Consulate Mumbai
Cable title:  

WOMEN IN INDIA: CHALLENGES FOR GIRLS

Tags:   PGOV  PHUM  KWMN  KDEM  IN 
pdf how-to read a cable
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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
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RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0154
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						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 MUMBAI 000142 

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KWMN KDEM IN
SUBJECT: WOMEN IN INDIA: CHALLENGES FOR GIRLS

REF: A. 05 NEW DELHI 6179

B. 06 NEW DELHI 930

C. 08 NEW DELHI 654

MUMBAI 00000142 001.2 OF 004


UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 MUMBAI 000142

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KWMN KDEM IN
SUBJECT: WOMEN IN INDIA: CHALLENGES FOR GIRLS

REF: A. 05 NEW DELHI 6179

B. 06 NEW DELHI 930

C. 08 NEW DELHI 654

MUMBAI 00000142 001.2 OF 004



1. (U) Summary: The challenges for many females in India come
long before entering the workforce: female feticide, female
infanticide, and high school-drop-out rate all inhibit the
creation of a healthy, educated cohort of women in modern India.
In Western India, NGOs and state governments are attempting to
address these problems in a limited way, and this cable offers a
snapshot of these efforts. Interlocutors agreed that India has
in place good laws to address sex-selective abortions and other
crimes against women, but with lax or no enforcement, and
persistent societal views that value boys more than girls, the
journey to healthy, productive adulthood remains arduous, if not
impossible, for many women. End Summary.



The struggle of infancy




2. (U) In India, the first hurdle for many females is simply
being born. As Ref A details, India's census figures show that
in 1991, the ratio of girls to boys ages zero to six was 945 per
1000 boys, and the situation continued to decline, falling to
927 girls per 1000 boys by 2001. Most experts accredit this
decrease in female births to the increased prevalence of sex
determination tests (ultrasounds) which can lead to the abortion
of female fetuses, despite a law banning the use of these tests
enacted in 1996. Dr. A.L. Sharada of Population First, Inc., a
Mumbai based NGO, estimates that 900,000 more female fetuses
have been aborted than male fetuses per year based upon the
population discrepancy seen in the census statistics. Sharada
explains that girls are seen by their families as an economic
burden, especially in the high costs of marriage - the dowry,
wedding, and loss of her income once married. For Hindus, the
requirement of having a son to light the parent's funeral pyre
also drives the anti-girl-child actions, she said.




3. (U) The attitudes leading to female feticide existed before
the advent of modern medicine, however, as Indians relied on
traditional methods to surmise the gender of the fetus, Sharada
told Confenoffs. For instance, gender was determined by whether

the mother carried forward or sideways, whether the mother had
extensive morning sickness early in the pregnancy and whether
the mother had extensive swelling during her pregnancy. Herbal
medicines known to cause miscarriages were often used to
terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Modern medical imaging
technology, however, has enabled a more reliable determination
of sex, and the availability of surgical abortion has made the
termination of the pregnancy safer to accomplish, Sharada noted.
(Note: Abortion for the health of the mother or in specific
limited circumstances has been legal in India since 1971. End
Note.)




4. (U) The gender disparity statistics cited to combat
sex-selective abortions also encompass female infanticide, since
the census data groups children ages zero to six in the same
figures. UNESCO's Education for All Global Monitoring Report
for 2007 found India to have an early childhood mortality of
almost 10 percent: 99 out of 1000 children of both sexes die by
age five. UNICEF reported in 2006 that India's childhood
mortality rate by age five is 76 per thousand. Though much of
the childhood mortality rate may be due to health care factors,
some is intentional. Sharada played for Congenoffs a short
video in which women from Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh described
the various methods they had used to kill their unwanted girl
children, such as crushing or suffocating them or feeding them
tobacco. Professor C.A.K. Yesudian, Head, School of Health
Systems Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences told
Congenoffs of other less direct methods used, such as leaving a
baby out in the rain where it might contract pneumonia then
denying medical care. Other scholars have pointed to the use of
poisons or starving the girl-child to death as a means of
eliminating unwanted girl children.

MUMBAI 00000142 002.2 OF 004





WESTERN INDIA EFFORTS TO CURB FEMALE FETICIDE AND INFANTICIDE




5. (U) India has taken several measures to reverse the biases
against girl children such as eliminating dowry, (the 1961 Dowry
Prohibition Act), and making dowry killings a specific crime
(Indian Penal Code 304B). Sections 312- 317 of the IPC make it
a crime to cause a miscarriage or the death of a newborn, or to
abandon a child under twelve. Sharada noted, however, that the
practice of demanding dowry continues, as families still cling
to their traditions, some arguing that dowry is the only way
women are guaranteed a share of their family's assets, as they
will not share in inheritance. Using modern medicine to
determine the sex of a fetus was made illegal in the 1996
Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act, but Sharada says the law is
flawed because it requires the medical community to police
itself. The law empowers a board comprised mostly of physicians
to enforce the law. The law carries a maximum penalty of three
years imprisonment or a fine up to 10,000 rupees (200 USD), a
cost, she said, that is more than covered by the fee for a
single sex-determination test. Sharada said that only one case
since the enactment of the law has resulted in incarceration,
and the other convictions, approximately 90, resulted only in
minor fines.



Madhya Pradesh Programs Address Girl Child




6. (U) Recognizing the cultural and social attitudes that
drive female feticide and infanticide, the state of Madhya
Pradesh (MP) is attempting to address the gender disparity by
providing an economic incentive to offset the financial burden
of having girl children. Under an incentive scheme called
"Ladli Laxmi" (darling little goddess of wealth), the state
promises to pay 2,000 Rupees (40 USD) to parents who register
their girls with the program prior to their daughter's first
birthday. The program, however, is only available to families
with two children or less. Under another scheme called
"Kanyadaan," MP offers Rs. 5,000 (USD 100) to families to help
alleviate the marriage costs for the parents of a prospective
bride.



Changing the Mindset is Key




7. (U) To raise public awareness about the issue, the media
attention has sometimes highlighted the cost of these practices
on men. Female feticide and infanticide have dramatically
reduced the pool of marriageable women, driving families in some
parts of Western India to buy brides from other parts of India
for their sons, sometimes being duped by unscrupulous marriage
brokers in the process, or inducing brothers to share one bride,
according to media reports. Sharada told Congenoffs that in
Gujarat, one sub-caste of the Patel community, so concerned over
the loss of women to help carry on their bloodline, has made a
pledge within their community to not abort female fetuses to
help preserve the blood line.




8. (U) Population First, however, has taken a completely
different tact to address the shortage of women: working
through media and education programs to emphasize the value of
women. The NGO holds annual awards for movies, advertisers and
television shows depicting women in a positive light. (The
movie, Chak De, starring Shah Rukh Kahn as the coach of an
All-India women's field hockey team, was one of the winners for
2008.) Population First also conducts gender sensitivity
training at universities in Mumbai to reduce the risk of those
students contributing to the female feticide statistics. Though

MUMBAI 00000142 003.2 OF 004


the incidence of female feticide is highest in western
Maharashtra, Sharada said that Population First is targeting its
programs at university students as selective abortion is highest
among the more affluent and highly educated families that have
access to medical technology.



EDUCATIONAL HURDLES FOR YOUNG GIRLS




9. (U) The other major hurdle faced by females in India is
getting an education. Interlocutors noted that while primary
education is universally available, many families see no value
in educating their girl children. Estimates of school
attendance for boys and girls vary widely. According to the
Mahindra Educational Trust (MET), an NGO working to eliminate
the educational gap for girls, 10 to 26 million children ages 6
- 14 years are out of school. Interlocutors agree the problem
is most severe for girls. Although the Government of India
provides free school lunches for children up to age 13, a
program initiated in 2001 to encourage parents to send their
children to school, the school attendance data for girls is
still disheartening. According to the 2001 Indian Department of
Education statistics, the median education level for females is
two years, in contrast to five years for males, and that almost
40 percent of girls drop out of school in primary school. The
reasons behind the poor statistics for girls, according to the
data from MET, are primarily family-related: girls are expected
to fetch water and firewood and care for smaller children or
sick relatives, causing them to miss school. Further, as the
girls mature and must travel further to get to school, the
families fear for the safety, according to the MET survey.



MADHYA PRADESH PAYS FOR GIRLS TO STAY IN SCHOOL




10. (U) State governments and NGOs recognize this disparity for
girls and are working to eliminate the education gap. Madhya
Pradesh has included financial incentives in its "Ladli Laxmi"
program to stem this precipitous drop out rate for girls: 4,000
Rs. (80 USD) when the girl passes fifth grade; 7,500 Rs. (150
USD) when the girl passes seventh grade; 200 Rs. (4 USD) per
month for attending eleventh and twelfth grades, and 18,000
Rupees (260 USD) for completing 12th grade. The program is
limited to parents who have no more than two children.
Nonetheless, MP's public relations department claims that over
6000 girls have benefited from program. MP Chief Minister
Pritviraj Chauhan told the press he believes that these programs
had a major role in the BJP's holding on to power in that
state's 2008 assembly elections. On March 16, L.K. Advani, the
BJP's prime ministerial candidate said he would adopt this
scheme nationwide.



NGOs believe female education is key to independence




11. (U) MET works in poor urban, remote rural and tribal areas
in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, as well as
neighboring states helping 49,000 girls go to, and stay in,
school. To foster education for girls, MET works with families
to support the education of the girls and provides funding for
school uniforms and school supplies. It works with teachers,
encouraging them to advocate for the education of girls. So
far, the NGO reports only a 10 percent drop out rate among its
participants, compared to the national average of 40 percent for
girls in primary school.




12. (U) Helping to ensure education for girls, an orphanage
for Muslim girls located in Mahim, a Muslim slum area in Mumbai,
insists that its charges complete schooling or have viable

MUMBAI 00000142 004.2 OF 004


employment skills before they get married. Miriam Batliwala,
director of the program at D.M. Jaliwala Orphanage Trust which
operates under the name WECAN (Women's Empowerment Center and
Network) said that she is determined to break the cycle of
poverty she sees in Mahim and other poor Muslim areas of the
city. Batliwala said she sees that often poor Muslim girls are
married off at age 15 or 16, and are then divorced by their
husbands at 21, left with no viable job skills and inadequate
education. Batliwala said that this insistence on education,
however, has made fundraising difficult for her organization;
Muslim businessmen have told her she is making the women less
desirable as wives by insisting on education.




13. (U) Education is pivotal for ending the exploitation of
girls. Another NGO, St. Catherine's, a shelter for girls
rescued from prostitution, told Congenoffs that most of the
rescued girls, minors and adults, are illiterate when they enter
St. Catherine's. Without education, these girls often wind up
as maids or nannies, or, more likely, return to prostitution.
Focusing on the importance of education, however, St.
Catherine's aims to break the cycle of poverty. The NGO reports
that some women who completed their program have become nurses,
teachers and computer specialists.




14. (SBU) Comment: Though President Patil, India's first
female president, claimed in her talk in December 2008, in
Yavatmal, Maharashtra, "Today, our women are competing on an
equal footing with men," the reality for many in western India
belies this claim. The government programs in Madhya Pradesh,
at least, accepts the view that girl children are a burden on
the family, rather than working to change the mindset that
devalues women. Ensuring more girls complete their education
may in the long run, however, be more persuasive and thus more
effective in breaking the cycle of atrocities that stem from
devaluing the girl-child. While government and civil society
organizations are trying to make inroads, sex-selection
abortions, female infanticide, and denial of education for girls
still persist. The next census, scheduled for 2011, will
indicate whether these programs have succeeded.
FOLMSBEE