The govt must assist girl students from poor backgrounds to get education during the pandemic

A recent disturbing trend observed during the pandemic is the propensity in the poor families to marry their girl child off as soon as possible to do away with the perceived burden

Representative Photo
Representative Photo

Gyan Pathak

There is no species known in this world whose women are so badly treated by its men as our own species called human beings. At times of crisis, it is women and girls who lay down their lives for wellbeing of rest of the members of the family, and yet we go on treating them inequitably. The Covid-19 crisis had aggravated the situation to an unprecedented level. Due to economic hardships, poor girls are suffering the most, millions of them have no prospect of returning to schools and thereby they are excluded from all hope of progress.

Before we are well-stricken in trouble due to its after effect, we must try to provide them for their education. Due to lockdown of the country, everything came to a grinding halt. The wheels of economy stopped. Millions of people lost their means of livelihood. Even food security at household level was lost. The morsels of food then first went to men before the women, and boys before the girls. It is an open secret that we still carry such a bias in Indian households against women and girls.

Since anganwadis run under Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) were closed, the children below the age of 5 could not have their morsels of food there, nor could the children above the age of 5 get their shares in the mid-day meals given in their schools. It has greatly impacted their health. How much? We will come to know it in future when some survey will be conducted and results published thereafter. This situation will improve only when anganwadis centres and schools are reopened.

As we already know, about 290 million children are affected by the closures of schools in India. Digital India drive could not even provide internet connectivity in all parts of the country, which prevented the students from connecting to their online classes started by many institutions during the lockdown. Even where internet connections were available, the quality was so poor that it was impossible to attend online classes. Another difficulty was availability of handsets or computers with poor students.

Having a computer or smart phone is still a luxury in poor households. Moreover, an average Indian family has three children in their home, and smart phones and computers cannot be purchased for all of them. If the household somehow purchased one smart phone it was being shared by all the children. The bias against girl child prevented them even to share such facility. Many incidents of suicides were also reported in the media because the family could not provide smart phones to the children. Only 26 per cent of girls in such poor families have access to mobiles and internet to attend classes online as against 37 per cent boys.

The recent Annual Status of Education Report has estimated that there has been a sharp rise in out-out-of school children in the age group of 6-18. It has gone up from 1.8 per cent in 2018 to 5.5 per cent in 2020, and among all children under 16 it has increased from 4 per cent to 5.5 per cent. Almost six million children are already out of school, which may rise further due to economic insecurity. One of the reasons is that admission process in the schools could not be completed due to COVID-19 lockdowns and containment measures.

Moreover, parents decided to keep their children at home due to their inability to afford the cost of their educations. Girl children were most affected because of the prevailing bias against the girl child. Boys are considered as bread earners of the family and therefore they are supported first as against the girl child.

About 37 per cent of girls from poor households are uncertain whether they would at all be able to return to schools when they would reopen after the pandemic is over. The survey conducted by the Right to Education Forum, Centre for Budget and Policy studies and Champions for Girl’s Education has found in its survey that about 70 per cent of the families didn’t have enough food, which puts studies, especially education of girls, most at risk.

India was not performing well is education the girls even before the pandemic. In 2006, 10.3 per cent of girls between the age of 11 to 14 were out of school. In 2018, the figure stood at 4.1 per cent, which was a significant decline. In 2018, 13.5 per cent of girls between the age of 15-16 were out of school, as opposed to more than 20 per cent in 2008. In the beginning of 2020, 40 per cent of adolescent girls in the age group of 15-18 years were not attending school while 30 per cent of girls from poorest families have never set foot in a classroom.

It is a very sorry state of affair. Our children have fundamental right to education, but compliance of RTE has been very poor just before the pandemic struck the country. It was only 12.5 per cent across India according to a World Bank and UNICEF supported study. It was primarily due to the downward trend in financing school education which has come down from 4.14 per cent in 2014-15 to 3.40 per cent in 2019-20.

COVID-19 has further accentuated the condition of gild child. A recent disturbing trend observed during the pandemic is the propensity in the poor families to marry their girl child off as soon as possible to do away with the perceived burden. It’s an injustice that a biased mind is unable to perceive. It is just like throwing the girl child to anyone, without consideration of suitability even of age of the bridegroom.

The Union and state governments must do something for giving the girl child an opportunity to education in the present scenario. Investment in education of a poor girl child must be increased in the coming Budget itself. If it is not possible to open the schools, they must be provided with means to connect to the online classes, and to conserve their health at home.

(IPA Service)

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