In the 1980s the state of Tamil Nadu made national headlines for all the wrong reasons. One of them was rampant female foeticide across the state. Gory stories of baby girls being brutally killed, drowned or abandoned emerged and the image of the state continued to remain tarnished for years.
After being on the radar for recording a staggering gender gap in its under-five mortality rate, the state has finally managed to redeem itself and bridge it in 2016, according to the Registrar General of India’s latest report.
While the overall mortality rate of children under five in the state was 20 per 1,000 live births in 2015, it has come down to 19 per 1,000 live births in 2016, which on a national level is a huge decline.
The state has also successfully managed to bridge the gender gap between its boys and girls.
Speaking to the Times of India, Director of public health K Kolandaswamy said the state was able to achieve it through a slew of processes and initiatives that began ten years ago.
“We have managed to bridge it through a combination of initiatives by the health, social welfare and education departments that have together tried to empower women and girls,” he said.
Today let’s look at five initiatives the state undertook over the years to successfully reverse the trend.
The Cradle Baby Scheme, 1992
Launched by the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Late Jayalalithaa, the Cradle Baby Scheme was introduced in 1992. Under the scheme, cradles were set up outside various places like hospitals, primary health centres and orphanages, to save abandoned babies by families and individuals.
The state government identified places notorious for female foeticide like Madurai, Theni, Salem etc. and set these centres up there.
Though the scheme was criticised by many for encouraging ‘morally wrong’ behaviour, many did not realise that the scheme – in addition to saving girl children (abandoned due to poverty or their parents’ crippling need for a son), these cradles saved many abandoned boys born of out wedlock.
The Girl Child Protection Scheme
This scheme was launched by the State government to promote family planning, stop female infanticide and change mindsets among parents about the preference for a male child. The state deposited an amount of Rs 22,200 (later increased to Rs 50,000) in the name of the girl child, only when there was a single girl child in the household and either of parent underwent sterilisation.
The deposited amount, with interest, was released to the girl child once she turned 18, enabling her to pursue higher education or to meet marriage expenses.
In households with two girls and no boy child, the state gave an initial amount of Rs RS 15, 200 (which was later increased to 25,000) to be deposited for each girl child.
National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level (NPEGEL)
Launched in 2003 by the Ministry Department of Women and Child Development, Government of Tamil Nadu, the aim of this scheme was to reach the “hardest to reach” girls, belonging to SC/ ST categories from Educationally Backward Blocks (EEBs).
Under the scheme, ‘model schools’ were set up in every cluster to encourage communities to enrol girls in school and supervise the numbers. Activities like gender sensitisation of teachers, development of gender-sensitive learning materials, and incentives like stationery, workbooks, uniforms, library, sports, vocational training, etc. were given with a one-time grant of an amount of Rs.30,000/-
Making healthcare accessible for underprivileged mothers
To ensure healthcare facilities reach pregnant women and infants in the remote parts of the state, the government created a network to track them through the facilities under its health and social welfare departments and even launched home-based care in tribal communities and settlements.
In 2016, the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa launched a maternity care plan where expectant mothers were even provided with a free bouquet of 11 types of herbal medicines to encourage normal deliveries as against cesarean sections known as the ‘Amma Magapperu Sanjeevi.’
This scheme was launched to give women who sought medical care for pregnancy in a government hospital the option of supportive care from a Siddha practitioner in the institution.
Following National Schemes and Directives
With the launch of nationwide anti-sex determination directives and ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ campaign, the state used mass communication tools to educate parents and protect and empower its girl children.
Various TVCs were broadcast to make the public aware of the consequences of attempting to determine the gender of their child during sonography or other screening processes. Not only would they be penalised with a fine, but also put behind bars. Directives were issued to path labs and radiologists to stop the practice of revealing the baby’s gender to the parents.
The BBBP initiative focussed on 100 districts across the country with lowest child sex ratio, primarily undertook sensitisation campaigns to change mindsets.