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The Good News

The Good News

Author: K.S. Shaini
Publication: Outlook
Date: February 23, 2009
URL: http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20090223&fname=Girl+Child+(F)&sid=1

Introduction: An incentive scheme to help MP's girls

In the Vindhya Pradesh region, a part of Madhya Pradesh bordering Uttar Pradesh, the birth of a girl child is considered bad news, as in many parts of rural India. Women throw water on a burning chulha in an age-old custom that symbolises the family's disappointment over the oppressive financial burden the girl's birth traditionally brings.

But a state government scheme, appropriately called 'Ladli Laxmi', is changing that: every girl child born in the state is now assured of Rs 1 lakh in cash when she turns 21. This is in addition to regular financial assistance as she climbs up the educational ladder.

The sex ratio in Madhya Pradesh (919 females per 1,000 males) is lower than the national average (953) and is falling. In 12 districts, it is less than 900 and in two districts-Morena and Bhind-it is less than 850. Instead of empty slogans, the Shivraj Singh Chauhan government has adopted a pragmatic policy aimed at changing the economics of bringing up a girl child. "At the root was the perception that a daughter costs money to bring up and marry off while a son adds to the family wealth by earning and by bringing in dowry," says a senior functionary of the women and child development department, which runs the scheme.

Under the Ladli Laxmi scheme, every girl child, registered before her first birthday, will get Rs 2,000 when she passes Std V and Rs 4,000 on passing Std VII. On reaching Std X, she will be paid Rs 7,500. If she attends school for Std XI and XII, she will be paid Rs 200 per month. The icing on the cake: when she turns 21, she gets Rs 1 lakh.

The funds for the scheme come from investment in National Savings Certificates made by the government in the name of the child. The child and a designated government official are joint holders of the certificate. The conditions of the scheme ensure that it meets all its objectives. For one, only parents who have not more than two children are entitled to join the scheme. And the final payment of Rs 1 lakh will be made only if the girl appears (though not necessarily passes) the Std XII exam. Also, she shouldn't get married before the statutory minimum age of 18 years.

Around 1.5 lakh girls are now registered under the scheme, with Chhindwara district topping the list with over 6,000. Considering the popularity of the scheme, the government estimates that it would have to increase the current annual budgetary allocation for the scheme (Rs 145 crore) more than five-fold in the next two or three years.

A parallel scheme, Kanyadaan, extends help to poor parents with daughters of marriageable age by paying them Rs 5,000 for the marriage of each daughter. If an individual or organisation conducts mass marriage for girls from poor families, the government chips in with Rs 1,000 per girl.

Chauhan believes that the two schemes had a major role in the BJP's return to power. "We Hindus believe that little girls are devis. That is why we touch their feet. When I had the blessings of so many devis, who could have defeated me?" he asks.

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