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Dignity for Indian Girls


Female feticide, infanticide and neglect of girls has been widely practiced in India with alarming implications on the rate of missing girls. By 2005, India’s ratio of girls to boys had declined so steeply that there were fewer than 900 Indian girls born for every 1,000 boys – one of the lowest rates worldwide. This disturbing trend inspired a movement of civil society organizations working to promote the rights of women and girls. The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) played a lead role in this work in the state of Rajasthan under the “Dignity of the Girl Child” project. For the first time in decades, this alarming trend is being reversed.

Annual Trends in Estimated Numbers of Girls Missing at Birth in India, 2001 – 2012

Source: UNFPA, 2015. “How Many Girls are Missing at Birth in India?”

Female feticide and infanticide represents one of the greatest human rights violations. The trend in missing girls also undermines stability, security and economic growth. Skewed sex ratios, for example, can cause a shortage of women and subsequent trafficking and sexual exploitation of women as men turn to other states to find wives. The millions of lost lives also has economic impacts as fewer Indian citizens participate in the country’s economic development. These and other impacts show that the loss of women and girls is both a human rights violation and a major impediment to developing stable and inclusive democracies.

As part of its U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Women’s Legal Rights Initiative (WLRI) in India, IFES launched the “Dignity of the Girl Child” campaign to address female feticide, infanticide and neglect of girls. The campaign targeted the northwest state of Rajasthan, where conservative culture and patriarchal traditions contributed to some of the worst social indicators for Indian women and girls. IFES and its partners’ work was critical to the recent and significant improvement in India’s sex ratios.

"We will do whatever it takes to wipe out the shame," said Tejinder Pal Singh Timma, a Sikh community leader in Ganganagar, Rajasthan.

IFES and its partners combined research, advocacy, policy and community-based interventions to sensitize and mobilize district and local administrations, the legal community, civil society, and the public on the gravity of the declining sex ratio and the need to value the lives of girls. Throughout the campaign, IFES partners involved a diverse group of caste and community leaders, big corporations and local level bodies to speak out against female feticide and champion girls’ rights. It also engaged men as program allies and key decision makers who are often most resistant to change.

Working with its local partners, IFES’ core achievements focused on reversing the distorted sex ratios plaguing Rajasthan. These included:

  • Establishment of community based response groups in 750 villages across five districts of Rajasthan
  • Production and dissemination of 5,000 handbooks in English and Hindi to raise awareness about the impacts of female feticide and possible interventions
  • Implementation of a six-day campaign with the Indian Oil Corporation, which used ten gas stations to display posters on female feticide and urged nearly 50,000 motorists and passengers to sign pledges against sex determination
  • Production of an awareness-raising Hindi serial, Atmaja, which was viewed by 29 million people on National TV and has since reached 146 countries
  • Training 2,600 urban youth as Peer Educator Volunteers who went on to conduct signature campaigns, rallies and workshops that collected 30,000 pledges against female feticide
  • Establishment of partnerships with community leaders, the Department of Medical and Health Services, women’s associations and other stakeholders to improve awareness and implementation of laws that prohibit female feticide

IFES’ comprehensive, locally-driven WLRI program addressed the multivariate factors contributing to distorted sex ratios with significant results. India’s latest census shows that the sex ratio improved substantially in recent years. This was particularly true In Rajasthan, a key focus of IFES’ work, where the sex ratio at birth climbed from 838 in 2002-2004 to 893 in 2010-2012. While more needs to be done to close this gap, the positive trend demonstrates the critical impact of locally-driven programs in reversing harmful social practices that undermine women and girls right to life.