If words were deeds

If a recently-held seminar on the Girl Child in the capital is any indication, her plight is not going to improve in a hurry.

By Anuu Sharma
Published: Tuesday 15 March 1994

-- If a girl child in India could benefit every time somebody recounted her problems, hers would be a happy lot by now. Unfortunately, efforts to better her condition have been restricted to pieces of paper which do the rounds in various "concerned" ministries, elaborate action plans that serve to make nicely printed handouts, and five-star seminars where long-winded speeches serve to pass time between a five-star lunch and a five-star tea.

The "enthusiastic" response to the Year of the Girl Child in 1990 had prompted heads of government of the seven SAARC countries to declare the 1990s as the SAARC Decade of the Girl Child. Four years later, the department of women and child development (DWCW) in India has very little to show in terms of achievements. The sorry state of affairs was nowhere more evident than at a recent three-day seminar organised by DWCW in New Delhi.

Hardly SAARC
Though the seminar was a SAARC workshop on The Girl Child and Cooperation for the Fourth World Conference on Women, all the speakers were Indians. Delegates from the other countries could not present papers as they were given only a week's notice. Perhaps the only claim the seminar could make to a SAARC perspective was a paper presented by Kamala Bhasin, former programme officer for the South Asian region for the Food and Agriculture Organisation. But even she began by painting a morbid picture of the plight of the girl child and ended by repeating what everybody has been saying needs to be done, while resorting to cliches like "a happy girl child is the future of the country".

She concluded that she has raised more questions than provided answers because "all of us have to find our own answers in our own specific situations and contexts". If this be the case, one wonders why the seminar was held. Let alone offering fresh solutions or raising new questions, no effort was made to review the successes and failures. Asked whether any deadlines had been met, DWCW director C R Chibber admitted, "We are yet to identify what exactly we have to do."

The National Action Plan was finalised in late 1992 after almost three years of consulting and shuffling papers between various government departments like education and labour and it was decided that all these departments would lay special stress on the girl child in their particular sphere of development. But, since then, there has been neither feedback nor interaction between the departments. Even DWCW does not have a clue to what it should be contributing. Given this scenario, a seminar attempting to review the problem for the entire South Asian region could only be a farce.

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