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RIGHTS OF ADOLESCENTGIRLS IN INDIA: A CRITICALLOOK AT LAWS ANDPOLICIESA Vacha PublicationIn the Indian context, adolescence is a time when a boy’sworld expands, and a girl’s world contracts. For boys,adolescence represents financial independence, expandedparticipation and enhanced status in family, communityand public life. While a boy’s world expands, a girl’s worldcontracts upon entering adolescence. For girls, this periodmarks a growing dependence on natal and marital families,and restrictions on speech, expression, thought, mobilityand conduct, etc. Adolescence confines girls to sociallyconstructed gender roles of being wives and mothers. Theyare relegated to the home, excluded from public life, andremain absent in national laws and policies and theprocesses that shape their lives.Girls make a presentation on their Rights at a function in theircommunityTHE CONTEXTIndia, as the world’s biggest democracy with the secondlargest population of approximately 1.3 billion, hosts nearly20 percent of the planet’s population of adolescent girls. 1While one in ten Indians is an adolescent girl, they remainan invisible group. Adolescent girls are often marginalizedor even excluded from national laws and policies, theirneeds subsumed under those of children or women. TheNational Census 2011 projected 12.2 crore adolescents inIndia aged 15 to 19, consisting of 6.5 crore boys and 5.7crore girls. 2 Further, it is estimated that at least 50 millionwomen and girls are “missing” from India’s population dueto “discrimination leading to death” - gender bias inmortality caused by sex-selective abortions, femaleinfanticide, and insufficient care given to girls. 3 The WorldHealth Organization defines “adolescence” as the age rangeof 10 to 19 years. 4 Key attributes of adolescence, accordingto the WHO, include: rapid physical growth anddevelopment; varying levels of physical, social andpsychological maturity; sexual maturity and sexual activity;experimentation; the development of adult mentalprocesses and adult identity; and transition from totalsocio-economic dependence to relative independence.1Saumya Uma, The Rights of Adolescent Girls: A Critical Look at Laws andPolicies. 2012, Vacha Trust, Mumbai.2Ray Kalyan, ‘Govt to Give Iron, Folic Acid to 12 Crore Young Girls”’ DeccanHerald, 25 December 2011.3Amartya Kumar Sen, (1992), ‘Missing Women’, British Medical Journal304: 586-7.4World Health Organization: Regional Office for Southeast Asia,http://www.searo.who.int/en/Section13/Section1245_4980.htm,accessed 20 May 2012.GIRLS COUNT TOO: WHY INDIA NEEDS LAWSAND POLICIES THAT WILL EMPOWER GIRLSAdolescent girls in India face intersecting forms ofdiscrimination on the basis of gender, age, class, caste,race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and other factorsthat create specific obstacles that prevent them fromexperiencing their civil, political, social, economic, andcultural rights to the fullest. These obstacles must beaddressed by legislators and policymakers, separately andequitably, with a full understanding of how laws, policiesprogrammes, plans, budgets and schemes intended toempower women and girls translate to ground realities.This understanding must be gender-responsive and rightsbased,to assess the effectiveness of national-levelmeasures to promote gender equality.India is also obligated to ensure that its country-levelinitiatives abide by its obligations under international law,including the United Nations core human rights treaties,especially the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms ofDiscrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Conventionon the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the International Bill ofRights, which consists of the Universal Declaration ofHuman Rights (UDHR), and the two International Covenantson Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Economic, Socialand Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Other relevant internationaltreaties include those by the International LabourOrganization, especially the core labour Conventions andthe Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. India is alsoobligated under regional standards created byorganizations of which it is a member such as the SouthAsian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), suchas the SAARC Convention against Trafficking in Women andChildren (2002). These international and regional standardsform a framework of complementary and mutuallyprotections that uphold the rights of India’s girls.“Investing in adolescent girls is precisely the catalyst poorcountries need to break intergenerational poverty and tocreate a better distribution of income. Investing in them isnot only fair, it is a smart economic move.”Robert B. Soellick, Former President, World Bank1To order the full publication, Rights of Adolescent Girls in India: A Critical Look at Laws and Policies, by SaumyaUma with an Introduction by Dr. Vibhuti Patel email us at admin@vacha.org.inVisit our website: www.vacha.org.in


Investing in laws and policies that empower adolescent girlsis not only the right thing to do. It also makes good businesssense. Girls are the future of India’s workforce, society, andeconomy. The work participate rate of women in India ismuch lower than that of men. From 1981 to 2001, women’sparticipation in the workforce rose from 19.7 percent to25.7 percent, while men’s participation remained steady,decreasing only slightly fro 52.6 percent to 51.9 percent. 5The available economic data suggests that India loses USD56 billion a year in potential earnings because of adolescentpregnancy, higher secondary school dropout rates, andjoblessness among young girls. 6Empowering girls can break the cycle of poverty, result inpublic health benefits, and reduce costs to the state. Thecurrent female mortality rates in the age groups of 15-19years, and 20-24 years, are substantially higher than thoseof males. This can be attributed to early marriages andhealth complications during pregnancy and childbirth, aswell as entrenched gender discrimination that preventseffective responses to health needs of adolescent girls. 7Youth fertility accounts for more than half of the India’stotal fertility, with 44 percent of married women in the 15-19 age group having one or more children, many of whoare both into extreme poverty. 8 Adolescent girls, especiallythose living in poverty, also have high rates of malnutritionand anaemia, and are at heightened risk of being affectedby HIV. Finally, at least 32 percent of married women aged15-24 reported sexual violence and 25 percent reportedphysical violence, according to a study by the PopulationCouncil. 9 Another study has shown that India has thehighest rate of domestic violence among women marriedby 18, with a rate of 67 percent compared to 45 percent ofwomen reporting not experiencing violence. 10TABLE 1. SPOTLIGHT ON SOME FUNDAMENTALHUMAN RIGHTS OF ADOLESCENT GIRLSRIGHTPROTECTED BY:The right to lifeThe Universal DeclarationThe right to a healthychildhood.of Human Rights (UDHR).The Convention on theRights of Child (CRC).The right to freedomfrom all forms ofdiscrimination, includingsex- and gender-baseddiscrimination, whichincludes all forms ofviolence such as domesticviolence, physical,psychological andemotional violence.The right to education,including free andcompulsory education forages 6 to 14Rights relating to health,such access to healthservices including sexualand reproductive healthrights (SRH) and HIV/AIDSservices, food security,nutrition, water andsanitation.The right to free speechand freedom ofexpression.Labour rights, includingprohibitions of childlabour and forced labour,minimum wages, equalpay for equal work,workplace health andsafety , and the right tocollective bargaining andto form and join unions.Age of marriage, agencyin marriage, rights withinmarriage and rights upontermination of marriage.Land, housing, propertyand environment rightssuch as those addressingadequate housing,matrimonial property,land and forestry rights.The Convention on theElimination of All Formsof Discrimination againstWomen (CEDAW) – thedefinition ofdiscrimination article 2 ofCEDAW includes violenceagainst women.The CRC.The InternationalCovenant on Economic,Social and Cultural Rights(ICESCR) and CEDAW,which upholds sexual andreproductive health andother rights.The InternationalCovenant on Civil andPolitical Rights (ICCPR).The CRC, the ICESCR, andthe core InternationalLabour Organization (ILO)Conventions including theFundamental Principlesand rights at Work.CEDAW.ICESCR. The Declarationon the Rights ofIndigenous Peoples (DRIP)also outlines property andenvironmental rights forindigenous peoples.5Rights of Adolescent Girls in India, p. 18.6“India Economic Summit Champions Investing in Girls”, 2 December2009, The Huffington Post,http://gbcimpact.org/itcs_node_/2/4/news/2278, accessed 17 September2012.7Rights of Adolescent Girls in India, p. 23.8National Family Health Survey 3: 2005-2006.9International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) and PopulationCouncil, 2010.10UNICEF (2005).TABLE NO. 2. SPOTLIGHT ON SOME KEY POLICIES THATIMPACT ADOLESCENT GIRLS IN INDIATITLEHOW THE POLICY PROTECTS12 th Five Year Plan(2012-2017 by) theNational PlanningCommission (which isADOLESCENT GIRLSFocusses on vocationaltraining and life skillseducation, mainstreaminggender into the policy and2To order the full publication, Rights of Adolescent Girls in India: A Critical Look at Laws and Policies, by SaumyaUma with an Introduction by Dr. Vibhuti Patel email us at admin@vacha.org.invisit our website: www.vacha.org.in


informed by theWorking Group onChild Rights).Five Year StrategicPlan (2011-2016) ofthe Ministry ofWomen and ChildDevelopmentNational Plan ofAction for Children(2005)National Charter forChildren (2003)Draft National YouthPolicy (2001)institutional framework, andextension of the Right ofChildren to Free andCompulsory Education Act toguarantee education of girlsup to senior secondary level.Aims to considerably reduceanaemia among girls and aimsto empower adolescent girlsthrough nutrition, health careand life skills education.Objectives include promotingphysical, mental, emotionaland reproductive healthamong adolescents, sexualityand sexual responsibility,promotion of educationincluding life skills, selfesteemand decision-making,protection from all forms ofsocial, economic and sexualexploitation, violence anddiscrimination, and trainingopportunities to preparethem for sustainablelivelihoods.Includes specific onadolescents, and reflects therecognition by government ofadolescents as a specificgroup with specific needs. Itobliges the State andcommunity to take all stepsto provide the necessaryeducation and skills toadolescent children tobecome economicallyproductive citizens.Unlike the National Policy forthe Empowerment of Women(2001), this adequatelyaddresses gender inequalityand provides acomprehensive view ofadolescents and theirconcerns.“I have not been to school. My girls should study.Education makes you clever. You do not have to givethumb impression instead of signature. I feel bad abouthaving to stamp my thumb every time on a document. Somany women go to work these days. Without educationwe cannot get good jobs.”“Shantabai”, a mother, from Experiencing Girlhood:Stories from Bastis in Mumbai. Vacha, 2010.A CRITICAL LOOK AT THE LAWS AND POLICIESTHAT AFFECT ADOLESCENT GIRLS IN INDIAThe legal and policy framework addressing the rights ofadolescent girls has undergone a shift in recent years, froma welfare-oriented approach to one that places adolescentgirls’ rights in the centrality of laws and policies. Thisframework provides the foundation for programmes,schemes and interventions to empower adolescent girlsand to safeguard their human rights. The foundation of thisframework is the Indian Constitution, a legal, political andmoral document that guarantees and basic rights of allIndians, which are then elaborated in other laws. It alsosets certain standards concerning women’s rights andchildren’s rights that apply to adolescent girls. Theseinclude equality before the law and equal protection underthe law, and prohibition on discrimination on a number ofgrounds including sex, in spheres such as education andpublic employment. Affirmative action through speciallaws, schemes and provisions for women and children arealso enshrined in the Constitution. 11 The key policies thatare part of the framework to empower adolescent girls inIndia are outlined in Table No. 2, while the major laws areoutlined below in Table No. 3.In addition to the policies in the adjacent table, animportant policy is the Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for theEmpowerment of Adolescent Girls (RGSEAG), also known asthe SABLA, launched by the Ministry of Women and ChildDevelopment (MWCD) in 2011. This scheme takes a multisectorapproach at empowering girls aged 11 to 18 byimproving their nutrition and health, providing life skillseducation and supporting vocational training. 12 The MWCDalso launched a Nutrition Programme for Adolescent Girlsfrom 2005-6, which aims to improve the nutritional statusof girls aged 11 and 18, including by providing food grainsto undernourished girls identified by local anganwadiworkers. 13 Another targeted policy implemented by thecentral and state government of Haryana is the KishoriShakti Yojana, were adolescent girls are trained on homebasedand vocational skills, including measures like healthhygiene, nutrition, home management, child care, and takeall measures to facilitate marriage after 18 years of age oreven later. Vacha recommends that such a policy should beenforced on a larger, nation-wide scale to make ameaningful and long-term impact on the economicempowerment of adolescent girls. 14Another law that contains progressive provisions is theProhibition of Child Marriage Act (2006). This Actguarantees a child, i.e. anyone aged under 18 years theoption to end the marriage at any time subsequent to the11Rights of Adolescent Girls in India, p. 48-9.12Ibid, p. 82.13Ibid, p. 153.14Ibid, pp. 132-3.3To order the full publication, Rights of Adolescent Girls in India: A Critical Look at Laws and Policies, by SaumyaUma with an Introduction by Dr. Vibhuti Patel email us at admin@vacha.org.inVisit our website: www.vacha.org.in


marriage and before two years from attaining majority atthe age of 20. Where girls do end marriages, the law alsoprovides for their maintenance and residence untilremarriage from the male contracting parties or theirparents, as well as relevant custody orders for any childrenborn from the marriage. All offences are cognizable andnon-bailable under this law, and penalties for offences havebeen significantly enhanced to promote enforcement. 15 Astate-level Act that includes good practices to be replicatedat the national level is the Goa Children’s Act 2003. This lawis broadly worded, in concordance with the TraffickingProtocol, focuses on child trafficking both within India andacross borders, and is not limited to trafficking for sex workor commercial sexual exploitation. 16Several major policies contain some important protectionsbut are limited because they do not specifically addressadolescent girls. These include, for instance, the NationalPolicy for the Empowerment of Women (2001) whichcontains key protections for women including theelimination of discrimination and all forms of violenceagainst women and girls, and the National Health Policy(2002), which attempts to educate school and collegestudents on preventive health care, among otherprotections. Both of these subsume adolescent girls underthe categories of “women” and “children”.Additionally, there are several key laws that affectadolescent girls in India that Vacha recommends beamended. These include: the Right of Children to Free andCompulsory Education Act (RTE) (2009). The main featuresof the RTE, which safeguards free and compulsoryeducation for children aged 6 to 14, are summarized inTable 3. To fully empower adolescent girls, the RTE shouldbe changed to protect the right to education for children upto 18 years, which is the universally recognized definition ofa child under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child(CRC). 17 A recently passed law is the Child & AdolescentLabour (Prohibition) Act (2012). This law proposes acomplete ban on the employment of children under theage of 14 in all areas of work. Although children’s andadolescents’ rights advocates supported the law, they alsowarned that the amended law required political will,effective implementation, adequate budgets and robustenforcement to be fully enforced and impact the estimated12.6 million under-14s working in India. 18The Right ofChildren toFree andCompulsoryEducationAct (2009)(RTE)TheProhibitionof ChildMarriageAct (2006)ChildLabour(ProhibitionandRegulation)Act 1986TheImmoralTraffic(Prevention)Act (ITPA)(1956)ADOLESCENT GIRLS?This law: provides free and compulsoryeducation to all children in India aged 6to 14 years. No child can be held back,expelled, or required to pass a boardexamination until the completion ofelementary education, and that a childwho has not completed elementaryeducation has a right to receive specialtraining, and would be entitled to freeeducation until the completion ofelementary education, even if it extendsbeyond 14 years of age.One of the most powerful provisions inthis law is that child marriages arevoidable where the contracting party isa child at the time of marriage, asdiscussed earlier. Strong punishmentsinclude males over 18 years beingimprisoned for up to 2 years or beingfined lakh rupees, or both.This law prohibits child labour inhazardous occupations and regulatesconditions of work in the non-hazardouszones. It was amended in 2006 to banthe employment of children aged under14 even in non-hazardous industriessuch as hospitality (restaurants, hotelsetc) and domestic work.Sex work is legal where there is no thirdparty involved, it is not done in or near apublic place, it is not forced, where is nosolicitation, or when a sex workerresides alone. This law is limitedbecause it focuses only on abolishingtrafficking for sex work and sexualexploitation, it fails to integraterehabilitation with rescue of victims, itfails to expressly provide for theconfiscation of traffickers’ assets, and ithas no mandatory provisions on the roleof NGOs.TABLE NO. 3. SPOTLIGHT ON KEY LAWS THAT IMPACTADOLESCENT GIRLS IN INDIATITLE HOW DOES THE LAW PROTECT15Ibid, p. 184.16Ibid, p. 235.17Ibid, p. 80.18‘A move that could help reduce child labour’ The Wall Street Journal, 29August 2012, cited in ibid, p. 117.4To order the full publication, Rights of Adolescent Girls in India: A Critical Look at Laws and Policies, by SaumyaUma with an Introduction by Dr. Vibhuti Patel email us at admin@vacha.org.invisit our website: www.vacha.org.in

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