Free schooling offer to tackle population rate and imbalance

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 September, 2005, 12:00am

The Indian government has announced plans to offer free secondary school and university education to girls who are their parents' only child, in an effort to curb population growth and the practice of aborting female children.

Besides the exemption of fees, such students will also get a monthly scholarship of 800 rupees ($140) at secondary level, 1,000 for undergraduates and 2,000 rupees at post-graduate level.

Families with only two female children will get fees cut by up to 50 per cent, but no scholarship.

Education is free for all only at primary level government schools.

The government hopes the plan, announced last week, will boost the status of girls in a society where parents traditionally prefer sons.

'Our scheme will help control the population considerably. We are particularly targeting those families who produce more children in the hope of a boy,' said a federal human resource development ministry official in New Delhi.

Literacy campaigners and other social activists have welcomed the latest scheme which will be open to all income groups and will be implemented from the next academic semester, starting in May, in all schools, colleges and universities, private or government run.

Calcutta educationalist Ashok Mitra said he believed the scheme would help promote schooling among girls in India, where more than 60 per cent of women are illiterate and 15 million girls of school age do not attend classes.

'Poorer parents, especially in villages and urban slums consider girls a burden,' Mr Mitra said.

'This scheme could help change that mass perception, encouraging parents to keep their daughters in studies, which they often don't do.'

However, some development professionals said that the educational scheme would have only a limited impact.

'Female feticide has been found to be widespread among the urban rich who can afford to send their children to school. The latest offer will have no effect on them,' said Narayan Banerjee, director of the Centre for Women's Development Studies.

According to the most recent government census in 2001, India has 927 girls per 1,000 boys, a steady decline from 945 girls per thousand boys in 1991 and 962 per 1,000 in 1981.

In some sections of India there are only 800 girls for every 1,000 boys.