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Old 03-06-2008, 02:56 AM   #1
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India Offers Poor Families Cash To Keep Girls

The Hindu (Chennai), March 4

NEW DELHI -- The government on Monday launched ‘Dhan Laxmi,’ a conditional cash transfer scheme for the girl child. A significant amount of money will be provided to the family of the girl child on fulfilling certain conditions. The conditions include registration of birth of the girl, following total immunisation schedule, school enrolment and delaying of marriage until the age of 18 years. In addition, an insurance cover to the tune of Rs.1 lakh will be provided to the girl child at birth, Minister of State for Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury said here while launching the scheme.

Announced to mark the International Women’s Day—celebrated on March 8—Ms. Chowdhury said that in all a cash package of Rs.2 lakh will be provided to the girl’s family, preferably to the mother, through the scheme.

The scheme is to be launched on a pilot basis in 11 educationally most backward blocks of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. It will cover both those living below and above the poverty line. An outlay of Rs.10 crore has been proposed for 2008-09 benefiting 101,970 girl children.

Ms. Chowdhury said that the objective of the scheme was to provide a set of staggered financial incentives for families to encourage them for better upbringing of the girl child and to educate her. She said the scheme will also help in changing the mindset of the family towards the girl by linking cash and non-cash transfers of her well-being. This will ensure that the girl child is seen as an asset rather than a liability as her existence will lead to cash inflow to the family, the Minister said.
"Rs. (rupees) 1 lakh/2 lakh" is about US $2500/$5000, and "Rs.10 crore" is about US $2.49 million.

For rural areas of the seven states named to be included in this pilot scheme, the poverty line for an average-size family (i.e. a family of 5) would be roughly 21,000 rupees per year. And a total cash package of Rs.2 lakh distributed over the 18 years of a girl's upbringing would mean, effectively, an extra 11,000 rupees per year for her family. So that is definitely a substantial sum of money.

I do find the idea of the state doling out cash for raising girls a bit jolting; on the other hand, the sex ratios found in some of the aforementioned "backward blocks" (I believe the lowest ratio is currently 821 girls per 1000 boys) are even more jolting. In recent years the Indian government has tried a whole string of incentives and public education campaigns to address this crisis--I remember last year around this time, they introduced a scheme where poor families were encouraged to bring their unwanted girl babies to a palna (regional baby drop-off station--not sure how else to describe it!) for transfer to a government orphanage. Unsurprisingly, the results of that strategy have been underwhelming--hopefully this one will achieve much more. Considering how lopsided the sex ratios already are in some areas of India, they simply can't afford to wait and hope that increasing economic growth might remedy the problem on its own.
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