The whole world was shocked in hearing about a 23-year-old medical student being gang raped on a bus in New Delhi in December 2012. The woman boarded the bus together with her male friend when the bus driver and some passengers assaulted her, taking turns and even violating her with an iron rod. Her friend was held and beaten as she was raped. Then they were dumped off the bus, critically injured. The incident generated widespread international media coverage, and hundreds of thousands of Indians protested against the lack of adequate security for women in India. Two weeks later the young woman died from her injuries. This incident has opened the world’s eyes to India’s treatment of women and the underlying causes of abuse and injustice.
The highest child mortality rate in the world
Many children in India are victims of violations of their human rights, even though the country has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Since the 1990s India has undergone high economical growth. And despite this, no other country in the world can compare to the high child mortality of India. Yearly 1.83 million children under-five are dying. Worldwide one of five children dying before the age of five is Indian. The cause of this is poor hygiene, lack of knowledge on healthcare and diseases, lack of vaccinations, and malnutrition among the poor. 43 percent of children under-five suffer from malnutrition.
The girls; worst-case scenario
Generally speaking the girls must endure the worst scenarios. India is ranked as the fourth most dangerous country for a woman to live in, topped only by Afghanistan, DR Congo and Pakistan. Child marriage is a common practice at a very young age, the so-called child brides. More the 40 percent of all child marriages worldwide take place in this country even though Indian law has made it illegal. Harassment and violence against Indian women occurs both in the public and private sphere. Domestic violence and violence in close relationships are widely spread. Rapes are conducted on a daily basis; still most of them are never reported. The normal reaction from the woman’s family is to conceal the trespass and never inform or report the abuse either to the police or anyone else.
A family disaster
According to Hindu funeral rites a son brings honor to his family. This leads to female feticide and baby girls being strangled, poisoned, frozen and starved to death; only for being a girl. Indian marriages are mainly arranged marriages implying negotiations between the families. Tradition dictates parents or extended family to assign a dowry to a woman when married. Dowry is seen as a balancing custom so that the daughter also gets a share of her parent’s property, since the laws favor the sons. This is to give the newlyweds financial help from both the husband and wife’s families. This practice may leave a family as debt slaves for a lifetime, resulting in girls being deselected. Forced marriage may be the outcome of a situation where one or both parties are reluctant to the marriage. Physical violence, death threats, and deprivation of liberty are means used to force a girl or boy to marry a partner they don’t want to marry. Even though the payment of dowry was prohibited over 50 years ago by law, the problem is rather increasing than decreasing. As millions of baby girls are being murdered, a new problem is arising. The unbalance between the genders is increasing and the government has prohibited gender information to be given while at ultrasound. Still, abortion and killing of baby girls prevails in India.
A weak education system
As many as 270 million Indians don’t know how to read and write, 2/3 of them being women. Each state in India is required by the Constitution to provide 8 years of free and mandatory education for all children between the ages of 6 and 14. Education is supposed to be free, providing equal opportunities for all the children. In the late 1990’s close to 100 percent of the children started elementary school, while less the 50 percent completed secondary school. Only six percent graduated from college or university.
The different states are responsible for the curriculum for elementary and secondary school, leaving huge diversity in the education given to the children. In the public schools it is very normal for one teacher to have a hundred students in one class. Consequently those that can afford it choose to send their children to private schools. This only increases the gap between the rich and the poor.
With over 1.2 billion inhabitants, this is the country with the second highest population in the world. Experts predict India to pass China in a few years. 40 percent of the population is below 18, making India’s young population the largest in the world. Providing enough school places, jobs, residences, and healthcare to this large number of people has proven to be a huge problem.
For numerous Indians it is very difficult to escape the severe poverty ruling their lives. Poor people often lack education and a fixed income. If you are lucky enough to find a job, it’s often occasional work giving occasional income. And in this situation you are without any rights or protection if you get sick or injured at work. Most of these people don’t know anything about their rights and they have no understanding of the need of education for their children. Officially 37 percent of the country’s population is living below the poverty line of USD 1 a day. At the same time there are lots of Indians enjoying good living conditions.
The caste system originating from Hinduism was abolished when the former British colony received its independency in 1947. The Indian Government has prohibited the dividing of people into a caste system, but it is still practiced in the greater parts of society. This system groups people into four castes, and below these four castes are the untouchables. The untouchables have no rights at all. According to the government all the citizens of India have the same rights. There is a rapid abolition of the system in the cities, yet in the slum areas the untouchables are experiencing severe discrimination.
In the spotlight
In the wake of the gang rape, issues concerning the rights of women and children have made the spotlight. A commission appointed after the gang rape has concluded that a child is reported missing every eight minutes in India. Often these children are forced to work in factories, shops, private homes, or exploited as sex slaves. There are many domestic laws securing the rights of women and children in India. But very often the gap between legislation and reality is huge. The situation is most severe in rural areas. In these areas tradition has deep roots, and police and prosecutors are lacking knowledge of the legislation they are supposed to implement. Factors such as geography, class, caste, religion, and education play a major role in how women and children are treated.
The Red Cross claims that the high child mortality rate in India is meaningless, because countries with lesser resources have managed to solve the same problem. According to
The Red Cross a greater effort placed on providing poor children and their families with access to healthcare, sufficient amounts of food, clean drinking water, proper hygiene, and education, will reduce the high child mortality rate. The hindrances of discrimination and prejudice have to be abolished. The Health Service must focus on social integration of the untouchables and indigenous, ensuring them access to healthcare. The health workers must be trained in the areas of birthing and upbringing. Political leaders must focus on abolishing malnutrition, support breastfeeding and nutritional supplements, aid to children and mothers, provide nutritional education, treat acute diarrhea, develop food safety systems, and adjust and improve the agricultural production. The Red Cross also advocates for the government to set goals for reduction of child mortality and to plan how to reach them.
According to UNESCO, if women in the country had completed secondary education it would bring down child mortality by 61 percent. They claim education to be the most effective way to improve children’s health. Educated women have greater knowledge and awareness of their rights, leading to confidence and freedom to make decisions affecting their own lives, and increasing their potential for work. Education also leads to knowledge of theirs and their children’s health, increasing their chance of survival. UNESCO also advocates for girls to live at school dormitories as this, in their view, is the most effective way in preventing child marriage and preterm births.