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Women play a vital role in moulding the destiny of our civilization. But the girl child, very often, not only faces neglect and inequality but sometimes the gravest forms of violence. In India, in many places, traditions challenge the very existence of girl child. In spite of remarkable hue and cry about gender equality and the enforcement of laws for achieving the same, a large number of new-born girls are still being abandoned in the garbage, while the unborn female foetuses continue to be sniffed in the womb. Discrimination and prejudices of our society often dealt the girl with a rough hand, beginning even before their birth and following through infancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood till the last lap of their life. The neglect of the girl child begins early in life. The extent of neglect varies from family to family. But in comparison to her male counterpart a female child is relatively neglected in most of the socio economic strata.

When the status of girls is significantly less than that of boys, girls become more susceptible to discrimination and neglect. Available indicators reveal that girls are discriminated against from the earliest stages of life in the areas of nutrition, health care, education, family care and protection. Girls are often fed less, particularly when there are diminished food resources. A diet low in calories, protein and nutrients negatively affects girls’ growth and development. Less likely to receive basic health care, they are at increased risk of childhood mortality. In 2007, an estimated 101 million children worldwide — the majority of whom were girls — did not attend primary schools (UNICEF, 2010).

United Nations Convention on the rights of the Child (CRC) specifies in Article 18 that every child has a right to education, and that the State’s duty is to ensure that primary education is free and compulsory, to encourage different forms of secondary education accessible to every child, and to make higher education available to all on the basis of capacity,. But still 140 million children in the world still do not attend schools and two third of them are girls (Howley et al 2000). Over the years, the girl-child has been revoltingly neglected. She is left out in decision making, utilized at homes without due remunerations, kept as home keeper. (Fishel, 1998). She has never ever being given a chance to make her own choices.

Education is a fundamental human right that should be availed to all citizens, irrespective of age, sex and nationality. Girl child education is a sine qua none to the realization of total women empowerment and emancipation across the globe, and involves the formal (and sometimes informal) training of a girl child in knowledge and skills of daily living (Oleribe 2002). Denial of education is the commonest manifestation of neglect of child education – the most retrogressive of all forms of child neglect. It refers to the inability or refusal of a system to provide the girl child opportunity for a qualitative and timely education. (Oleribe, 2002). Today’s girls, who are our sisters and friends, are tomorrow’s wives and mothers. When a woman is trained the whole family is positively impacted. Their mental empowerment by education demolishes thoughtlessness and positively enhances parenting, helping them impart the right kind of virtues and skills on the family. What we therefore want in tomorrow’s children should first be put in the girls of today, since they are the teachers of tomorrow’s children. Many families are having trouble today just because the wife / mother in the home are not educated and so cannot meet the societal and family expectations.

Types of neglect faced by a girl during childhood

Child neglect is defined as a type of maltreatment related to the failure to provide needed, age-appropriate care. Professionals have defined four types of neglect faced by a girl during childhood: physical, emotional, educational, and medical.

Physical neglect

Physical neglect involves failure to meet the girl child’s basic physical requirements such as food, shelter, clothing, health, supervision or proper weather protection. It also includes child abandonment, which is the neglecting of a child without arranging for sensible care or supervision, the rejection of a child leading to segregation from the home and failing to provide for the child’s safety.

Educational neglect

It occurs when a girl child is not receiving schooling though she is of mandatory school age. When a parent is reluctant to pay for a child’s education or does not provide the essential academic environment at home, it is considered as educational neglect. Allowing a girl child to constantly skip school and not seeking special educational help for learning problems are also considered to be different types of educational neglect.

Emotional neglect

Emotional neglect means failure to meet the girl child’s emotional and psychological needs. It also includes indifference and a lack of interest to a girl child’s psychological state or emotional needs and refusal or delay in providing needed psychological care as well as encouragement. When a parent keeps back emotional affection from the girl child and treats it as a form of discipline it also becomes emotional neglect.

Medical neglect

It is the failure to provide for proper health care for the girl child. The girl child who is medically neglected may reveal signs of poor health, such as fatigue, infected cuts, and constant itching or scratching of skin. It also includes leaving a girl child with a medical condition unsupervised and failing to administer medical attention.

Symptoms of child neglect

Symptoms shown by a neglected girl child can be categorized into two – physical and emotional.

Physical

The physical symptoms shown by a neglected girl child are the following:

  • Slower-than-normal development from an emotional, social, and academic perspective.
  • Failure to achieve proper height and weight gains according to age.
  • Doubtful or inexplicable injuries on the child’s body.

Emotional Symptoms

Emotional symptoms shown by a girl neglected during childhood are the following.

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  • Scared to talk about a parent or showing fear when a parent’s name is brought up in talks.
  • Low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • When the child says nobody is at home to care for her
  • Difficulty focusing during studies withdrawn from social activities
  • Not wanting to go back home

Common causes of girl child neglect

The common causes of neglecting a girl during childhood

Economic support

The traditional social set-up centers on the son as being the main bread winner of the family. He is expected to earn and look out his parents in their old age. Even if the girls are financially independent today and earning their own living many believe that they could not take help from her as she belongs to someone else.

Financial liability

It is apparently more costly to bring up a girl child. Not only is the girl child to be educated, but also have to save up for her marriage and maybe for other occasions in her life.

Cultural programming

Many societies believe that a girls’ place of performance is in their husband’s home and so they should focus only on getting the right man. For those societies, concentrating on her physical, psychological and educational development is not worthy.

Parental economic poverty is responsible as a major cause of neglecting girl child. Child labour keeps girls out of school, whether in the home as house workers, caretakers of younger siblings, or in the workforce (Howley et al 2000).

There are some cultural practices that are not in favor of girl child education which over the years have denied several girl children the opportunity to acquire formal education or to drop out half way. As a result they no longer identify the neglect and discrimination imposed on them.

Consequences of neglect faced by a girl child

Childhood is a period when memories form, emotional, social, and cognitive development takes place and when children become receptive to their environments. Their experience later shapes up who they become as adults and influences their well-being, career, and life, in general. The effects of neglect in childhood result in long-term consequences when they go overlooked. Long-term neglect shapes up personalities into abnormal types if left unchecked. When she grows up into an adult, she may see the world in a twisted perspective as a result of long-term neglect. The common long-term effects of neglect are:

Interpersonal Relationship

The girl child exposed to neglect experience problems in interpersonal relationships such as retreating from social conversations, avoiding active participation in communities, having difficulty in interacting with peers etc.

Learning and Development

Poor academic performance, difficulty in developing expected speech and language patterns according to one’s age, and poor scores associated with reading and mathematics are exhibited by the neglected girl child.

Mental Health

A neglected girl child builds up mental health disorders like PTSD, ADHD, anxiety, stress, and depression. Eating disorders like anorexia may also be linked with childhood emotional neglect.

Suicide

Research studies suggest that neglect during childhood can be associated to an increased risk of suicidal attempts in girl children. The risk of suicide is higher due to the internal feelings that they experience and suppress within themselves.

Higher levels of substance abuse like drugs, tobacco, and alcohol are linked to increased childhood emotional neglect. They turn to drugs and alcohol when they no longer find a channel or person they can talk to about their feelings. Since their only source of comfort disappears, they find comfort in substances.

Research suggests that children exposed to pain through neglect are more likely to manifest aggressive behaviours and inflict pain on others. Youth violence and criminal activity are strong indicators of child neglect in the past.

Prevention

Understanding neglect requires an awareness of related social problems such as poverty, substance abuse and domestic violence. Prevention of neglect through extensive care and enhanced educational services will benefit both children and parents. The following ways can prevent neglect experienced by a girl during childhood:

  • Providing education to parents related to how to cope with the daily stressors of life, and teaching parents how to provide a nurturing environment for their girl child.
  • Mental health services to parents who face depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders will mitigate stress and enable parents to come out of their problems and care for children.
  • Increasing public and social awareness of girl child neglect in communities will be essential towards the change that’s needed to prevent it.
  • Policies should be drafted and resources must be allocated to programs that implement the changes necessary to prevent girl child neglect.

In many parts of India, the birth of a girl child is not welcomed. Right from her arrival, she faces discrimination, humiliation, and oppression at every stage of life. When it comes to healthcare, education and growth opportunities, she is neglected because of her gender. Some manage to survive and foster new paths to follow. Most, however, surrender hopelessly to the sad fate given to them. What really needs to happen is a change from within each one of us. At the grassroots level we need to evolve new thought processes and promote these to our next generation. It is only then that we might have a fighting chance of eradicating gender bias. We want to be part of a world where girls are celebrated, where they are treated equally, with love and respect. What is immediately required in a society today is a change of attitude. Girls must be given the same opportunities and protection as boys, and must be treated with equality. But what we see in most societies today is the other way round. A girl’s childhood can and must be preserved, cherished, nurtured and protected. Because she has the right to survive, develop, be protected and participate in decisions that impact her life.

Reference

  1. Aragon, Janni and Miller, Mariel.(2012).Global Women’s Issues: Women in the World Today. Bureau of International Information Programs, United States Department of State
  2. Fishel J (1998). Educating girls: population growth’s silver bullet? ZPG Report. Jun. 30(3):3.
  3. Howley EM, Leslie B, Ross R, Bloom FK, and Schmalz K. (Eds) (2000). Education and the Girl Child. NGO Committee on UNICEF. UN Plaza, New York, USA.
  4. Khan, Parveen Nuzhat.(2016). Child Rights and The Law, universal Law Publishing, Haryana.
  5. Oleribe OEO (2002). The Concept of Child Abuse: An Anti-Child Abuse Society of Africa (ACASA). National War College Press, Abuja, Nig. 16-137.
  6. Osita-Oleribe, E Obinna.(2007). Neglect of Girl Child Education: bridging the gap- A case study of a Nigerian agrarian northern community. International NGO Journal Vol. 2 (2), pp. 030-035.
  7. www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/child-neglecthaqcrc.org/child-rights/indian-laws-policiespib.nic.in/newsite/mbErel.aspx?relid=116872
  8. https://parenting.firstcry.com/articles/child-neglect-causes-effects-and-prevention
  9. http://www.unicef.org/rightsite/484_540.htm

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