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Girls in the Twilight Zone- South and Southeast Asian Scenario

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Item Code: NAZ134
Author: Lipi Ghosh and Paula Banerjee
Publisher: University of Calcutta
Language: English
Edition: 2003
Pages: 144
Other Details 9.50 X 6.00 inch
Weight 220 gm
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About the Authors
Lipi Ghosh specializes in Southeast Asian colonial history of late nineteenth century at the University of Calcutta. Her other major areas of interest are ethnicity, minority studies and women's questions. Her books are Burma: Myth of French Intrigue (Naga Uddyog, Kolkata, 1994) and Prostitution in Thailand: Myth and Reality, (Munshiram Manoharlal Pvt. Limited, New Delhi, 2002). Her other works are Religious Minorities in South Asia : Selected Essays on Post- Colonial Situation (co-edited), Manak Publications Pvt. Limited, New Delhi, 2002. & Ethnicity, Nation, Identity: The South Asian Scenario, (co-edited). Manak Publications Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi. She has also published many academic articles in several reputed national & international journals. Proficient in French & Thai language, Dr Ghosh was formerly a Visiting Associate to the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, Visiting Scholar and Visiting Professor to Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, Paris, Academic Affiliate to the School of Oriental and African Studies, London and Asia Fellow and Visiting Scholar in the Institute of Thai Studies, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand. Recently she has been awarded the prestigious Visiting Scholarship to SEAP. Cornell University, USA under Follow- up Grant of Asia Fellowship under aegis of Ford Foundation. Currently Dr Ghosh is a Reader in the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Calcutta, India and she also teaches in the Department of History, University of Calcutta.

Paula Banerjee specialises in diplomatic history and has worked on American foreign policy in South Asia at the University of Cincinnati where she was the recipient of the prestigious Taft Fellowship. Her book entitled When Ambitions Clash: Indo-US relations from 1947 to 1974 is forthcoming. She has been working on themes related to women and borders in South Asia and has published extensively in journals such as International Studies and Canadian Women's Studies on issues such as histories of borders and women in conflict situations. She has also worked extensively on women's issues in general both as a researcher and an activist. She has co-authored a book on Women in Society and Politics of France. Dr. Banerjee received the WISCOMP Fellow of Peace Award in 2001-2002 for her work on women in grass-root peacemaking in South Asia. She is the recipient of a number of international and national awards and grants. Currently she is teaching at the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Calcutta.

Apathy and open discrimination against girl children begin in the very early stages of their lives. Often they are literally destroyed even before they are born. In infancy many of them are treated with contempt. In thousands of families they are the last to be fed. Even after the UN- declared Decade of Girl Child has passed, the situation of girl children in South and Southeast Asia has not improved to any considerable extent. Even though in most countries sex-test of fetus is illegal, it rampantly continues with enormous consequences for the girl child. In India the 2001 census has portrayed that ratio of girls among 0-6 year old children has fallen further. I am glad to learn that the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies has initiated discussions on the situation of girl children in these two regions. This volume is a product of such discussion.

Papers presented in this volume are particularly noteworthy because most of them deal with the most vulnerable within the vulnerable category of girl children. For example, while discussing health issues, contributors have paid particular attention to the problems of female married adolescents, a much-ignored category. Regarding education, the authors have paid special attention to the problems of girls from minority communities. The editors have done an able job of focussing on the situation of girl children from different countries of South as well as Southeast Asia. They have done the right thing by putting the whole question in a comparative framework and urging for common policies among countries of these two regions.

What I particularly liked about this collection is that the authors have contextualized the problems within the larger socio-economic scenario. The volume contains historical overviews, policy analyses of different countries and specific case studies.

Problems for the girl child crop up as soon she is conceived in her mother's womb. Would she survive or wouldn't? With female feticide and infanticide on the rise, particularly in western India and parts of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. The Government of India was forced to enact the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994, banning amniocentesis and making its unethical misuse or advertisement punishable with upto 3 years imprisonment.

Again, while Article 21 of the Indian Constitution professes the right to life and personal liberty for men and women alike, sexual exploitation of underage girls is a cruel reality. India was a signatory to the 'U. N. International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children' as well as the 'International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons for Prostitution'. In addition, the `Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act, 1986' and the 'Juvenile Justice Act' sought to address this burning issue. However, women and minor teenagers found in the flesh trade are victims of adverse socio-economic circumstances which cannot be eradicated by paper-based enactment. The customary initiation of young girls into the practice of Devadasi, Jogin and Venkatasin, prevalent in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra areas and the resultant practice of prostitution is a heinous crime against the person and minds of these innocent children. The girl children of prostitute-mothers are also exposed to an unhealthy atmosphere with little or no chance of social acceptability or rehabilitation. Recently, the Supreme Court in `Gourav Jain and Union of India (1997) laid down guidelines involving counselling, cajoling, coercion and NGO assistance in exercise of its rule-making power while addressing this problem. Like a vicious cycle, more and more girls are lured into the prostitution trade. On misinterpreting fictitious offers of marriage or lucrative jobs in big cities millions of girls from India and across the border from Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh and south-east Asia become victims of such gross human rights violations.

The Context

In the context of South and Southeast Asia it is evident today that gender disparities have vitiated the process of development. Women face occasions of marginalisation from their infancy. According to Charlotte Bunch, Executive Director of the Centre for Women's Global Leadership, "violence against women and girls, many of whom are brutalised from cradle to grave simply because of their gender, is the most pervasive human rights violation in the world today."' India, which is the largest state in all of South Asia, reflects this alarming trend of increasing vulnerability of women among developing countries. Data from the 2001 census in India portrays that the sex-ratio for 0-6 year olds fell from 945 females in 1991 to 927 in 2001. "The new figures give India one of the world's lowest ratios for women to men; the statistical norm is 1050 females for every 1000 males."' Considering that this lowering of sex ratio of 0 to 6 years happened during the decade declared by the UN as the decade of girl child prompted us to organise a discussion on Alternatives to the Problems of Girl Child in South & Southeast Asia in the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, Calcutta University, in November 2001. This volume is a collection of papers presented in that seminar.


In the Indian subcontinent concern for the girl child was first reflected during the debates over sari. Campaigns for banning satidaha, or immolation of widows, led by Raja Rammohan Ray had enormous significance for the girl child as child marriages was the order of the day. Records from the 24 parganas alone portray that in one year thirty five widows were burnt of whom there were two Brahmin girls aged sixteen and seventeen and one Kayastha girl aged nineteen.3 The next occasion when girl children became part of the popular discourse was during the debates over the Age of Consent Bill in 1891. This was necessitated by the death of Phulmoni, a ten-year old girl, who was the victim of marital rape. After this for a few years girl children disappeared from current debates. During this period the girl child as one observer says is only "captured in an idiom of loss. A girl child is the cause of mother's tears for all the hostility she has to suffer in her marital home."4 In the same vein Katherine Mayo wrote on the horrible fate of girl children in India in her book Mother India in 1931. By that time internationally the Geneva Declaration of 1924 had already highlighted that girl children are a particularly susceptible category. Yet programs for betterment of the situation of girl children in South and Southeast Asia did not materialise until much later.

In the 1970s when the United Nations declared the Decade for Women, research in the situation of young adult women generated tremendous interest. It became clear that the situation of girl child is directly related to the status of women. Yet the problematic part is that questions about girl children could not be subsumed completely within gender issues. For a better understanding of the situation of the girl child it was necessary to develop a syncretic vision on the situation of both women and children. Hence the decade of 1990 was declared as the decade of girl child.

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