India's #selfiewithdaughter campaign: Can Modi save more girls?

India’s Prime Minister starts a Twitter trend to promote the 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' program.

Adnan Abidi/Reuters
Indian Prime Minister Modi gestures while addressing the gathering during the launch of Digital India Week in New Delhi.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi started a Twitter trend this past week following a radio address. He called for parents to tweet photos of themselves with their daughters and the hastag #selfiewithdaughter to promote his “Beti Bachao, Beti Padao” (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) campaign.

While some laud the simple concept – setting an visual example that values women, critics note that Mr. Modi's party has cut funding to government programs supporting women. The Indian government has said that the lower welfare spending will be compensated for by giving state governments a larger allocation of tax revenues to spend as they choose, in order that they might be able to allocate funds more effectively. 

The Beti Bachao, Beti Padao program is a nationwide effort to address the social bias against girls, stop prenatal sex selection and the aborting of baby girls, and to improve health and education of girls in India. The plan is built on a budget of $31.5 million over three years.

Over the past two decades, India has almost closed its gender gap in primary education and considerably improved the secondary school gap: For every 100 boys who attend school, 98 girls now attend primary school and 85 girls attend secondary school. But sex-selection abortions have risen over the same period, The Christian Science Monitor reports

The 2011 Census shows that there are 37 million more men than women in India. In 2014, a report by the United Nations Women titled “Sex Ratios and Gender Biased Sex Selection” found that India currently has 110 boys born for every 100 girls born; the typical sex ratio at birth is 105 males for every 100 females. 

A report released by India’s Planning Commission for the years 2012-2017 characterized this imbalance as, “a silent demographic disaster in the making.”

Gender imbalance reflects a cultural preference for sons and creates a long-term situation of males that will not be able to get married in a society where marriage is, "virtually universal, and where social status depends, in large part, on being married and having children." according to a report conducted by the National Institute of Health. 

In his Independence Day address in August, 2014, Prime Minister Modi discussed a number of topics typically not highlighted by Indian leaders in this annual speech, including issues of rape and female infanticide rates in the nation.

"Today the sex ratio is 940 girls to 1,000 boys. Who is creating this imbalance? Not God," said Modi.

The ratio is even more striking when considering children under the age of 6. In the 2011 census, there were 914 girls for every 1,000 boys which is less than the 927 girls for 1,000 a decade ago.

Modi credited the campaign idea to Sunil Jaglan, the village head in Haryana, a state in northern India with one of the country's worst child-gender ratios, who has conducted a number of campaigns in order to empower women. 

The #selfiewithdaughter campaign parallels another Modi Twitter campaign with the hashtag, #selfiewithmodi, in which the prime ministerial candidate’s party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), collected over 70,000 photos that people had taken, with an app that allowed them to appear as though they were standing next to candidate Modi. A thousand selfie booths were set up around malls and parking lots in Delhi to make this campaign possible.

Modi currently faces criticism regarding budget allocation as the Indian government recently cut budgets that supported drinking water and welfare for women and children, specifically from the Women and Child Development Ministry.

In the 2014-2015 revised budget, the Women and Child Development Ministry was allocated close to $3 billion for the fund. In the 2015-2016 budget, the ministry has been allocated about 50 percent of past year’s budget. In 2014, India experienced a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of 7.4 percent, with a Gross National Income per capita of $5,760. 

The 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' campaign has an overall goal of "Improvement in the Child Sex Ratio in 100 Gender Critical Districts." According to the strategic plan, "The Ministry of Women and Child Development would be responsible for budgetary control and administration of the scheme from the Centre." 

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