International Day of the Girl Child is celebrated on October 11. As observed by the United Nations, the purpose of this day is to increase attention towards girls who are vulnerable to discrimination.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the International Day of Girl Child. How did the day come into effect? What is the theme of this year’s International Day of Girl Child? Where does India stand?

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The Beijing Declaration was one of the most important resolutions adopted by the United Nations at the Fourth World Conference on Women.

15 years after the Beijing Conference, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution declaring October 11 as the International Day of Girl Child. Every year, a particular theme dominates the day. This year, the theme is "Our time is now—our rights, our future".

According to UNICEF, “investments in girls’ rights remain limited and girls continue to confront a myriad of challenges to fulfilling their potential; made worse by concurrent crises of climate change, Covid-19, and humanitarian conflict.”

Similarly, the United Nations has pointed out, with the deteriorating condition due to Covid-19, up to 10 million girls are at risk of child marriage.

So, how does India intend to protect girl children?

India has passed several laws to safeguard a girl child. Such as the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, where child marriage is a criminal offence and provides for rigorous imprisonment.

There is the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2008 that provides free and compulsory education to children from the age of 6 to 14 years.

There is the Protection of Children from Sexual Harassment Act, 2012 or the POCSO Act, which aims to protect children from offences of sexual assault, pornography, and sexual harassments.

While there are several other laws to protect girl children, how is it in reality?

Despite safeguards, child marriage and sexual harassment are prevalent in India. According to a recent report, Jharkhand and West Bengal are two states where half of the women are married before the age of 21.

A government school teacher from West Bengal shared her experience about the discrimination that a girl child faces. She said, “There are so many instances of child marriage amongst girls. The discrimination starts from the day she is born as it is widely believed that a girl will not carry her family legacy. Similarly, a girl child has to cook and do all household chores, which deprive her of the time to study.”

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, in India, crime against children increased by 16.2% between 2020 and 2021. The total number of cases registered under the POCSO Act in 2021 was 53,874.

The road ahead for empowering the girl child

To quote Malala Yousafzai.” We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”