New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) India will offer free secondary school and university education to girls who are their parents' only child in an effort to curb population growth and especially end the practice of selective abortions.
The plan includes exemption from school fees as well as a monthly scholarship of 800 rupees (( 14.9, US$ 16) for students at secondary level, 1,000 rupees for undergraduates ( 18, US$ 19) and 2,000 ( 36, US$ 38) for post-graduate students. Families with only two female children will get fees cut by up to 50 per cent, but no scholarship.
In India, education is free for all only at primary level government schools but female illiteracy still stands at 60 per cent.
Under this plan, the government hopes to boost the status of girls in a society where parents traditionally prefer sons.
"Our scheme will help control the population considerably. We are particularly targeting those families who produce more children in the hope of a boy," said an official with the federal Human Resource Development Ministry in New Delhi.
Literacy campaigners and other social activists have welcomed the latest scheme which will be open to all income groups and will be implemented from the next academic semester, starting in May, in all schools, colleges and universities, whether privately- or government-run.
Some experts though warn that the plan will have a limited impact.
"Female feticide has been found to be widespread among the urban rich who can afford to send their children to school. The latest offer will have no effect on them," said Narayan Banerjee, director of the Centre for Women's Development Studies.
In most parts of the world, females tend to outnumber males at birth, a fact that reflects normal demographic trends and greater female resistance. However, in countries such as India and China, the opposite is true because of selective abortions and infanticide.
According to the most recent government census, India had 927 girls per 1,000 boys in 2001, a steady decline from 945 girls per 1,000 boys in 1991 and 962 per 1,000 in 1981. In some regions of the country, there are only 800 girls for every 1,000 boys.
India has traditionally experimented some of the most aggressive population control policies relying on abortions, contraception and sterilisation.
Recently, the government has started moving towards other forms of family planning that include a campaign in favour of natural methods of birth control among couples.