Mamata Banerjee governments flagship “Kanyashree” scheme launched in October 1, 2013 has already received a whopping six-lakh applications. The state targets to cover 24-lakh beneficiaries by October, 2014, but if the rate of applications is any indication it would overachieve its target by nearly five-lakhs, if not more.
Under the Kanyashree scheme, unmarried girls between 13-18 years and studying in VIII -XII standards in an institute affiliated to the state government are eligible for a scholarship of Rs 500 per annum. Class VIII is the level at which many girl students usually drop out and are married off. This apart, there is a provision for one-time grant of Rs 25,000 for unmarried girls between 18 and 19 years pursuing higher education or a vocational or sports course in a state-government affiliated institute.
West Bengal has an adolescent (10-19 years) population of 1.73 crores, out of which 48.11% are girls. The age group 10-14 years forms 9.3% of the total population while 15-19 forms 9.7% of the total population. Out of the applications made 50,244 applications seeking scholarships and 2,705 applications seeking the one-time grant have already been approved.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had herself said the primary mission is to provide some relief to the poor girl students and their empowerment through improved education. UNICEF in a 2011 report had painted a grim picture. It said more than half of children aged five to nine fail to complete their primary education. Both child marriage and child labour discourage girls’ education. By age 15, one girl out of every five in West Bengal is married. In contrast, one boy out of 100 is married by this age. More than one quarter of girls are married to men who are ten or more years older. Almost half of female teens are pregnant by age 19. About 1.2 million children aged five to 14 years are working illegally, and represent almost five per cent of the state’s total child population.
According to DLHS – 3 (2007-08), West Bengal shows the fifth highest prevalence of child marriage amongst all the states with 54.7% currently married women (age 20-24) being married before 18. The incidence is even higher in rural areas (57.9%). Every second girl in the high prevalence child marriage districts of West Bengal – Murshidabad (61.04%), Birbhum (58.03%), Malda (56.07%) and Purulia (54.03%) – were married off before they reach 18, the legal age for girls to get wedded. Mamata herself feels Kanyashree scheme will be an enabler to elevate the education, health and nutrition status of women and children.