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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 September 2005, 15:17 GMT 16:17 UK
Free school for one-girl families
By Jyotsna Singh
BBC News, Delhi

Classroom in Gujarat, India
The free-school offer will apply to children from all income groups
The Indian government says it will reward girls from single child families with free education and other benefits.

The move is intended to bolster India's dwindling female population and help promote population control.

Under the plan, education for such girls will be made free at secondary level. They will also be given scholarships for postgraduate study.

The government says the policy will apply to all schools and colleges, both government and privately run.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development says education for girls from single child families will be absolutely free at secondary school level (from sixth to 12th grade).

It is definitely a step forward in empowering women
Veena Nair, President of Women's Political Watch
The ministry will also offer fellowships of $45 per month for postgraduate studies.

The plan will be available to all income groups.

Families with only two girls will also get a 50% reduction in fees.

Societal attitudes

The government says it wants to change society's perception of girls.

It hopes the new move will bring down the strong preference for sons in the country, which it says is adding to population pressure with families producing more children in the hope of a male child.

The desire for male children often also leads to selective abortions and discrimination against girls.

The scheme must be implemented by all schools and colleges private or government run, federal or provincial.

At post-graduate level the funding will, however, be limited to non-professional courses.

Women groups have welcomed the announcement.

"It is definitely a step forward in empowering women", Veena Nair, President of Women's Political Watch told the BBC.

However, she added: "The government must adopt a more holistic approach at empowering women by looking at a whole spectrum rather than this schematic or piecemeal approach".

India, with a population of over one billion, has only 933 women per thousand men according to the 2001 census.

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