The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) has released a summary of research findings from its evaluation of a government program to enhance girls’ value in Haryana, India. The results were released at the National Press Club, in Washington, DC, and the House of Lords in London, UK.
Haryana is known for its long and persistent history of adverse sex ratios at birth (a higher number of sons born than daughters) and high rates of child marriage. In Haryana, sons are expected to carry forward the family lineage and to serve as primary caretakers of parents in their old age, while daughters are considered from birth to belong to their marital family and so are deemed “another’s wealth.”
The program, Apni Beti Apna Dhan (ABAD) or “Our Daughters Our Wealth”, was among the first of its kind, and was designed to increase the value of girls. The program, implemented between 1994 and 1998, provided mothers of eligible daughters 500 rupees at the time of birth of the daughter, and then deposited a cash bond of 2,500 rupees in the name of the enrolled girl that would mature to 25,000 rupees, or around $400 USD, if – and only if – the beneficiary girl remained unmarried at the age of 18.
ICRW’s evaluation of the program took a look at the following questions: Whether or not girls remained unmarried at age 18; whether or not beneficiary girls were more likely to stay in school longer or complete schooling; and whether or not attitudes and behaviors among parents and girls in ABAD households indicate more value for girls and support for alternatives to marriage?
No baseline information was collected when the program began in 1994. During the first year of the study in 2010, ICRW collaborated with the government of Haryana to ensure availability of records and secure buy-in from key stakeholders. For the evaluation ICRW interviewed a total of 5,694 girls of the older-age cohort and 4,444 girls of the younger-age cohort in 2012. The mothers of the girls surveyed were also interviewed. A second survey, conducted between 2014 and 2015, followed the older-age cohort girls and their mothers. Additionally, qualitative data was collected from nearly 300 respondents including girls and their parents.
Our research found that that the program did not affect the probability of being ever-married or the probability of marriage before the age of 18. And while the research did not find that the program had any effect on delaying age of marriage for girls who participated in the program, ICRW did find that beneficiaries were more likely to get married exactly at age 18. This is likely because many beneficiary families saw the cash as a way to help defray the cost of a wedding or to contribute to a dowry payment. Among all beneficiary girls who had not yet cashed out, 53 percent intended to use the cash for their marriage and 32 percent for education. In terms of actual use, about three-fourths of the girls who had married and cashed out their benefits had used it to meet their marriage expenses.
Girls who participated in the program were more likely to be enrolled in 8th grade, but the program has not had an effect on girls staying in school beyond this level to the12th grade or higher levels. The qualitative research showed that while parents do wish to educate girls, it is chiefly in order to groom them for a good marriage. While the program has positively affected girls’ aspirations for secondary education beyond 8th grade, these are affected by several factors. Up until 8th grade, schools are available in close proximity of almost every village. As girls transition to secondary schools, which are further from their villages, requiring travel to attend them, there are additional financial and safety challenges for girls and their families. To protect girls from perceived sexual transgressions, parents often elect not to send their daughters to secondary school.
ICRW’s Priya Nanda, lead researcher for the ABAD program, said, “What we found was that uprooting deep-seated discriminatory norms around girls and marriage requires more than just a simple cash transaction. Based on ICRW’s evaluations of other initiatives, it requires sustained, multi-sectoral interventions that change attitudes and aspirations for girls.”
Ultimately, a girl’s marriage is given the utmost importance, over and above other considerations, including her aspirations for higher education. We find that the CCT as designed was insufficient to change these prevailing gender roles and expectations; in fact, the program may even have reinforced notions that girls are a burden, as the money was often seen as intended to offset the costs of getting them married.
ICRW’s evaluation of the ABAD program also highlighted challenges in the implementation of the program; including the lack of effective communication about the intent of the program and challenging the understanding that the program was to help defray marriage costs. The research indicates that a lack of additional complementary programs for enhancing girls’ safety also limits the effectiveness of CCT programs, as fears for girls’ safety is also a key factor in not sending girls to study beyond the 8th grade. The implementation also contained challenges around the payout of the bond: although promised INR 25,000 (approximately US$380), girls actually received INR 8,000-19,000 (US$120-290), which may affect people’s confidence in future CCT programs.
“This research shows that when encountering deeply complex social issues, like gender-based discrimination and early or forced marriage, there is no silver bullet,” said ICRW’s President, Sarah Degnan Kambou. “While we would have liked to have seen more positive results, it is incredibly important to know and to share information on what does not work. Having this data will help us all refine and improve programs to promote alternatives to child marriage.”