Indian girls in single-child families will receive free education through secondary school as well as partial scholarships if they want to continue their studies further, an official said Monday.
The decision is intended to make parents value their daughters and change the perception of girls in Indian society, which traditionally prefers boys.
Families with two girls - but no boys - will be eligible for a 50 percent reduction in school fees. Families with more than two girls are not eligible for the help, said a statement from India's Ministry of Human Resource Development.
About 11,000 girls will be eligible every year for the scholarships, the statement said, a tiny fraction of a country whose population is more than 1 billion.
Indian society has long favored boys, who are allowed to light funeral pyres in Hindu funeral rituals, and who do not require the enormous dowry payments that bankrupt many poor Indian families when Indian girls marry.
The decision was made last week by the Indian ministry, which oversees the country's schools, said U. Moray, a ministry spokesman, and will be available to all income groups. It will apply in both private and government-run schools and colleges.
Though all fees will be paid through secondary school, girls who continue on with their education will receive monthly stipends ranging from US$11 to US$45,depending on the level of schooling and the course of study.
The move is aimed at correcting India's skewed gender ratio, the result of parents aborting female fetuses.
The preference for sons "has led to various abhorrent practices, including female feticide," said the statement.
Although ultrasound tests to determine sex is illegal in India, the falling ratio of girls to boys indicates the growing use of prenatal sex-determination tests. The result is that although women outnumber men in most parts of the world, India has 933 women for every 1,000 men, according to the 2001 government census.
While some analysts welcomed the government's decision to make education free, some said centuries-old prejudices against girls could only be wiped out by an all-out strategy to end other widespread social evils, the AP reports.