The 3 Biggest Reasons that India’s Girls Drop Out of School

By Nisha Bala, AIF Metcalf Intern Summer 2014

“Our Constitution fathers did not intend that we just set up hovels, put students there, give untrained teachers, give them bad textbooks, no playgrounds, and say, we have complied with Article 45 and primary education is expanding…They meant that real education should be given to our children between the ages of 6 and 14.”

– M. C. Chagla – Education Minister of India, 1963-66

LAMPIt is somewhat incredible that fifty years after M. C. Chagla rued the state of Indian education, after funding and development, the problems seem to have barely changed at all.  India has seen a steady increase in primary school enrollment over the last decade– as of 2013, over 96% of rural Indian children of primary school age had enrolled in the schooling system, up from hovering around 80-85% in the early 2000’s.

However, many of these students leave – a UNESCO 2012 report[1] shows that 13.54 million South Asian students leave school before completing their primary education. This problem presents in increasingly large proportions too – to take one state as an example, in 2013 over 14% of female students between the ages of 7 – 16 went missing from school in Maharashtra, as opposed to 11.7% in 2012. Thus, it seems that although the prevalent ethos and the legislation (including the Right to Education Act of 2008) in India nearly guarantees that every Indian student will start schooling, it does not yet have the abilities to ensure that the environment to actually attain an education exists.

The effect of this problem is indeed exacerbated where women are concerned, as effective literacy rates in 2011 was at about 82.14% for men, versus 65.46% for women. So why do girls, in particular, leave school?

There is obviously no single good answer, nor is there conclusive data to show us which factors relatively impact girls the most. However we can identify a range of possibilities that could suggest specific reasons for the marginalization of girls from the schooling system.

1. Expectations of Domesticity

To start with, girls are expected to contribute to the household far younger than boys are – the implicit understanding being that a girl is being trained for a role as a wife, mother and daughter-in-law, whereas boys are being trained for an occupation. Girls get married younger than boys do – a Harvard School of Public Health survey[2] conducted studies in Gujarat looking into rates of child marriage, and found that of girls aged 14-17, 37% were engaged and 12% married. On the other hand, for boys in the same age range, only 27% were engages and 3% married. The same study found strong correlation between marital status and school attendance rates (in which marries children were over twice as likely to not attend school than single children), but also marriage proved to be worse for the educational prospects of girls than boys.

Besides, families often think that the cost of education, both monetary and psychological is wasted on a girl because of her decreased earning potential and this selfsame expectation of domesticity. The economic benefit thereof is not immediately apparent to most families.  Overall, the expectation of the girl child’s participation in family life seems to be a hindrance in her participation in schooling.

2.    Safety

Safety of girls travelling alone is a major concern for Indians – the prevalent discourse surrounding recent events has brought to the forefront a longstanding problem. We also see a fear that educating girls causes excessive independence, and this is seemingly manifested in the attitude that parents take to a girl’s education.

In a recent article[3], the Guardian told the story of a girl in Delhi who was being taunted by boys on the way to school. She was afraid to tell her parents, for she thought that they would prevent her from attending school if she did. She was right – her family was, in the words of the author, ‘worried about the effect on their “honor” if she was sexually assaulted.’ These stories are not isolated; rather, this is an endemic and very gendered problem in economically disadvantaged India, be it rural or urban.

3.    Infrastructure Barriers

The Right to Education bill has set forth some norms and standards in this regard – it codifies expectations and requirements of norms and standards relating inter alia to pupil-teacher ratios buildings and infrastructure, school-working days, teacher-working hours. Therefore we do see legislators are at the very least, considering this area of concern further. It is also one of the easier aspects to tackle, as it falls within the purview of Education Departments in the Centre and in States. However, it is commonly perceived that girls suffer for various reasons from the lack of infrastructure much worse than boys do—for instance, as of 2012 40% of all government schools lacked a functioning common toilet, and another 40% lacked a separate toilet for girls. This in fact creates even more reluctance to allow for girls to be educated.

Although including girls in the scheme of Indian universalized education, these causes seems to make one thing clear – the causes are ingrained in systems that are larger than education. While temporary solutions are rampant and popular, it will take attention on the long-term scale to ensure that girls across India are able to freely, safely, and consistently attend school and access an education.

[1] Global Education Digest 2012. Montreal: The UNESCO Institute of Statistics, 2012. (accessed July 24, 2014).

[2] Bhabha, Jaqueline, and Orla Kelly. Child Marriage and the Right to Education: Evidence from India. working paper., François Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University, 2013.

[3] Rachel, Williams. “Why girls in India are still missing out on the education they need.” The Guardian, March 11, 2013. (accessed July 24, 2014).


  1. Poonam Prasad

    Thanks for highlighting this issue so cogently, Nisha!

  2. Dr Joan Walton

    Hello Nisha, I am very interested in what you have written in your blog. I support action research projects at a UK university, and currently am working collaboratively in an education project in India. I very much agree with you that the challenges in educating girls in India are grounded in systems that are larger than education; and the project with which I am involved is addressing these issues. I would welcome further conversation with you about this. I wonder if you could contact me at

  3. Dr Joan Walton

    Hello Nisha, I am very interested in what you have written in your blog. I support action research projects at a UK university, and currently am working collaboratively in an education project in India. I very much agree with you that the challenges in educating girls in India are grounded in systems that are larger than education; and the project with which I am involved is addressing these issues. I would welcome further conversation with you about this. I wonder if you could contact me at

  4. Nikhyll Sahu

    its happening in our tribal areas….AWARD SOCIETY, vill.Bhoura. Shahpur, Dist.Betul, M.P. ( Mob. (0) 7898114536, 9425624992.

    Mostly they appear 4th or 5th class. along with Teenage pregnancy is another challenges to us.There are so many causes are dealt with this.

  5. Lovesh Shah

    I think that the very big problem in education system in india for girls between the age 6-14 is that they are not appreciated all the time from their parents and are diacouraged becauae may be customs or traditions. And in Rajasthan, Haryana like states it happens a lot.

  6. Rama Gupta

    Hi Nisha, Good note, another major reason for high level of drop out is quality of education, since underprivileged children do not have access to ‘quality’ education, they are forced to drop since they are not ‘learning’ even after spending years in schools as it is seen as waste of their valueable time.
    regards, Rama

  7. Kavya Ganesh

    The non-existence of bathroom and other sanitary requirements restrict girls and women to go outside, they remain chained to their homes.

  8. Rishabh Sharma

    It’s very helpful information but apart from this we can also add some points like economically and socially disadvantaged children, gender gaps, very poor facilities by government, and private schools are not affordable for all.

  9. ShriRam

    Good post with great insights, indian graduated people need to know about the middle and lower class child condition , we can see India have a strong youth power and with the help this we can make changes in better way with government.

    Thank you!

  10. Shiv Yadav

    girls education big problem of social cause, parents uneducated and poverty control the sexuality of girls then have to do early marriage of their girl and dowry also reason of early marriage.

  11. Dr. Arun Kumar

    Working in one of the most under served clusters of Mumbai, we have realized the significance of expanding the focus, moving away from one single domain approach to address this issue. Same community, same school, people in the same family income bracket – but, the attitude towards education of girls vary from religion to religion, caste to caste.

    Dr. Arun Kumar

  12. nikita

    This is great post, highlighting one most serious problems faced by Indian society even today and not sure for how many more coming years. One more important reason here is that kids and their families, at times, are not able to afford expenses related to education like uniforms, buying notebooks etc.

  13. amar

    distanced school is also biggest problem of girls education. parents not sending to girls distanced school

  14. Soniya

    Hi Nisha, it’s indeed a big issue still inspite of all the advancements we have made in all other areas. I would like to add, financial limitations are also a big hurdle. Govt. schools are not upto the mark and also less in number, while private ones are very expensive to afford.

  15. Prashant

    It’s a bitter truth.
    The only way to eradicate this is actually awareness programs for parents foremost.
    If parents are determined to educate their daughters, nothing can stop them.

  16. FunNLearn

    Hi Nisha it really was a very good topic to discuss about girls education. thanks for sharing.

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    […] girls face challenges on multiple fronts. Secondary-school dropout rates among adolescent girls are much higher than boys. Teenage pregnancy and marriage also pose serious risks, and more adolescent girls are […]

  18. EuroKids Jayanagar

    Very good blog post to about girls’ education.

  19. Kiaan

    I just visited your blog/site and thought you made some really great points. Very Informative Article…, Kiaan

  20. Warren Lundia

    we all should think for women education from elderly minds as they can perfrom their three good roles in their life daughter, wife and mother

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