Hyderabad: The life of a girl child isn’t easy in India. Census 2011 figures reveal that the child sex ratio (until age six) has declined from 927 females per thousand males in 2001 to 919 females per thousand males in 2011. But it’s even tougher for the unborn girl child – many don’t even stand a chance. Now, as part of a radical rethink on the fate of the girl child in India, a Maharashtra Assembly committee has recommended making prenatal sex determination mandatory to prevent female foeticide.
But can this really work in a country where the birth of a girl child continues to bring more anger than cheer?
Maharashtra Congress MLA Gopaldas Agrawal, who heads the Public Accounts Committee of Maharashtra, has been influenced by a suggestion made by Union Woman and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi, last year. Ms. Gandhi had said that registration during pregnancy must be made mandatory and every pregnant woman must be tracked until the birth of the child.
The recommendation also states that if a girl child dies in the womb, then parents must be held accountable. But activists believe this will make it even easier for parents and families to go in for female foeticide and later blame it on medical complications or genetic defects.
Dr. Mamatha Raghuveer, a women and child rights activist, explains: “This recommendation is merely a license to kill the girl child, rather than a measure aimed to prevent female foeticide. We are seeing cases in which pregnant woman have inserted abortion tablets, inducing bleeding to kill the child even when the sex is not known. We can only imagine the anarchy unleashed when the sex is known. Also, the expecting mother will be under tremendous pressure from the family and for the remaining months of pregnancy, will be taunted, or worse, for bearing a girl child. Is that what the government wants? Why are they policing a pregnant woman and making her life miserable? Where will the pregnant woman go with this kind of harassment?”
Activists are also not sure how many mothers will come forward to lodge complaints or how many will simply oblige rather than fight the system. Many believe the government, instead of helping the cause of girl child, will further facilitate the killing of the girl child if the “tracking” plan is implemented. There are others who add that the scheme is a ploy to shift blame from doctors to parents.
P. Shyammala Devi, chairperson of the Child Welfare Committee, said: “There are more than 2,000 cases pending in various courts in the country. How can one expect action against parents? What if they come up with a huge list of medical complications and say those were the reasons for killing the child? The sex of the child is a private affair. Many young parents don’t want to know it; why is government pushing for it?”
Others want existing rules to be made stronger. “It’s after all the development of a human being. The government must not look at sex determination as a means to control female foeticide but look at strengthening the implementation of the programme where there are major lacunae,” activists suggested.
A senior government officer in the Women and Child Welfare Department explained. “It is impossible to follow or track a pregnant woman till the delivery. Half of the time, they are with their husbands and the other half is spent with their parents. There is no real-world co-ordination and a follow-up till the end is impossible. Instead, the government must act strongly against those doctors, quacks and anti-social elements who advocate or help in the killing of a girl child.”