Opinion DC Comment 03 Feb 2016 Pre-natal sex tests ...

Pre-natal sex tests can fight female foeticide

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | DECCAN CHRONICLE
Published Feb 3, 2016, 5:38 am IST
Updated Feb 3, 2016, 7:11 am IST
Rural abortions are subject to the suspicion that the bearing of daughters is a financial burden.
The women and child development minister’s idea of making prenatal sex tests compulsory is revolutionary. (Representational image)
 The women and child development minister’s idea of making prenatal sex tests compulsory is revolutionary. (Representational image)

The women and child development minister’s idea of making prenatal sex tests compulsory is revolutionary. This represents a sea change of attitude on the subject of female foeticide. It is not easily predicted whether the abrupt change from hiding the sex of the unborn child from parents to compulsorily revealing it now will bring down the aborting of girl babies in a distinctly patriarchal society of centuries. What the change may help achieve is to make India a more open society in which all citizens do not have to be viewed as criminals if they so much as seek to know the sex of an expected child. It is a given in our society that there is no right to life per se of an unborn child as there may be in other societies in which the dominant religion may dictate otherwise. Also, the right to an abortion is a very secular principle designed to guard a person’s individual choice and even towards curbing the bearing of excessive children in a social and economic sense.

On the face of it, the idea of making prenatal tests compulsory and tracking the pregnancy later to determine whether female foeticide is being attempted serves the noble principle of gender equality even in pre-birth. The problem is whether the system will be able to cope with keeping tabs on every pregnant woman in a country in which too many rural abortions are subject to the suspicion that the bearing of daughters is a financial burden. The near impossible task of policing births may be beyond government and the law machinery. It will, however, remove the criminality of prenatal tests sustained by the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act of 1994 from the medical testing system. Of course, with compulsory tests, a whole new business would be flourishing, the consequences of which are not easy to gauge considering that an estimated 51 children are born in India per minute.

The skewed sex ratio as revealed by the 2011 census of 943 females per 1,000 males in the country — an extreme within that broad number being 889 females to 1,000 males in Haryana — suggests the problem is exacerbated by female foeticide. The child sex ratio (up to age six), which dipped from 927 girls to 1,000 boys in 2001 to 919 girls to 1,000 boys in 2011, shows up India as one of the worst countries in this regard. While it would be disingenuous to believe the attitude of rejecting girl babies is strictly rural, we must accept there is a need for the “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” scheme to spread the message that in today’s society a daughter is by no means a handicap. How to sell that idea drowning out age-old prejudices is a challenge Indian society must face head-on.

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