It’ll ensure a girl child is given birth
Personally, and as an office-bearer of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), I support Union minister for women and child development Maneka Gandhi’s suggestion to amend the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994, to improve the falling sex ratio in the country by making sex-determination test on foetus mandatory. While making suggestion for a change in the two-decade-old Act,
Ms Gandhi clearly pointed out that if each pregnancy could be registered, the sex of the foetus could be made known to the parents. And if it happens to be a girl child, then the delivery should be tracked and recorded. All stakeholders should support this move as it is suggested with a clear intention to stop female foeticide.
Ms Gandhi clearly said that if the sex of the foetus is a girl then it should be tracked, which means it will be the duty of the enforcement agencies to ensure that the girl child is given birth.
In violation of the existing law, where societies prefer male child, parents with the help of compromising medical professionals get to know the sex of the child and abort it if it’s a girl.
There are two ways the administration can check and stop female foeticide. First is to strengthen and properly implement the existing laws. Second is to spread awareness in society to end discrimination. Till the time society does not put an end to this discrimination, law is our only hope.
In 1994, the government had introduced PCPNDT Act to stop sex determination test but it failed to address the real concern due to improper monitoring and implementation. As a result, the introduction, and later amendments, to the Act did not improve the child sex ratio.
It is only after 12 weeks of pregnancy that the regular ultrasound machine, which is largely available across the country, can detect the sex of the foetus.
As is clear from many cases, couples, instead of aborting within a few days of conception, wait till 12 weeks to medically terminate the pregnancy. They do this to ascertain the sex of the foetus and take a call. This malpractice is evident from the trend that most of the ultrasounds are done behind closed doors, engendering record mismanagement that should be seen as malafide and entail penal provision.
Therefore, it is important for the authorities to start keeping track of the women who are pregnant for 12 weeks or above. In this view, Ms Gandhi’s suggestion fits in well to keep a track by registering the sex of the foetus with the administration.
Such a step, if taken, will help institutionalise the safety of the girl foetus, which, in several parts of the country, is aborted because of societal obligations. Not only will it help document women with girl children in a better way, but would also help in fixing responsibility in cases requiring legal interference.
Dr K.K. Aggarwal is secretary-general, Indian Medical Association
Target the bias, not the woman’s body
India has a disturbing gender imbalance and population experts have revealed that female foeticide is being practised at an alarming rate although sex-selective abortions have been banned in India. This issue is closely related with the socio-economic factors that are built into the framework of patriarchy. A male child is always preferred because he carries the name of the family and inherits property and assets of the family, while the girl child is considered “paraya dhan”, which means “somebody else’s property”.
Understanding the rationale behind sex selection is the key to decipher the dynamics of a skewed sex ratio. It is the rights of a woman over her own body, which is fundamental to her right to equality and freedom.
There is a belief in our society that a girl child is inherently less worthy, because she leaves home and family when she marries. Upon marriage, a son brings in the daughter-in-law — an addition and asset to the family providing additional assistance in household work and an economic reward through dowry. Daughters merit an economic penalty through dowry.
In a family, a woman who bears a girl child is not treated well as compared to a woman who gives birth to a baby boy. There a stigma attached to it and, as a result, the pressure of having a male child and aborting the female foetus is on the pregnant woman. Due to strong patriarchal social norms, the tracking of this practice is highly difficult.
Also, a strong professional nexus exists between medical practitioners and the families who want sex determination test to be done. Sex-determination not only kills the foetus and skews the child sex ratio, but also limits the reproductive choice of women.
Here the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994, amended in 2003, criminalises “sex determination” conducting the pre-natal sex determination by medical examination and also punishes the person practicing it.
Our analysis finds that women’s education is the single most significant factor in reducing the desire to have a male child. Educated women are less likely to prefer male children over girl child, and highly educated women are also less likely to do so.
I strongly believe that pre-natal sex selection will never help gender balance. Rather, it will ruin the social pyramid. The developed countries always have a gender-balanced policy at various levels and it is seen through different indicators.
In fact, we should ask some more questions for future policy analysis and research. Why is it that more than half of Indian women do not express preference for a male child? What is special about these women and communities, and how can these “positive deviants” be studied as a possible resource for policy design? Do worsening sex ratios mean that economic development and increasing wealth in India is resulting in a change in how families implement gender preferences rather than a decrease in the preference itself? How can we harness the apparent power of education and media to influence gender preferences and the practice of gender preference either through neglect of living girls or sex-selective abortion?
Dr Ranjana Kumari is director, Centre for Social Research...