This is no way to boost our poor sex ratio

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The proposal to adopt female foetuses in rural areas is an attempt to cover up the lapses in India’s maternal health schemes

By Ranjana Kumari

Illustration: Anand Naorem

EVERY NEWBORN girl child (from foetus stage) will be adopted by the Republic of India. This is a claim the Planning Commission proposes to make on behalf of the government in a bid to tackle the declining sex ratio. The proposal fixes responsibility on the government to ensure protection of the female foetus and the mother in rural areas through involvement of anganwadi workers, ASHA workers and local NGOs. They propose to support both mother and unborn child through pregnancy by detecting the sex of the child in advance, and believe it would have a positive impact on reducing sex selective abortions. The premise of this ‘outof- the-box’ proposal is a desperate attempt to cover inadequacies in the implementation of laws penalising female foeticide.

The proposal is incompatible with the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, which criminalises sex determination, prescribing imprisonment up to seven years for those found guilty. It remains on paper with poor implementation and negligible conviction rate. Now tacit permission is being given to violate it.

While abortion is legal in India, sex selective abortion is punishable under the PC & PNDT Act. The Planning Commission’s proposal ignores the socio-cultural impact on trends of female foeticide. According to a study by the UN Population Fund, Punjab topped the chart with 16.2 percent missing female births in 2001-07. Pre-natal sex selection is deeply rooted in a society that has a strong preference for sons and attaches financial burden to the girl child through practices such as dowry. The question is therefore, when parents don’t want to give birth to girls, how effective will the government really be in persuading them, through incentives, to change their mindsets?

The sex determination machine lobby will now be able to reach every village

Dismal implementation of the PC & PNDT Act is evident from the most recent Census data, which shows the declining child sex ratio has dropped from 927 girls per 1,000 boys (aged 0-6) in 2001 to 914 in 2011. This proposal is a knee-jerk reaction of the government to the realisation of its own inefficiency in tackling the problem of pre-natal sex selection.

The Planning Commission aims to implement this ‘adoption’ technique in rural areas to prevent pre-natal sex selection. However, sex selective abortions are so far largely observed “as urban educated and rich families phenomena”. Even Delhi boasts a worryingly low sex ratio. The Urban South West district ranks second worst in Delhi, with a sex ratio of 836 females per 1,000 males. Due to easier access to ultrasound equipment and abortion facilities, pre-natal sex selection is an increasingly widespread problem across urban India. Yet the Planning Commission is overlooking this issue by focussing on rural areas. According to the proposal, it will lawfully introduce detection mechanisms into rural areas, ignoring the social havoc it could play in the lives of women. The proposal expands the scope of business for the sex determination machine lobby. It will now be able to reach out to each and every village.

The issue of pre-natal sex selection demands much more than hit-and-miss methods to prevent planned elimination of girls from our society. The ban on pre-natal sex selection was an achievement after sustained efforts by women and child rights activists were strongly opposed by medical practitioners thriving on the social malaise and lucrative industry of sex selective abortions. Rather than undoing these efforts, it is essential that the government focusses on longerterm strategies of enhancing maternal and child care facilities, generating awareness of women regarding the benefits of institutional birthing, strengthening existing programmes like ‘Ladli’ and ‘Dhan Laxmi’. Most importantly, the government must continue to prohibit any form of sex determination methods and techniques in the name of reform.

Ranjana Kumari is Director, Centre For Social Research.
[email protected]

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