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Strong legislation but poor implementation continues to kill off girls

A law to curb the misuse of technology to determine the sex of the foetus, and thereby curb sex selective abortion, has now been in force for 14 years. So, why has India got the worst child sex ratio since Independence?

Provisional census data revealing that the female-to-male child sex ratio is the worse since Independence, at 914 females under 6 years of age to 1,000 boys, has elicited calls for better implementation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PCPNDTA), 1994 that regulates misuse of pre-conception and pre-natal diagnostic techniques for sex selection (the sex ratio at birth is still to be published).  

In 2001, when the last census was taken, the female child sex ratio was 927/1,000. Normally it should be 950/1,000. Almost every state in the country has a poor child sex ratio. Even the two states/union territories with the best figures -- Kerala and Pondicherry -- show a drop in the number of girls to boys, in the last 10 years. Two states, Haryana and Punjab, are at the bottom of the list; Gujarat, Maharashtra and Jammu and Kashmir have registered sharp falls since 2001.

The practice of pre-natal diagnostic tests that the PCPNDT Act seeks to curb is obviously still flourishing. Sabu George, who filed the PIL in 2000 that led to the ban on sex selection tests, says the regulation mechanism is weak. Ultrasound machines and centres are being registered but offenders have not been prosecuted. For example, in Maharashtra, of the 145 cases filed against doctors who violated the PCPNDT Act, 92 are pending. Only three doctors have been convicted. Most of the prosecutions are for not registering ultrasound machines or not maintaining records.

Even the number of cases filed is way below the number of violations. A district-wise survey in Maharashtra by the International Institute of Population Sciences found that 88% of clinics used ultrasound machines in Kolhapur, and 50% in Aurangabad.

Nationwide there have been only around 450 cases, with 15 convictions so far.

Different state governments have been giving families incentives to have girl-children such as free schooling and money when the girl attains a certain age. But the twin evils of female foeticide and infanticide persist in a patriarchal society that continues to invest only in male offspring.

State governments have shown little interest in genuinely rooting out such criminal discrimination, and ethics among doctors has hit rock bottom. When technology was installed in ultrasound machines that would track all pregnancy tests carried out, some radiologists filed a petition in the Bombay High Court opposing it. 

In 2001, five years after the Act came into force, the Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT), Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal (MASUM) and Dr Sabu George went to court alleging that neither the central nor state governments were properly implementing the PNDT Act.

The court judgment of September 9, 2003, concurred with this view and issued several directions for proper implementation of the Act. These had mainly to do with ensuring that inspection and monitoring committees at all levels were correctly instituted, did their job, and maintained documentation and records.

Despite this, the Central Supervisory Board, which must meet every six months, has been non-existent for three years. The Maharashtra inspection and monitoring committee does not even have a chairperson; it met for the first time in two years, recently.

Laws can do a lot, but ultimately, writes sociologist Ravinder Kaur, hard work must be put in to ensure equal rights for girls and women, whether in property or other entitlements such as education, nutrition and healthcare. Also, society has to acknowledge the contribution of women.   

Source: The Indian Express, April 4, 2011, April 1, 2011
             Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, April 2011
             www.indiatoday.in, April 1, 2011