THE OTHER HALF
When it is good to be a girl
BY KALPANA SHARMA
The problem of sex selection cannot be tackled by laws alone. Attitudes too need to change.
IT is that time of the year when many parents must be glad that they have a daughter. For, whether it is school leaving, junior college or the common entrance test for medicine and engineering, the girls are right there on the top. In every newspaper in the last couple of weeks, we have seen the beaming faces of these girls and their proud parents as they topped the results for all these examinations with incredibly high marks.
It was also good to see during this football-crazy month when you cannot remain immune to the excitement surrounding the Football World Cup even though India is not in the picture a news feature on NDTV about girls in Karnal, Haryana who take their football very seriously. They are training to play the game and hope to make it to a national team one day. And their mothers are proud of the girls and want them to continue. I doubt if any of them have seen Gurinder Chaddha's film "Bend it like Beckham".
And yet Haryana, despite its prosperity, is one of the States with the lowest sex ratios in the 0-6 years age group, only 820 females to every 1,000 males. And although Karnal does not figure in the 10 districts with the lowest sex ratios in that age group, three other districts in Haryana do Kurukshetra (775), Sonipat (783) and Ambala (784). So the girls shown playing football with their mothers' backing is more than a little unusual.
The reason for these appallingly low sex ratios is because sex selective abortions are being systematically used to stop girls from being born. Approximately half a million girls are prevented from being born each year through this technique. In a decade since a law was enacted to prevent this from happening, the problem has only increased rather than being curbed. Only one conviction has taken place under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act (PNDT Act).
Apart from the parents who take the decision to go in for sex selection, the people who actually do the job of either using the ultra-sonography machine to detect the sex of the foetus that is conveyed to the parents or to perform an abortion thereafter, are doctors. One wonders how many of the doctors, who fought so passionately against quotas for OBCs, have an ethical position on sex-selective abortions. Are the doctors who go against the law only those who belong to a particular caste? Does ethics or merit have anything to do with caste? These potential doctors should pause and think about such issues that will affect the future of our society. Can India really move ahead if it continues to have such backward attitudes in its most prosperous States? Why are prosperity and education not altering these mindsets that recoil at the thought of giving birth to a girl child?
Sex selective abortions are not just eliminating girls. They are also leading to the death of thousands of mothers. Recent studies on abortion services in India reveal that of the 40-50 lakh abortions done every year in India, as many as 80 per cent are linked to sex-selection. The majority of these abortions are conducted in the first trimester of the pregnancy when ultra-sonography can indicate the sex of the foetus. And abortions performed outside the hospital result in complications that inevitably lead to the death of the pregnant woman. In fact, only 20 per cent of all abortions conform to the provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act or to IPC 312, which considers abortions legal when the pregnancy is rape induced, could be a threat to the life of the mother or the foetus has a congenital deformity.
The problem of sex selection is not an easy one to tackle. The law alone will not suffice although a sincere attempt to implement it could make some difference. The Health Ministry appears to be striving to keep the focus on this issue and even the media has played some part in creating awareness about the declining sex ratio. Yet attitudes refuse to change. Dowry continues to remain a reality and therefore girls continue to be viewed as a burden.
Forcing a change
Yet, I would like to believe that despite this, it is girls who will force a change. Girls like the ones who are topping their class by their determination and hard work; like the girls in Karnal who refuse to accept that football is a boy's game.
And girls like the young woman in Mumbai who refused to marry a man her parents had chosen for her because she found out that he was an alcoholic. To their credit, the parents stood by their daughter and did not force her to go ahead with a marriage that would have ended in disaster.
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