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Sex selection in India

ANIRUDH G.R.

In ‘IT revolution and declining dowry practice’ (Open Page, October 28), Chandra Kommera has drawn an interesting analogy between the two. While it is extremely heartening to note this change in the bargaining power of women, such instances are still few and far between. For many, the birth of a girl child is still unwelcome. The sex ratio of India according to the 2001 census is a dismal 933 females per 1,000 males, up from 927 in 1991. These figures leave muc h to be desired.

A major concern is that economic and educational prosperity has not altered this long-held bias against the girl child. It is still a widely held theory that a male child will carry forward the family line. Another factor going against the girl child is the dowry which her family has to churn out at the time of her marriage.

In many areas, among the prosperous, dowry is viewed as a status symbol. Business families also feel the need for having a male heir. And with the trend of smaller families slowly creeping in, the girl child gets chucked out.

Armed with knowledge and money, access to methods of sex selection including female foeticide is easy. For instance, in relatively prosperous Punjab, the sex ratio is 874 whereas in so-called backward Bihar, it is 921 according to the 2001 census.

The mushrooming of illegal ultrasound clinics all over the country is testimony to the rampant sex-selective abortions.

And increasingly, for fear of being caught, these clinics seem to use symbolism to convey the results. They use blue or pink colour to convey whether the foetus is a boy or a girl. Or they make statements such as ‘Your child resembles a doll’ to convey a female foetus.

Hardly a deterrent

The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act of 1994 banned sex determination tests. It provides for three years imprisonment for a first-time offender and a fine of Rs 10,000. This is hardly a deterrent given the huge profits the trade offers and the lax judiciary.

The rate of conviction under this law is one of the worst with the first conviction coming as late as 2006. This could be attributed to the difficulty in producing evidence in court and a powerful lobby which has virtually converted sex selection into a profitable trade. Of late, sting operations by women disguised as pregnant women have helped nail a few doctors.

This trend of sex selection is extremely unhealthy and can have disastrous consequences for society. Moreover, a society which denies the girl child even the basic right to existence cannot claim to be civilised. It is time the loopholes in the law were corrected. Strict implementation of the law can be the only deterrent to the practice, given that attitudes take time to change.

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