India is a developing country with developing mindsets. It is a preconceived mindset in India that a boy child is superior to a girl child because apparently, they would go out and earn and support the family. A girl is considered an alien in her household since she is married off in another household. This mindset is still prevalent in India; in the 21st century. It is absurd to think that this mentality still exists in the country even after a lot of awareness is being spread regarding the issue of gender equality. To determine whether a pregnant lady was born a boy or a girl, the provision of prenatal sex determination was used. If it was determined that the lady is carrying a girl child, then the family used to abort the child. This is known as selective abortion. This caused a trail of problems for the population composition of India. There weren’t enough girls as there were boys. The sex ratio per 1000 was relatively low. This practice was extremely common in the states of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Gujarat. Female foeticide was a common practice to evade the birth of a girl child. If prenatal sex determination was not opted by the concerned and if a girl child was born, then female infanticide was practised to get rid of the baby. It is the deliberate killing of the girl child. All of this is still extremely common in patriarchal societies. The process of sex determination started gaining widespread attention when the new technique of ultrasound was introduced in India in 1990. Families used to take up this provision to know the sex of their child and choose abortion if it was going to be a female child. As heinous as this practice sounds, as frequently it was being practised since the olden times. The frequency increased since the introduction of ultrasound.
Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994
Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 was introduced by the Parliament of India to stop the practice of female foeticide as the sex ratio was declining day by day. The main purpose of this act was to put a stop to the practice of sex-selective abortion. The child sex ratio recorded in the 1991 census was 933 girls per 1000 boys; this was alarmingly low and something had to be done to prevent the gap from getting wider and wider. Even after this act came into effect on 1st January 1996, the practice of sex-selective abortion continued in remote areas through bribery and other under-the-table settlements. To make the act stricter and uncompromising, an amendment was made in 2003. This act gives hope to the new generation that the child sex ratio would improve in the coming years and the misuse of prenatal diagnostic would be upheld.
Who can be held liable?
This act holds every person liable who is into the business of sex determination, carries out such tests, advises the concerned to go for this procedure, the husband or the relatives of the pregnant woman, etc. However, the pregnant woman is considered innocent in most cases since India is a very patriarchal society and many things are done without a woman’s consent. Unless and until it is proved otherwise, the woman is held innocent and not liable under the provisions of this act. The liable people can be imprisoned for up to seven years or be liable to a fine of Rs. 10,000 or both. If this offence is repeated at a later stage, then the imprisonment can be extended up to 5 years along with a penalty of Rs. 50,000. The problem with foeticide is that doctors are promoting and encouraging it. It is one organized crime against women encouraged by professionals.
In 2016, the then women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi stated that every woman should have the right to know about the sex of her child. This had raised serious questions and controversy since this statement almost suggested an uplift in the existing ban on prenatal sex determination. However, even if it is 2022, it is still not possible to uplift this ban on prenatal sex determination in India. India is still not ready for this huge change yet. There was a study conducted in 2011 and it was found that about 1.5 lakh unborn girls are still being killed in just Uttar Pradesh alone. Imagine the number of female foeticides occurring throughout the country. Citing a recent event that has surfaced in Gujarat, it could be found that two individuals from Gir and Rajkot were held by the Rajkot Crime Branch for running an illegal racquet of sex determination with an illegal and unsafe ultrasound device to earn money. This practice can give a rise to female foeticides which the country does not need. The Honourable Prime Minister’s vision of ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ must be respected. There are also numerous cases where individuals are booked under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 for running an unregistered diagnostic clinic. According to NCRB data of 2016, Haryana topped in pre-natal sex determination cases. However, according to the 2011 census, the present sex ratio of Haryana is 877 females per 1000 males and it is a huge improvement since the previous years when the sex ratio used to be about 861 females per 1000 males.
A more robust mechanism is still needed in India as it is a developing country with a backward mindset. It is a fact that this mentality cannot be changed overnight, but what can be done is that more stringent policy decisions can be made in the time being so that all of these illegal; racquets going on can be stopped immediately with effect. The process of prenatal sex determination has become a moneymaking business nowadays and it must be prevented to save the lives of unborn girls.
Female foeticide is discrimination against the female in the very womb!
Author(s) Name: Zarana Samanta (Nirma University, Ahmedabad)