Proposals to curb sex-selective abortion should be made with due deliberations even as social realities cripple India’s attempts to improve a skewed sex ratio.
It has been five years since the 2011 Census revealed the dismal sex ratio in India, its worst since Independence: That of 943 females per 1,000 males. Shockingly, child sex ratio (of those between 0-6 years of age) was lesser: 919 females per 1,000 males. Five years after the census, India is still grappling with this social anomaly despite having taken various measures to stem it.
Stirring a hornet’s nest, the Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi recently suggested that sex determination be made mandatory and each pregnancy be registered and tracked till the time of birth. Speaking at the sidelines of an event, Maneka said her ministry had sent a proposal for the same to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare under whose purview the Act falls. However, this proposal was soon retracted by the minister. When Tehelka contacted the Ministry of Women and Child Development, it defended Maneka’s statement by saying that the Act (PCPNDT) does not come under its purview. Why then did the minister make such a statement without proper deliberation?
For starters, her statement completely negates the premise of the existing law – Pre Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act 1994 (PCPNDT Act) – that bans sex determination unless it arises out of medical complications. The Act was enacted in the context of rising sex-selective abortions due to the ready availability of ultrasounds. “Sex-selective abortions rose into prominence because ultrasounds would identify the female foetus and parents who preferred a son began terminating the pregnancy,” says Mohan Rao, social medicine and community health professor in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Through banning sex determination, the Act was also clamping down on medical practitioners who aided such abortions.
Maneka’s ‘proposal’ thus met with lot of resistance from various sections as it was seen as a move to benefit medical players. “This is a reprehensible statement which points to the fact that Maneka isn’t there for the welfare of women but for the welfare of the medical industry,” says Rao. An abortion, whether sex-selective or not, cannot be done without the help of the medical fraternity. A statement issued in public domain by a national collective of women’s organisations and social activists points out that Maneka’s statement undermines the efforts to check the handin- glove involvement of health professionals. “The pcpndt Act was formulated precisely to address the manner in which unscrupulous health professionals and corporate profiteers have misused technology and made sex selection into a lucrative business venture,” it reads.
Shifting the onus of the pregnancy on the mother effectively means overlooking the role of the medical establishment. “Tracking of pregnancies will conveniently let the medical fraternity off the hook and that will definitely lead to further increase in female foeticide,” says Tehmina Arora, lawyer and founder of Vanishing Girls, a campaign dedicated to fight selective sex abortion.
Maneka’s statement has again brought to the fore the many debates surrounding the subject of abortion and foeticide. The government has time and again sought to address the problem of sex selective abortions from the National Action Plan (1991-2000) to the most recent Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao scheme, launched by the Centre. While these create awareness against sex selective abortions, one is forced to question the extent to which the State can interfere in the personal and biological sphere of a woman’s life.
Through her statement the minister has reinstated the fact that women will be the only ones made answerable, overlooking external factors that push for a selective termination of pregnancy. Additionally, such deep intrusions in a woman’s personal life reiterates that she is incapable of making decisions for herself. “The statement made by Maneka Gandhi is unacceptable as it turns towards women’s surveillance and policing, making it extremely problematic,” says Nivedita Menon, feminist and professor in JNU for comparative politics and political theory.
Further, Maneka’s ‘proposal’, if implemented will impinge on a woman’s right to abortion. The argument arises from an inconclusive debate around a woman’s right to her body and thus her choice whether or not to terminate the pregnancy. The other facet of this debate equates terminating a pregnancy with foeticide – the word foeticide coinciding with words like matricide or patricide amounting to murder. However, what could complicate matters is when a woman herself makes a choice towards sex selective abortion.
Another problem arising out of Maneka’s comment is the implication of criminalising pregnant women who already bear the brunt of gender discrimination in society.
“I have faced opposition from all quarters in my fight against female foeticide. A woman willing to fight to save her daughters has no support system. Such a move will only deem the woman as criminal,” says Dr Mitu Khurana, survivor of violence for giving birth to twin daughters and one of the most prominent faces fighting against sex selective abortions in India.
It is an open secret that women are at the risk of being largely mistreated if their families do not want a daughter and with sex selection being mandatory, she will find herself in a hostile environment detrimental to her and her child. “Women carrying female foetuses will be starved and beaten, “accidental stove bursts” will increase when relatives find out that the child is a girl,” says Khurana. “Women are mostly forced into sex selective abortions and tracking a pregnancy is going to make the woman even more vulnerable with the risk of her being thrown out of the house,” agrees Arora.
The intention to lift the ban on sex determination in order to check the falling child sex ratio has kicked up quite a controversy in India.
The Union Women and Child Development (WCD) Minister Maneka Gandhi’s intention to lift the ban on sex determination in order to curb sex-selective abortions in India misses the woods for the trees.
The law to ban sex determination/sex selection – the Pre-conception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act 1994 – was created to counter the misuse of reproductive technologies for elimination of female foetuses.
The nexus between illegal and unethical medical practitioners and families with an aversion for daughters has been addressed through the various facets of this legislation that was created after country-wide consultations with women’s groups, rights-based organisations, ethical medical practitioners, and citizens’ forums.
One of the most progressive elements of this law is that it keeps a clear distinction between the right to abortion and sex-selective abortion, thereby upholding reproductive rights of women.
The unfortunate reality is that the law has not been enforced properly.
At the same time, in regions where it did get enforced, such as in Punjab, which had the dubious distinction of having the worst child sex ratios in 2001, there has been a positive turnaround in terms of numbers in 2011.
From 795 girls per 1000 boys in the 0-6 age group in the 2001 Census, the child sex ratio in the state has increased to 846 girls per 1000 boys as per the 2011 Census. In fact, the Union government’s holistic programme of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao has a huge component dedicated to the strict implementation of the PCPNDT Act.
So, what are the factors that are pushing the Ministry to even consider withdrawing the ban?
First, due to the pressures on unethical and illegal medical practitioners for accountability and transparency, there is a reaction and counter move by the radiologists, ultrasonologists, and various other vested interests to influence the Ministry.
Another reason is the Prime Minister’s urgent call to provide immediate and quick results on the issue of a skewed child sex ratio.
Since the higher echelons of the government have fraternal bonding with the powerful business interests as well as the doctors’ lobbies, they have discovered their magic silver bullet to deal with the problem at hand – the close monitoring of the pregnancies of women, after compulsory sex determination.
Never mind that it is a travesty of gender justice that the women have to be criminalised and their privacy, bodily integrity, and dignity is completely set at naught.
The limited right to abortion that we have in India will be seriously compromised by this. And, as for the Minister’s fear that the prisons have no place for erring doctors, it will be assuaged by the fact that it will be women who will fill up the prisons now.
More than anything else, the proposed compulsory sex determination will multiply the risk of violence against women by the marital family either to ensure the elimination of female foetus or force her to keep the male foetus in situations where it may be risky for her to continue with her pregnancy.
Instances of ‘accidental’ stove burst deaths and other forms of violence to induce abortion will become more common.
Just as in the case of Dr. Mitu Khurana, the first woman complainant under PCPNDT Act, who reported increased violence against her by her in-laws and husband, once they came to know the sex of the foetus.
Mitu, who has given birth to twin daughters, has managed to do so due to sheer grit and determination and by escaping her marital home.
Although she has been fighting in the Court for the last seven years and justice has eluded her, she believes in the positive efficacy and strength of the PCPNDT Act. Many women like Mitu have been able to withstand pressures to deliver sons by emphasising on the illegality of sex determination. It will impact women’s ability to report on the violence and pressures for sex-selective abortion, since sex determination will become legal.
Make child sex-determination must: Maneka Gandhi’s idea is revolutionary, but it hasn’t been thought out
Union Woman and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi suggested that child sex determination during pregnancy be made compulsory, the gender of the child registered right from that moment, and the birth be tracked. She said this at the All-India Regional Editors Conference in Jaipur on Monday, while responding to a question about people employing different means to detect the gender of an unborn child, in contravention of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act.
After her statement generated a substantial debate, Maneka’s office issued a statement clarifying her stand and said: “Some of the newspapers have reported that the Minister referred to a Cabinet proposal about tracking female foeticide and registering the sex of the foetus. This is factually incorrect. What was discussed by the Minister was that effective implementation of the PCPNDT Act is one of the ways to check falling child sex ratio.”
Statement and clarification aside, the fact of the matter is Maneka Gandhi did say that female foeticide can be checked by making sex determination compulsory and tracking the mothers and which is where the problem lies.
India is among the countries with the worst child sex ratios in the world. The 2011 Census showed that the child sex ratio has dipped from 927 girls in 2001 to 919 girls in 2011. Child sex ratio shows the number of girls per 1,000 boys between the ages 0-6. The data proves that India has an abysmal record when it comes to reining in the cases of female foeticide. Latest Census numbers also cast a shadow on the adequacy of measures which are helping in educating people to not prefer sons over daughters. Reports said that with 919 girls per 1000 boys, child sex ration in India has reached its lowest levels since 1961. Hindus, who make up 80 percent of the population of the country, saw their child sex ratio come down from 925 to 913 between 2001-2011, in line with Muslims, Christians and Buddhists.
Now, let’s revisit what Maneka suggests.
The Union minister said, “Hamari ek raai hai… we’ve even read in newspapers about a blood test which tells the gender immediately, so till when will we make criminals of people? Better still, we change the policy and make it compulsory to tell a pregnant woman if it is a boy or a girl, and get her registered. Then you will be able to monitor it, whether she is born or not.”
The idea is brilliant and there’s no denying that. Whenever a family tries to abort a girl child, the system cracks down on them. We will need a system which will diligently track and honestly monitor the mother and the child and not only till the delivery but a year from the birth of the baby. But is it too good to be true?
In a country as vast and as corrupt as ours, the suggestion, if practiced, will be counter-productive and riddled with holes. First of all, by making sex-determination compulsory, ‘diagnostic centres’ which perform these services will mushroom out of control. They will be legal and hence thrive better. And how will tracking the mother help at all?
Who will track the mothers and what their families are putting them through in a country over populated like India where patriarchal system is deep-rooted and sex-selective abortion is rampant.
“The concept is extremely catchy but you cannot find an easy solution for such a difficult and a deep-rooted problem,” Varsha Deshpande, Satara-based social activist who is also national inspection committee member of Health and Family Welfare Ministry in the government of India, told Firstpost over the phone. Deshpande said that a person like Maneka who is extremely sensitive about issues relating to women needs to be more careful of the statements she makes. “There is a lobby of doctors and corporations who are using her to make their ends meet. This is not Beti Bachao, this is doctor/technician bachao. Maneka is committed to the cause, but how is it possible to track all these women and their children. That apart, if this rule really comes to effect, the government will be attacking abortion rights of women,” Varsha added.
Social and women rights activists maintain that it is a much smarter idea to track the diagnostic centres, its doctors and technicians rather than the mother and the child. However well-intended Maneka’s statement be, the minister’s suggestion could overthrow what she intends to achieve. The police and the system will then go after the mother, who in this setup, has less or almost no say on whether to give birth to a girl child.
“There is already a system in place which is more or less working, it is at least picking up, but Maneka wants to uproot this system and replace it with a new one which is riddled with holes. Who will track the child? Who will track the mother? Who will track those million centres? Delivery happens in public hospitals, homes and even roads and fields – where all will the government go and track these deliveries?” asked author, women’s rights activist and legal scholar Flavia Agnes.
“The statement is a sensational one and that’s all the purpose is. She (Maneka) does not realise what she has said and I don’t know how she is going to undo it. But it is an irrational statement,” Agnes told Firstpost.
Mitu Khurana, a Delhi-based paediatrician, who is hoping to set a legal precedent after taking her husband and in-laws to court for ‘conspiring to kill her twin daughters in the womb’, said:
“This is an attempt to take away the responsibility from the doctors and shift the blame on the women. See if you cannot monitor a few thousand doctors, how do you plan to monitor millions of deliveries? Who is going to monitor that. This is just going to encourage female foeticide. How about the spontaneous abortion? Will you put the blame on women for spontaneous abortions? Everytime the abortion is not induced, it can happen by itself also. So how do you differentiate if the woman had gone for an abortion or it was a spontaneous abortion. It is against the basic women’s right of abortion. Even the UN has said that abortion is a right of a woman. They are taking the onus from the doctors who are doing illegal gender determination and putting on the poor women. Also, if a family finds out it is a girl child, the expectant mother would be subjected to several forms of atrocities. If a woman, identified carrying a female child, is beaten up she will suffer a miscarriage.”
India’s silent war on unborn girls in the womb is being highlighted by a courageous doctor who claims that her husband pressured her to abort her daughters after an illegal ultrasound revealed their gender.
Having seen her case thrown out for lack of evidence in September after a preliminary hearing, Dr. Mitu Khurana, now 39 and a hospital administrator in New Delhi, talked with LifeSiteNews Friday about her appeal to a higher court to consider her charge against her husband, Dr. Kemal Khurana.
She claims that he arranged for an illegal ultrasound to discover the gender of her unborn children a decade ago, an act prohibited by 1994 legislation. The prohibition is so widely flouted that, according to UNICEF 7,000 girls were aborted each day in India up to 2005.
“I am doing this so that my daughters grow up in a world where they do not have to face the violence that I faced,” Dr. Khurana told LifeSiteNews. “I have been blessed by God with supportive parents who I now live with. But many parents just tell their daughters to stay with their husbands’ families and make the best of it. So I do this for social change.”
Dr. Khurana alleges that when she got pregnant in 2005, her in-laws soon began to hint at abortion. “They began saying, ‘Two will be a burden,’ but I did not immediately understand quite what they meant. I didn’t know I was carrying girls or that they did,” she said in an earlier interview.
Later, she said, her husband admitted that when she went to hospital with kidney pains, which he may have induced by poisoning her, he arranged for an ultrasound test that determined that her twins were both girls. Both he and the hospital deny the charge, claiming that the tests were routine under the circumstance – a claim a lower court has clearly accepted, as it dismissed Dr. Khurana’s accusations. “It was completely one-sided. The judges, the lawyers the police, they all think this [gender selection] is completely acceptable,” she told LifeSiteNews.
Her accusations go beyond the claim that the 1994 law banning sex-selection ultrasounds was breached, including 11 legal actions. Dr. Khurana claims that her husband (one of those cases is her pending divorce suit) not only pressured her to abort her daughters, but assaulted her (and them) by pushing her down a stairway, then locking her in a room for a day to prevent her getting medical help. Her complaints to police were met with indifference.
Indian doctor alleges husband tricked her into having ultrasound to reveal sex of her children
An Indian paediatrician who has accused her husband of tricking her into revealing the sex of her unborn girl twins and then allegedly pressurising her into aborting them is waging a landmark legal battle over the case at India’s high court.
Mitu Khurana, a 39-year old doctor from Delhi, refused to abort the two girls and has become a cause celebre for campaigners against sex-selective abortions that have reached “emergency” levels in parts of India.
In the first case of its kind, Dr Khurana is taking legal action against her husband who she claims asked doctors to take a surreptitious ultra-sound of her unborn twins while she was in hospital in 2004 suffering from a stomach complaint.
“If, despite all the evidence I have, the accused are allowed to escape then no other women will ever try to prosecute for this type of crime,” Mrs Khurana told The Sunday Telegraph.
“Ultrasounds in India always happen behind closed doors because every doctor knows it’s a crime and will never give the results in writing. If I lose this case it will close the door to any women who want to file complaints in the future”.
Her husband, Dr Kamal Khurana, has vehemently denied the allegations which are the first of their kind to be brought under a law that prohibits the gender testing of foetuses which was introduced in 1994 to curb the endemic practice of aborting girls.
The preference for boys over girls in India for both economic and social reasons has led to dangerously skewed gender ratios, with one study estimating that some 12 million Indian girls had been aborted over the last 30 years.
Last year the United Nations noted that the dwindling number of Indian girls had reached “emergency proportions” and was contributing to violent sex crimes against women.
An organization in Delhi recently investigated 89 hospitals around the capital and unveiled giant sex discrepancies in birth rates. One clinic was found to have delivered just 285 girls for every 1,000 boys over the last year.
Mrs Khurana’s case, which was recently thrown out by a lower court due to lack of evidence, implicates her husband, Kamal, and the Jaipur Golden Hospital.
According to the court papers, Mrs Khurana alleges she was taken to hospital after having an allergic reaction to some food.
नई दिल्ली। अपने ही पति पर बिना अनुमति लिंग जांच कराने का मुकदमा दर्ज कराने वाली महिला डॉक्टर ने निचली अदालत के फैसले को सत्र अदालत में चुनौती दी है। मेट्रोपॉलिटन मजिस्ट्रेट ने महिला के पति व आरोपी डॉक्टरों को सुबूतों के अभाव में बरी कर दिया था।
महिला डॉक्टर मीतू खुराना फिल्म अभिनेता आमिर खान के टीवी शो सत्यमेव जयते से सुर्खियों में आईं थी। महिला ने अपने ही पति के खिलाफ एंटी फोयिटल सैक्स डिटर्मिनेशन कानून के तहत मामला दर्ज कराया था।
मीतू खुराना ने सोमवार को रोहिणी की सत्र अदालत में याचिका लगाई। इस पर सुनवाई के लिए 19 नवंबर की तारीख तय की गई है। खुराना के मुताबिक उनके परिजन शुरुआत में यह कहते रहे कि दो बच्चे बोझ की तरह हैं। शुरुआत में वह समझ ही नहीं पाईं कि उसकी कोख में दो बेटियां हैं।