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Female foeticide persists in India despite law

December 15, 2009

Female foeticide persists in India despite law – By Nilima Pathak

A few months ago, at a conference in Delhi, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was listing steps to check female foeticide and asking the educated and prosperous parents to help, a woman doctor was waiting for justice for her twin girls.

New Delhi: A few months ago, at a conference in Delhi, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was listing steps to check female foeticide and asking the educated and prosperous parents to help, a woman doctor was waiting for justice for her twin girls. The Prime Minister launched the country’s biggest ever campaign against the “inhuman and uncivilised practice” of female foeticide.

He said no nation, society or community could hold its head high and claim to be part of a civilised world if it condoned the practice of discriminating against women.

Meanwhile, Dr Mitu Khurana, was fighting a lone battle. The 32-year-old Delhi-based paediatrician, had taken up cudgels against her husband Dr Kamal Khurana and in-laws to save her daughters from being aborted.

She managed to save them both, but as a result, was thrown out of the house.

Dr Mitu Khurana is the first woman in the capital to have filed a case against her husband and his parents under the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act.

It was after they fraudulently obtained information about the sex of the children she was carrying and pressurised her to abort the foetuses.

She was taken to a hospital by her husband on the pretext of a regular check-up. There she was sedated by deception. Her husband had already convinced some doctor friends to do a sex-determination test of her embryo.

And once the result showed she was expecting twin girls, the family demanded an abortion.

Says Dr Mita Khurana: “I was shocked. One could not expect such behaviour from an educated family. My husband’s parents are retired academics, but they refused to understand. The family had wanted a male child.”

On her refusal to cooperate, they advised her to kill at least one of the two foetuses. Dr Khurana protested.

Thereafter, she was tortured mentally and abused verbally. She was finally forced to leave the house. She went to stay with her parents. This was in 2005.

Even after giving birth she was not allowed to enter the house. “My in-laws laid down the condition that I would have to give up one of my daughters for adoption if I wanted to enter their house,” she said.

Dr Mita Khurana decided to fight for her daughters’ rights. She filed complaints with the Delhi Commission of Women and the Delhi Appropriate Authority, which specialises in pre-natal diagnostic technique cases.

While the cases were filed early this year, she continues to stay with her parents. The complaints have yielded no result. And the doctor wait for justice is on.

Banned

According to the law, sex determination is banned under the PNDT Act. Medical practitioners and gynaecologists conducting the test and aborting the female foetus can be prosecuted under this Act.

The offense is non-bailable. But despite the law being stringent, when enforcers do not react, it makes little difference.

Clinics have mushroomed around the city offering prenatal diagnostic checks. And despite the ban which was placed several years back, these checks are carried out on the sly.

A longer jail term along with a higher financial penalty is among a slew of measures taken by the health ministry to tackle the hideous practice of female foeticide in India.

The measures also include appointing special public prosecutors to efficiently file court cases against the guilty and sensitise the judiciary to ensure faster conviction rates.

The Mahanagar Telephone Nigam has granted the health ministry a 10-digit toll free number 1800110500, which is managed by a call centre. But complaints are few and far between. The PNDT authorities cited several reasons for the difficulties in the implementation of the Act.

“According to our 2006 annual report, the collusion between people demanding the illegal service of sex determination and the service providers is so strong that it is difficult to pin down the offender,” an official remarked.

Demographers and economists claim that over a 100 million women have been killed globally by societies that prefer sons to daughters.

The genocide against women is carried out by abortions, drowning, strangulation, lack of nutrition and medical neglect. The most popular present form is abortion, with the assistance of an ultrasound to determine the child’s sex.

Said Ranjana Kumari, Director, Centre for Social Research, “The culprits are the private clinics and informal rural practitioners or quacks. Our study showed that people know which hospital or clinic conducts such sex-determination tests. But when we accosted them everyone claimed to have discontinued the facility.”

She said the government should regulate the sale of ultra-sound machines.

Published: November 7, 2008

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