Falling child sex ratio: Death before birth
As pressure under PCPNDT builds up on diagnostic clinics and doctors, is there a danger of a return to female infanticide, asks Usha Rai, at the end of a year-long campaign in 23 states on the falling child sex ratio.
As a journalist writing on social issues I was shocked when I travelled through Salem district of Tamil Nadu over 20 years ago to report on female infanticide. Then a trip to Bihar revealed that the practise was alive and thriving there too with the dais delivering the babies given the responsibility of killing it if it was a girl. The newborn girls were put in an earthen pot and rocked till the child’s neck broke. In the sandy desert areas of Rajasthan, the unwanted newborn was smothered with sand. A myriad devious ways were found across the country for getting rid of baby girls.
With the availability of modern technology and ultrasound machines, infanticide slowly gave way to female foeticide. Though the PCPNDT Act of 1994 was brought in to check sex-selective abortions, the child sex ratio has been falling steadily. The 2001Census revealed that there were 927 girls to 1,000 boys. In 2011, it fell another 8 points to 919.
A whole year of campaigning on the falling child sex ratio (CSR) by 200 NGOs across 23 states of the country in 2012-2013 under the banner of the National Foundation for India indicates that we have only skimmed the surface of this silent emergency. The implementation of the PCPNDT (Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques) Act continues to be poor, and the nexus of greed forged by clinics, doctors and the political class is proving difficult to break.
While patriarchy continues to form the bedrock of the issue, advances in technology have made sex-selection easier for those wanting sons and a greater challenge for activists working on the issue. Mobile ultrasound machines zigzig their way into the heart of rural and tribal India and medical advancements have made it possible to determine the sex of the foetus through blood and urine tests. The testing machines too are getting smaller and easier to hide. Now there is not just a son preference but also a ‘daughter aversion’.
Today, the falling child sex ratio has become a national issue because, except for Chhattisgarh and a few states of the north-east, the entire country is in the red. The trend to eliminate girls spans class, caste, ethnic and religious moorings. It is people like you and I who are eliminating girls. The situation is more disturbing in urban areas but even in rural areas, prosperity is leading to a fall in the CSR.
Both in 2001 and 2011, in the north zone, the worst-performing states on CSR are Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan, Punjab and Chandigarh. While Rajasthan has filed the maximum number of cases under the PCPNDT — more than 500 cases since 2009 — Delhi has reported 62 cases, J&K one case and in Himachal Pradesh, no case was filed. In Punjab and Haryana more than 100 cases were filed under the PCPNDT Act. In UP and Bihar, 108 and 126 cases were filed and 10 cases were disposed of in UP but none in Bihar. The number of convictions, if any, are very few.
Even women like Mitu Khurana, a doctor herself, whose husband and in-laws tried their best to get rid of her twin girls when they were in the womb, finds it a Herculean task to get justice. She is the first woman in the country to have taken legal action under the PCPNDT Act against her husband, in-laws and the hospital for the sex-determination test. The lower courts gave cognizance to her case but the hospital and doctor have appealed in the higher courts against cognizance and it has been pending since 2010. In fact, Mitu is fighting a dozen other cases including domestic violence, dowry and custody of children, and her email is being hacked. How long will the system further victimise mothers like me, she asks.