By: Vinod Chandrashekhar Dixit
Sex determination tests on pregnant women have been illegal in India for years. Sex determination tests, and preference for sons result in the selective termination of pregnancy. The widespread use of illegal tests to determine the sex of an unborn child is fuelling a rise in female foeticide cases in India. India banned sex determination tests in 1994, as the gender balance became increasingly skewed. Indian laws do not, under any circumstance, allow sex determination tests to be undertaken with the intent to terminate the life of a fetus developing in the mother’s womb, unless there are other absolute indications for termination of the pregnancy as specified in the MTP Act of 1971.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTP) Act, which prohibits abortion, was enacted with a view towards containing the size of the family. However, in some cases the desire for a small family may have outweighed the desire for a child of a specific gender, leading to abortions where the sex of the fetus was different from that desired by the family. In India, where aborted female foetuses have contributed to a nationwide gender imbalance, it’s illegal for doctors to reveal the sex of an unborn child. But with boys still often far more valued than girls, a lucrative business thrives underground. Though, sex determination tests through techniques such as ultrasonography and amniocentesis are banned in India, female foetuses are still commonly killed in some regions where a preference for sons runs deep.
Under the Indian Penal Code, causing an abortion, even if caused by the pregnant woman herself, is a criminal offense, unless it is done to save the life of the woman. The offense is punishable by imprisonment for a period of three years, by fine, or by both. The PNDT Act mandates that all ultrasound facilities must be registered and medical practitioners must maintain records of every scan of a pregnant women. It states that pre-natal diagnostic techniques can be used only to detect “genetic abnormalities or metabolic disorders or chromosomal abnormalities or certain congenital malformations or sex-linked disorders”.
There were concerns that ultrasound technologies were being used to determine the sex of the unborn child and abort the female foetus, so the 1994 law made it illegal for medical practitioners to reveal the sex of a foetus. It is clear that sex determination and female foeticide continue because of insufficient monitoring of medical practitioners. It is observed that most parents celebrate the birth of a son, considered to be their family pride. The birth of a daughter can be a time of embarrassment and even mourning as parents, especially the poor, look toward the immense debts they’ll need to take on to pay for marriage dowries.
The focus on foeticide has been conveniently forgotten. Nothing is done to check illegal foeticide & hence in ground reality, the one who is involved in foeticide & sex determination moves scot free. According to experts, the problem isn’t with the Act but with its implementation. There is poor monitoring of ultrasound clinics. Such clinics are required to maintain records of the scans they conduct but the violators are often let off with a fine. On going through sex ratio at birth – the number of girls born per 1,000 boys – in India fell from 945 in 1991, to 927 in 2001, to 914 in 2011, according to census data. Government had failed in enforcing the law with a huge lobby working in favour of sex selection.
In order to minimize the possibility of foeticide and infanticide, it is now the need of the hour to bring a change in the PNDT Act by making it compulsory for all pregnant women to undergo a scan at government hospitals for sex determination of foetus.
Rise in female feticide in India
By: Vinod Chandrashekhar Dixit