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National mindset

Print edition : Jul 27, 2012

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T+T-

Apparently, people across the country, bridging class, caste and income divides, are deliberately ensuring that girls are simply not born. The child sex ratio of 914 girls per 1,000 boys is a tragic situation and a poor reflection on Indias growth and development. This is in spite of laws, schemes, relentless activism and media campaigns spanning three decades in support of the girl child. According to activists and economists, a society that places a very low value on women will see increased social violence and a definite reduction in human development.

India has two laws that prohibit sex selection the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971, and the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 2002. The MTP Act prohibits abortion except in qualified situations such as a pregnancy caused by rape or one that is a danger to the mothers life. The PCPNDT Act, 2002, while being progressive in that it disallows sex-selective abortions, has been ineffective in nailing medical professionals who carry out illegal procedures. The Act does not criminalise the doctor under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) but lets the Medical Council of India (MCI) deal with violations of the Act and decide the recourse.

In several cases in Maharashtra, it is the MCI that investigates a charge-sheeted doctor. It promises to conduct an inquiry but often does not. We have seen very few cases of doctors licences being revoked for doing these abortions, says A.L. Sharada, director of Population First, a non-governmental organisation. The medical profession protects its own. Unless punishment is by way of imprisonment, it will not be effective.

Manisha Gupte of MASUM, another NGO, says the issue of sex selection often gets confused with abortion. Women must have their reproductive rights, including the right to contraception and abortion. Sadly the difference between the right to abortion and the discrimination against women through sex determination is not fully understood or appreciated, she says.

India has from time to time attempted to tackle the issue, but the numbers prove that the country has not met with much success. For instance, there are schemes for the girl child, such as the Government of Indias Dhanalakshmi and the Madhya Pradesh governments Ladli Lakshmi Yojana, where money is deposited for the girl child, which can be drawn when she turns 18.

But it isnt as simple as that, says a mother of four girls. The officials make us run around for all sorts of papers, pay bribes and eventually, a small percentage of the money is given.

Activists and enlightened doctors say that there is a desperate need to sensitise the judiciary, the police and the administration on sex selection being a crime. However, unless more forceful measures are enforced, it is unlikely that the numbers will change.

Anupama Katakam

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