End Female Foeticide in India!

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Each minute, two female foetuses are being aborted in India. An Indira, an Aishwarya, a Saina are being denied right to life on this sacred land. India now has the lowest Child sex ratio (0-6 years) since Independence. Child sex ratio in 2011 is 914 girls against 1,000 boys - the lowest since Independence according to Census of India 2011: Provisional Population Totals released by the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India.

There has been serious concern over female foeticide in India. Ultra sound scanners are the deadliest Weapons of Mass Destruction here. Each year nearly one million female foetuses are being killed through sex selective abortions. The decision to abort a female foetus is taken instantly with the help of ultra sound scanners which are easily accessible throughout the country and affordable to all.

Pre-natal sex determination can be done with: Ultrasonography (after 14 week gestational period, instant results), Amniocentesis (15 week gestational period, takes 14-21 days for results) and Chorionic Villus Sampling (12-14 week gestational period, 2 days for results).

Ultra sound is the main culprit among all these techniques because it instantly gives results, is non-invasive, accessible and affordable to all. More importantly it also facilitates other two techniques which are invasive and performed with the help of ultrasonography.

Routine ultra sound scanning is illegal in India and safety of ultra sound scanning is not established. It is usually done by untrained persons who over-expose the foetus and cannot always determine foetal sex accurately.  

Many private clinics have been disclosing sex of the foetus leading to sex-selective abortions. Once the foetus is found to be female, many couples proceed to medical termination of pregnancy which is illegal, unethical, distressful and unsafe to the woman. Child sex ratios started falling since the entry of ultra sound scanners into India, in 1980s. There is a clear linkage between the availability of ultrasonography centers and decline in child sex ratio: 

YEAR--CHILD SEX RATIO--VARIATION
1961--976--

1971--964-- -12

1981--962-- -02

 Introduction of Ultra Sound Scanners in India

1991--945-- -17

2001--927-- -18

2011--914-- -13

 

Entire focus should be on ultra sound scanners in the war against female foeticide, that too on privately owned ultra sound scanners. The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 (PC & PNDT Act) regulates the operation of ultra sound scanners in India. Ultra sound scanners are allowed to be used by Genetic Counseling Centre, Genetic Clinics - including vehicles fitted with ultra sound scanners and Genetic Laboratory.

India needs guidelines that do not allow private Genetic Counseling Centers/Genetic Clinics/Genetic Laboratories to operate anymore in the country, disallowing private persons to operate the same by amending the PC & PNDT Act and cancel the licenses of the existing centers currently operating in the larger public interest.  All the existing Centers should be seized. Compensation may be paid if they were already registered under the Act and such seized ultra sound scanners may be provided to the Government hospitals not having such equipment. This would be a 'partial Recall' of ultra sound scanners.  At the same time manufacturing and importing of hand-held ultra sound scanners should be prohibited.

British Medical Journal (10 April 2004) reported that US Food and Drug Administration had shut down commercial establishments offering pre-natal ultra sound videos. The State of Connecticut, in 2009, passed an Act Concerning Ultrasound Procedures for Medical and Diagnostic Purposes that “limits obstetrical ultrasound procedures to those that are ordered by a licensed health care professional and are needed for a medical or diagnostic purpose.”

The India, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare effectively banned private blood banks by making the Drugs and Cosmetics (6th Amendment) Rules, 2005. Now blood banks in India can only be run by the Government, Indian Red Cross Society, hospital or voluntary organization approved by a State Transfusion Council. Similar approach can be adopted to deal with privately owned ultra sound scanners.

Non-availability of ultra sound scanners would also control population growth - because couples who do not want a second girl child would not go for a second child if they cannot pre-select the sex of the foetus. No family should ever be sure of the sex of the foetus before its birth.

Besides, non-availability of ultra sound scanners will promote women’s physical and mental health because she need not undergo unnecessary abortions each and every time the foetus is found to be female.

There might be strong objections to these measures because ultrasonography plays role in medical diagnostics. But this would not result in total absence of ultra sound scanners. They would be available in Government hospitals. Medical fraternity should come forward to bear with the partial absence of ultra sound scanners from their laboratories in the larger public interest, until the child sex-ratio in India reaches satisfactory levels.

Alternatively, no genetic counseling centre shall be allowed to function unless at least five doctors support it in writing and stand as sureties against misuse of the centre.  Every centre should display the names of the doctors supporting it and no doctor shall be allowed to support more than one such centre.

Serious penalties should be imposed in case of misuse, which include suspension of the doctors for a duration which may extend to a few years. All the remaining centres which are not able to get the necessary support of five doctors should be seized.

These measures may be initiated immediately at least in selected districts, on a pilot basis.

In addition, women should be provided 33% reservation in Government jobs as well as education institutes - as in Andhra Pradesh. This should include reservation for women in police department - as in Tamilnadu, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, to reduce crimes against women. Experience all over the world demonstrates that female police officers have proved to be as competent as their male counterparts and at the same time policewomen can improve police response to female victims in crimes against women.

Ceiling on marriage expense is another issue. Introduction of ceilings on gifts and marriage expenditure needs to be considered. A limit should also be put on marriage expenditure in terms of food. And sufficient number of full time Dowry Prohibition Officers under the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 should be appointed. These measures may be initiated immediately at least in selected states, on a pilot basis.

Female foeticide needs to be fought with concrete and targeted actions. No nation can survive without women.