Does Delhi Want Girls?

India in the new millennium can best be described as a female-hating country. Not only has this supposedly civilized nation overset a universal biological norm which gives female children an advantage over males at birth, it has also drastically reversed the sex ratio at birth to a shocking 927 girls for every 1,000 boys born.

Even before the shocking revelations of the Census of India 2001 have quite settled, new information shows that educated and prosperous communities in many metropolitan cities (including Delhi) are the "epicenter" of this systematic elimination of unborn girl children through sex determination tests. Worse, this practice is gaining momentum.

Census 2001 had already blown the lid off rich states like Punjab and Haryana where the child sex ratios are a deplorable 793 and 820 respectively. But latest information reveals even lower female to male sex ratios - the well-to-do localities in one zone of the national capital register a figure as low as 762.

According to J K Banthia, Census Commissioner of India, the reported sex ratio figures at birth provided by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) from January to June 2004 are: 762 from south Delhi, and from west Delhi - 784 from the Rohini zone, 792 from Najafgarh zone and 808 from Narela zone.

In central Delhi, the child sex ratios are 805 for the central zone, 811 for Sadar Paharganj zone and 850 for Karol Bagh zone; while in east Delhi, the figures are 806 for Shahadara north zone and 833 for Shahadara south zone.

Banthia warns against waiting for the next Census in 2011 to know the impact of measures being taken to arrest the deteriorating female sex ratio. Monitoring the sex ratio at birth has become very important. "Instructions have already been issued in this regard by the Registrar General of India to all the Chief Registrars of Births and Deaths in the states for monitoring the monthly sex ratio at birth and disseminating this data back to the public and governments," he says.

But is this really enough? Not so, feel experts and activists who converged recently at a workshop in Goa to discuss strategies to counter the proliferating practice of sex selection and female feticide. The issue needs to be studied in the context of globalization, industrialization and fundamentalism, all of which have devalued females, observes leading woman activist Abha Bhaiya of Jagori, a Delhi-based women's NGO.

"Industrialization and mechanization have marginalized women and girl children's participation in agriculture, and other means of livelihood have become almost negligible. Thus, she has become even more unwanted to her parents and to society," adds Dilip Kamat of Parivartan, an NGO in Belgaum, Karnataka. The workshop was organized jointly by the Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR), and the Centre for Women's Development Studies (CWDS), both based in Delhi.

One of the major problems in bringing the perpetrators of female feticide to task is that the practice is often described (and therefore camouflaged) as a "social evil". This downplays the fact that it is a crime and that it is punishable by law. "Doctors have deliberately tried to trivialize female feticide by engaging the thinking intellectuals of this society to look at it as a social evil," says Dr Puneet Bedi of Apollo Hospital, Delhi.

Medical technologies have played a crucial role in reinforcing negative patriarchal systems that demand male heirs. Amniocentesis was first introduced in India in 1975 by the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi for detecting congenital deformities in fetuses. By the mid-1980s, it was being largely misused to determine the sex of the unborn child and to carry out sex-selective abortions in Maharashtra, Punjab and Haryana. In subsequent years, the practice spread to the rest of the country.

Under tremendous social and family pressure to deliver a male child, most often the woman herself opts for pre-natal sex determination and decides to get rid of the female fetus. She does so at considerable risk to her own life as such abortions are usually performed in the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy. "Women are forced to internalize the pain and live with this crime," says Bhaiya. "The women's movement needs to review its strategies and look at this issue in a multi-causal way. The content of education for girls has to have a political context which can empower women," she emphasizes.

Following the publication of the provisional Census 2001 results, there has been tremendous activity in the legal, social and governmental spheres to control sex-selective abortions. Although the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PNDT Act) came into effect on January 1, 1996 it was never seriously implemented in the 1990s. However, the law was amended in February 2003 after a public interest litigation was filed in the Supreme Court.

The new Act, renamed Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of sex selection) Act ensures that no technology - whether existing or likely to arise in the future - can be misused to detect the sex of the unborn child or to manipulate the sperms or ova to facilitate the birth of a male child.

The unique feature of this Act is that mobile ultrasound machines have also come under its purview. Also, the Act absolves the pregnant woman of any crime, but holds the radiologists and gynecologists responsible, explains Tanika Singh of Lawyers Collective, Delhi. It also takes into account the role of the immediate family members in pressurizing the woman to undergo sex determination.

Although the amended PNDT Act and the instructions issued by religious priests in Punjab against sex-selective abortions are moves in the right direction, more social action is required, stresses Banthia. One of the important recommendations of the National Conference of Chief Registrars of Births and Deaths held in January 2003 was that data on sex ratio at birth must be monitored.

Unfortunately, very little information has been compiled, as most states are yet to take action for regular monitoring of this important indicator, regrets Banthia. Available data for 2002 from 17 hospitals in Gujarat, for instance, reveals the sex ratio at birth to be 100 girls to 122 boys. For the unborn girl child, the situation in many states is critical. "The 'Save the Girl Child' campaign needs to be further supported actively by all agencies within and outside governments to restore the balance of sexes," he underlines.

"Doctors as a community are actively involved in this crime of female feticide", says Dr Bedi. He adds that the PNDT Act must be effectively enforced to severely punish doctors who act in cohorts with families to eliminate the female fetus.


More by :  Nitin Jugran Bahuguna

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