FEMALE FOETICIDE IN INDIA: A harsh reality

Posted on March 26, 2009 in Society

-Anshul Tewari

girl child indiaIndia is a vast country. A country which has left behind a number of stigmas and prejudices to move ahead as one nation. A nation with a cultural diversity, one can always find harmonious existence in a number of cities and towns of India. But, in a number of states, villages, cities and towns, another existence found is that of gender bias. Gender bias at the time when a child is born, leading to female foeticide and female infanticide.

This problem is not usually found in a number of families belonging to the urban literate class. The problem pertains to the families having a rural or a traditional background (by traditional I mean those who believed in this act).

Now after 6 decades of Independence India, or rather Indians are not being able to give up their thoughts. The thoughts which make a girls child a bad omen for a family.

We often see a number of incidents in the news related to this issue. Recently, a girl child, barely a few months old, was found in a garbage box. There have been incidents of the foetus lying in farms, floating in rivers, wrapped up in jute bags and left to die. A number of reasons lead to this heinous crime. To quote some, want of a male child to carrying the name of the family forward, lighting the funeral pyre to hoping for a bread earner are a few. The most prevalent these days is the fear of the demand for dowry. This has often been noticed that killing an unborn or just born girl child is better than paying a huge sum as dowry at a later stage. This mentality is specifically found in the rural areas and also in a few metropolitan cities. The states of Bangalore, Punjab, Delhi, Himachal, Rajasthan are among others having a high rate of female foeticide cases.

Sex determination is ever increasing in India even though there are strict laws against it. In 1994, the Government of India passed the Pre- conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act with the aim of preventing female foeticide. The implementation of this Act was slow. It was later amended and replaced in 2002 by the Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act without ever having been properly implemented.

The Act has a central and state level Supervisory Board, an Appropriate Authority, and supporting Advisory Committee. The function of the Supervisory Board is to oversee, monitor,and make amendments to the provisions of the Act. Appropriate Authority provides
registration, and conducts the administrative work involved in inspection, investigation, and the penalizing of defaulters. The Advisory Committee provides expert and technical support to the Appropriate Authority. Contravening the provisions of the Act can lead to a fine of Rs 10,000 and up to three years imprisonment for a first offence, with greater fines and longer terms of imprisonment for repeat offenders. The Appropriate Authority informs the central or state medical council to take action against medical professionals, leading to suspension or the striking off of practitioners found guilty of contravening the provisions of the Act.
Before conducting any prenatal diagnostic procedure, the medical practitioner must obtain a written consent from the pregnant woman in a local language that she understands. Prenatal tests may be performed in various specified circumstances, including risk of chromosomal abnormalities in the case of women over 35, and genetic diseases evident in the family history of the couple. Implementation of the 1994 Act

We conducted a study to assess the implementation of the 1994 Act in South Delhi and make recommendations for its improvement. This involved examining the organizational structure,observing 26 clinics, and distributing a questionnaire to patients. The results showed up serious failures in management and implementation, lack of commitment and motivation, widespread corruption, and little knowledge in clinics of the provisions of the Act. The presence of individuals outside the medical profession, in particular those involved with human rights, would have helped to prevent fraternity bias — an unwillingness to bring medical colleagues to account.

The survey of patient attitudes showed that only 40% of male patients and 30% of female patients were aware of the prohibition of sex determination. While 90% purported to agree with the principle of the Act, they nevertheless maintained that a male child was important for the strengthening of the family.

Statically:

1. nearly 10 million female fetuses have been aborted in the country over the past two decades

2. the United Nations has reported that India’s female ratio between 0-6 years age group has fallen to 896 females per 1,000 males, the lowest ever in a decade for the world’s second most populous nation

3. about three-fourths of the women in the suburban area know about the sex determination test, and female foeticide is favored both in rural and urban areas

4. of the 12 million girls born in India, one million do not see their first birthday

5. seven thousand fewer girls are born in India each day than the global average would suggest

Solution, anyone?

It is a deeply ingrained patriarchal attitude to which even the medical profession and the women, who in spite of being the victims, unthinkingly subscribe.

The only long-term solution is to change attitudes. Conventionally girls are seen as burdens, as huge dowries have to be paid for their weddings and even if they do earn income, it adds only to the capacities of the family into which they marry. It is said that if a girl child is born in a family, it means that the family has been bestowed with a good luck charm and that they must have done a good deed in their previous life. But then why are people not realising the importance of a girl? Is marriage the only resort of a girl, can’t she live life according to her own means? Can’t she for once decide her life? Then why?

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