“Pay 5,000 Now, Save 5 Lakh Later”: How The Law Against Sex Selection Is Being Circumvented

Posted on December 30, 2014 in Girls Count, Society

By Nishant Chhinkwani:

1991 Census                                                                                               2011 Census

Chandigarh    899/1000                                                                            Chandigarh  880/1000
Delhi NCR      915/1000                                                                             Delhi NCR    871/1000
Haryana          879/1000                                                                            Haryana        834/1000
Punjab             975/1000                                                                            Punjab           846/1000
India                945/1000                                                                            India              914/1000

This is not a GPA scorecard.

This represents the number of girls between the ages of 0-6 per thousand males in four of the most economically forward states and union territories of the country, compared to the national average according to the 1991 and 2001 Censuses respectively.

The decade that followed the liberalization of the economy in 1991, oversaw massive overhaul in the way India was perceived in terms of its economic power. Industries prospered, G.D.P. increased by leaps and bounds, trade deficit became more manageable and we progressed tirelessly towards becoming an economic super power.

It was also the decade saw an alarmingly massive decline in sex ratio, especially between children from ages between 0-6.

So what caused such a steep decline in a rapid developing country when the ratio should have increased and improved in the other direction?

Source: Restless mind on flickr
Source: Restless mind on flickr

The answer lies in a paper published in 1975 by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences(AIIMS) announcing a scientific breakthrough of amniocentesis, which could determine the sex of the foetus. The deeply ingrained patriarchal preference of ‘the prodigal son’ entrenched in our societal roots coupled with a desire to make a quick buck by some doctors resulted in numerous clinics springing up for gender biased sex selection.

gender biased sex selection print ad

Innocuous advertisements were used to lure parents to find out the sex of the foetus with taglines such as “Pay 5,000 now save 5 lakh later” bearing testimony to the fact that preferring a son will save them from dowry 20 odd years down the line. Though, print ads for sex determination and selection have been banned, the internet has opened more doors for such advertisers. In fact, a search for the words ‘sex selection’ on Google would throw up upwards of 50 sponsored links for the same. It is as recently as earlier this month that the Supreme Court has stated that an effort has to be made to ensure sites like Google India, Yahoo India and Microsoft Corporation do not show advertisements that are in violation of the law prohibiting gender biased sex selection.

This, for lack of a better word, has grown into an industry by medical professionals to a valuation of a whooping Rs.1,000 crore.

To combat this unscrupulous greed fueled patriarchy driven practice, the Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques [Regulation and Prevention of Misuse] (PNDT) Act was enacted in 1994.

The main purpose of this Act is to ban the use of sex selection techniques before or after conception and prevent the misuse of prenatal diagnostic techniques.

The Act, however, lacked the necessary teeth to do serious damage to this grossly unethical practice. Newer and better methods of pre natal sex determination and even methods of pre conception and during conception were developed. These methods provided the practitioners with the necessary loophole to carry on their practice with consummate ease.

It took the concern and a tough stand by several organisations and activists to make amends to the largely ineffective PNDT Act, which, after a prolonged battle, was finally amended into the current Pre Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act.

Implementation of the Act, however, still remains a large problem. It is largely dependent on the political will of the ruling party. Not only is the machinery of implementation very weak in several states, but there also seems to be strong lobbying by the doctors to protect their fellow professionals. Several medical professionals still carry on with this unethical practice with impunity, knowing that little to no action would be taken against them.

It is imperative that this inhuman pursuit of gender biased sex selection is met head on. Stringent punishment has to be meted out to these callous, unethical mercenaries to deter other professionals from continuing. Gender sensitization is another important aspect that has to be worked on and mass awareness of the PCPNDT Act has to be imparted in the general populace.

Because 1900 registered cases (out of possible millions) with an abysmal conviction rate is not going to deter this corrupt industry.