India’s missing girls

Migrants returning to their native villages are spreading the word about ultrasound clinics. Cumulatively, they are boosting sex-selective abortion.

Whether it be politics, business, Bollywood or the world of crime, India’s favourite “F” word is “family”. The country swears by “family values”, but certain family values claim innocent lives.

Despite impressive economic progress, advances in literacy and a myriad other fields in the past five decades, India has the lowest child sex ratio since 1961. Early this month, the highlights of Census 2011 released by home minister Sushilkumar Shinde confirmed the damning truth: India’s child sex ratio (number of females per thousand males in the 0-6 age-group) has fallen from 927 to 919 between 2001 and 2011.
What is most distressing is that not only has India hit an all-time low on this front, but that the child sex ratio has been dropping consistently since 1961. This revelation comes at a time when the overall sex ratio (number of females per 1,000 males) has shot up from 933 in 2001 to 943 in 2011. The number of women per 1,000 men in the country is going up because women are living longer, the maternal mortality rate is declining and a special effort has been made to ensure that women are not inadvertently left out during data collection. The flip side is that none of this is helping arrest the free-fall in the country’s child sex ratio.
The situation is further complicated by a new problem — a sharp divide is emerging between urban and rural India. In the rural areas, the child sex ratio has fallen by 11 points
(934 to 923) over the last decade. In urban areas, the corresponding decline has been 1 point — from 906 to 905. In actual numbers, rural areas still have more girls below the age of six than urban areas, but the emerging trend suggests that what was typically seen as more of an urban malaise is now gathering momentum in villages.
At the heart of the crisis is the continuing obsession for the male child among most Indian families. Despite rising incomes and literacy, many families still view a daughter as a financial liability. This is what continues to fuel female foeticide, a phenomenon spreading rapidly across the country.
Why is the war against the girl child intensifying in rural areas? Several factors are at play. Traditionally, rural families got rid of unwanted daughters through female infanticide. Female foeticide happened more in urban India which had more money, more doctors, more ultrasound clinics, thus offering greater opportunities to misuse technology for sex-selective abortions. Now village India is playing catch-up.
Ultrasound clinics have reached tehsils in the most backward pockets of India, says Dr Sabu George, one of India’s best-known campaigners against female foeticide. As it happens in cities, ultrasound devices, which can identify a range of health problems, are now being illegally used to determine the sex of the unborn child. Rising literacy in the countryside, and increasing migration from rural to urban areas, are acting as catalysts. Migrants returning to their native villages are spreading the word about ultrasound clinics. That rural India escapes the intense media and activist srcutiny that urban India is subjected to is another factor. Cumulatively, they are boosting sex-selective abortion and hastening the fall in child sex ratio even in the countryside.
Can development counter this ghastly gender bias? There is no quick, easy answer. While it is undoubtedly true that India today offers a lot more opportunities than were available two decades ago to young girls and boys, it is clear that development alone is not sufficient to change the deeply entrenched bias against daughters. The most prosperous and developed states in the country are not the leaders in child sex ratio. As far as child sex ratio rankings go, the top among major states (with population of 10 million and above) are Chhattisgarh (969), Kerala (964), Assam (962), West Bengal, Jharkhand (956), and Karnataka (948). The bottom five are Haryana (834), Punjab (846), Jammu and Kashmir (862), Rajasthan (888) and Gujarat (890). Delhi is in the list of the poor performers.
Clearly, the law intended to deal with the problem is not working. The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PNDT), 1994, which was amended into the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) (PCPNDT) Act in 2004 requires clinics and doctors using ultrasound to be registered with appropriate authorities in the state. The law stipulates that complete records, including something called Form F (which outlines reasons for the ultrasound and patient details), the referring doctor’s form, consent forms and ultrasound images are maintained for two years. It also says that monthly reports be submitted to concerned state agencies. Proof of the reports’ receipt by the approved authorities are required to be preserved by the clinic. Doctors and radiologists who conduct or solicit parents for sex determination tests can be imprisoned for up to five years and fined up to `50,000.
In real life, very little of this happens. Every now and then one hears about raids. Just last month, seven ultrasound clinics were sealed following raids in Purnia, north-eastern Bihar. But the overall regulatory framework remains extremely lax and many ultrasound clinics don’t keep records of patients.
This being the situation on the ground, it is hardly surprising that the number of people who have actually been convicted under this law is abysmal. A 2010 study by the Public Health Foundation of India pointed out that “although official, accurate figures are hard to come by — the total number of convictions using the act is roughly 20, according to official sources.” The report also noted that “publications/formal documentation of such data is not freely available in the public domain.
So what can be done? The first and most important step is to rigorously implement the PCPNDT Act across the country. Alongside, there is a vital need to step up awareness programmes, specially in rural areas, to make families view daughters as no less valuable than sons. None of this will, of course, happen without political will. Is any politician willing to make a time-bound commitment to help reverse the scandalous national child sex ratio by moving on with the tasks ahead in his/her constituency?

The writer focuses on development issues in India and emerging economies.

Post new comment

<form action="/comment/reply/233086" accept-charset="UTF-8" method="post" id="comment-form"> <div><div class="form-item" id="edit-name-wrapper"> <label for="edit-name">Your name: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <input type="text" maxlength="60" name="name" id="edit-name" size="30" value="Reader" class="form-text required" /> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-mail-wrapper"> <label for="edit-mail">E-Mail Address: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <input type="text" maxlength="64" name="mail" id="edit-mail" size="30" value="" class="form-text required" /> <div class="description">The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.</div> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-comment-wrapper"> <label for="edit-comment">Comment: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <textarea cols="60" rows="15" name="comment" id="edit-comment" class="form-textarea resizable required"></textarea> </div> <fieldset class=" collapsible collapsed"><legend>Input format</legend><div class="form-item" id="edit-format-1-wrapper"> <label class="option" for="edit-format-1"><input type="radio" id="edit-format-1" name="format" value="1" class="form-radio" /> Filtered HTML</label> <div class="description"><ul class="tips"><li>Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.</li><li>Allowed HTML tags: &lt;a&gt; &lt;em&gt; &lt;strong&gt; &lt;cite&gt; &lt;code&gt; &lt;ul&gt; &lt;ol&gt; &lt;li&gt; &lt;dl&gt; &lt;dt&gt; &lt;dd&gt;</li><li>Lines and paragraphs break automatically.</li></ul></div> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-format-2-wrapper"> <label class="option" for="edit-format-2"><input type="radio" id="edit-format-2" name="format" value="2" checked="checked" class="form-radio" /> Full HTML</label> <div class="description"><ul class="tips"><li>Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.</li><li>Lines and paragraphs break automatically.</li></ul></div> </div> </fieldset> <input type="hidden" name="form_build_id" id="form-69e2b50b25db33575549d81e262beeb3" value="form-69e2b50b25db33575549d81e262beeb3" /> <input type="hidden" name="form_id" id="edit-comment-form" value="comment_form" /> <fieldset class="captcha"><legend>CAPTCHA</legend><div class="description">This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.</div><input type="hidden" name="captcha_sid" id="edit-captcha-sid" value="80434850" /> <input type="hidden" name="captcha_response" id="edit-captcha-response" value="NLPCaptcha" /> <div class="form-item"> <div id="nlpcaptcha_ajax_api_container"><script type="text/javascript"> var NLPOptions = {key:'c4823cf77a2526b0fba265e2af75c1b5'};</script><script type="text/javascript" src="" ></script></div> </div> </fieldset> <span class="btn-left"><span class="btn-right"><input type="submit" name="op" id="edit-submit" value="Save" class="form-submit" /></span></span> </div></form>

No Articles Found

No Articles Found

No Articles Found

I want to begin with a little story that was told to me by a leading executive at Aptech. He was exercising in a gym with a lot of younger people.

Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen didn’t make the cut. Neither did Shaji Karun’s Piravi, which bagged 31 international awards.