Thursday, April 17, 2014

Female foeticide in India and the PCPNDT act

Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal diagnostic test act is a federal legislation enacted by the Parliament of India to stop female foeticide and arrest the declining sex ratio in India.
It also banned pre-natal sex determination before and after conception, that was employed to detect genetic abnormalities or chromosomal abnormalities or metabolic disorders or congenital malformations or sex linked disorders.

Pre-Natal Diagnostic techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse act) 1994 (PNDT) was amended in 2003 to Pre-conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection act) PCPNDT to improve the regulation of technology employed in sex selection. 

It is estimated that more than 10 million female foetuses have been illegally aborted in India. Researchers for the Lancetjournal based in Canada and India stated that 500,000 girls were have gone missing through every year through the annual sex-selective abortions. 

It is a notorious problem in Gujarat and the North Indian states, which according to census data have an alarmingly low ratio of female children. Certain castes regularly practiced female infanticide and later female foeticide. The castes with a much lower proportion of female children to male children included Lewa patidars and the Rajputs in Gujarat; Jats, rajputs, Khutris and royal Brahmins in undivided Punjab, Rajputs and Gujars in the Uttar Pradesh.
The Act though strongly put on paper, is no good in acting as a deterrent. The problem has a cultural connection with the dowry system, which is ingrained in the Indian culture, existing as "bride wealth" or "gifts". It had been prohibited under the Dowry prohibition act since 1961, but all thanks to the myopia in the society, it continues to thrive. 

A very famous case from urban India that shook the country was that of Mitu Khurana who was tricked into sex determination by her doctor husband. Her in-laws then wiled her into having eggs, which she was allergic to, thereby she was hospitalized. They then forced her to abort the twin girls she was carrying. It was shocking to hear about the officials callousness who advised her to abort the twin girls and give them a son, so that her life and youth aren't wasted. 

In 1992, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen estimated that 37 million women had already ‘gone missing’ in India till 1986. Contrast that with the total number of ongoing cases under PCPNDT in the country (till September 2011) — a mere 1,040. No wonder that 28 of the 35 States and Union Territories have 0 convictions (till September 2011). Even the ones that secured convictions stand dismaly at: Chandigarh – 1, Rajasthan, Delhi, Gujarat – 4 each, Maharashtra – 18, Punjab – 23, Haryana – 29.

India’s child sex ratio (0-6 years) has declined from 945 in 1991 to 927 in 2001 and now to the lowest since independence: 914 females per 1,000 males in 2011. But the total number of ultrasound machines seized/sealed (till September 2011) stands at just 869. The individual figures for states are more disturbing. Not a single ultrasound machine has been sealed or seized in Delhi, one of three worst states (other two being Punjab and Haryana) in the 2011 Census, with a child sex ratio of 866 girls per 1,000 boys in 2011. Why does sex determination still thrive?

Dr. Sabu George one of the people who filed the pil because of which the PCPNDT was passed says that since it is a profitable deal for a doctor, therefore they propagate it. The client in most cases makes an individual choice or budges to the family pressure, because of which such cases go unreported and there is no conviction. According to a doctor from Mumbai, the greed factor is so ravenous that they forget the Hippocratic oath they take and forget the nobility of the profession they are in. Depending on demand, an ultra sound test can be charged somewhere between 1,500-10,000 which otherwise has a meagre cost of Rs.400.
The second issue is the lack of administrative and judicial accountability. Since the concerned officials never turn up on a call, the cases get lost and with no one to question, the issue gets brushed under the carpet.

District officials also have a hand, in the laxity in implementing the PNDT act. Ignorance and lack of awareness in maintaining unregistered machines had led to the eruption of the menace. Most often authorities let them off for a fine, which propagates the menace.

Close monitoring of the sale of second-hand or re-assembled machines and banning of portable ultrasounds will come into force soon.

India’s prime minister acknowledges gendercide as a national shame, however, the police and judiciaries do not implement the law because they belong to the same school of thought. Authorities often let the unlawful parents and doctors off with little or no punishment which doesn't curb the menace. Often, when the mothers disobey the husband’s family decision to abort the female foetus and bring it to the light of the authorities, the suits are ignored or given a light sentence. The mother is targeted for bearing girls and disobeying the family’s decision to do away with the girl child. She may even lose her job, be exposed to constant death threats, and may be victimized by the long and tiring judicial process thereafter . In many places in India, women who give birth to girls are prone to violence. Even if she is able to bring the baby girls into the world, their birth goes unreported and in many cases they are also  murdered.

It is amusing to note that despite having made rapid advancements in technology, the society is lurking in the darkness of a ancient age, that can't see its women eye to eye. 
With the tens of corruption cases against the UPA, this one also adds up. In having added the fuel to the fire that has been burning the society, lack of conviction and the indifference to an evil spreading its paws. It only shows the shortsightedness of the government and how its unethical practices have exploited the helplessness of thousands of female foetuses that may haven't seen the light of the day, violating a woman's right to live.

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