Sonia to forward to PM draft policy on implications of gender imbalance

The declining sex ratio is not a problem restricted narrowly to the issue of decreasing birth of girl children but is central to women's rights, gender equity and gender justice, the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council believes.

A day after the United Progressive Alliance's eighth anniversary celebrations, the NAC met here to consider a draft policy that can address the serious implications of gender imbalance in society, revealed in the provisional 2011 Census report. Council sources told The Hindu that Ms. Gandhi would forward the final version of this policy to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh next week and urge him to draft a national policy on the subject, based on the NAC's recommendations.

Topping its recommendations are strengthening the legal regime to prevent misuse of medical technology for sex selection and developing a legislative framework to take into account newer technologies. In this context, the NAC wants the government to consider the implications of fresh legislation such as the Draft Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Regulation) Bill, 2010 from the perspective of sex selection as well as to ensure effective implementation of the Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (prohibition of sex selection) Act, 1994 (PC&PNDT Act).

Impact of incentives

The government needs to review the existing conditional cash and other incentive schemes for girl children to see whether they have made any dent, says the NAC draft policy. The sources pointed out that there was a growing realisation that the crime of sex selection was not confined to the poor who might be dissuaded by such schemes from killing girl babies. This scourge has spread to the middle class for which government schemes hold no significance. There is need, therefore, to plan interventions for the more affluent sections as well.

The draft policy also suggests a national communication and advocacy strategy targeted at behaviour change with a shared core message content, identified target audiences and multiple platforms so that women are projected as useful members of society, rather than as liabilities. It calls for a review of gender-related laws and policies including the dowry prohibition law, amendments to laws related to rape and connected provisions (currently under review by the government), in order to propose amendments or ways for strengthening their implementation. Students and professionals (particularly those pursuing law and medicine), public officials, elected representatives, frontline health and other workers all need to be sensitised through the introduction and development of appropriate course curricula and providing training in gender-sensitive counselling.

The provisional 2011 Census report has revealed that the child sex ratio in India (0-6 years) has dropped to 914 females against 1,000 males, the lowest since Independence. The NAC Working Group headed by Farah Naqvi and A.K. Shivakumar has identified that the child sex ratio, while “influenced by a number of factors such as under-registration of girls, differential infant and child mortality and age misreporting, is in large measure determined by the sex ratio at birth. It is, therefore, directly linked to the practice of prenatal sex selection, which, according to available evidence, has spread all over India”.

Women's empowerment

The policy, the NAC feels, should affirm that this horrifying situation “reflects the much larger issue of the status of women in our society, economy, and polity” and it should be “addressed within a broad framework of women's empowerment.” The policy must acknowledge that “dealing with declining sex ratios cannot be the responsibility of any one or two departments and Ministries” but that it will require “multiple initiatives, cutting across sectors, aimed at achieving gender equity, enhancing the status of women, and creating a social and economic environment against sex selection”.

But in doing so, the policy must take care that while entering “the private domain of pregnancy, abortion and the right to choose,” it ensures that any “intervention or communication message” does not inadvertently “stigmatise abortion per se, compromise women's reproductive rights, their right to choose, or jeopardise access to safe and legal abortion as articulated within the framework of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.”

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