Government steps in to prevent misuse of technology for sex determination

As India prepares to observe Tuesday as the National Girl Child Day, the Central Supervisory Board — set up under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 — has decided to monitor the disposal and sale of used or re-assembled ultrasound machines to prevent the technology being misused for sex determination.

The Board has also asked the professional bodies to evolve a code of conduct for their members.

In the absence of a monitoring mechanism, a number of condemned ultrasound machines are possibly being used for sex determination. “Institutions and individuals buy the latest versions of diagnostic tools and either sell off the used machines or just discard them. There is a strong possibility that these are being fixed or re-assembled and used illegally, as there is no system of accounting for the discarded equipment,” Anuradha Gupta, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, told journalists here on Monday.

“The Medical Council of India will also take steps to suspend or cancel the registration of doctors convicted under the Act. Ninety-three convictions have been obtained under this Act, but only 15 licences [have been] cancelled,” she said.

Child sex ratio

The latest Census had shown that child sex ratio had declined in 22 States and five Union Territories. It has improved in six States and two Union Territories. It is the lowest in Haryana (830), Punjab (846) and Jammu and Kashmir (859). The steepest fall of 82 points had happened in Jammu and Kashmir and the largest increase of 48 points was in Punjab, though the absolute level still remained low, compared with the national figure of 914 females to every 1,000 males.

Statistics suggested that infant mortality rate was higher among girls than boys, and the reasons for the neglect of girl child were preference for boys; the low status of women; social and financial security associated with sons; and socio-cultural practices, including dowry and violence against women. The small family norm, coupled with the easy availability of sex determination technology and abortion services, acted as a catalyst in the declining child sex ratio.

Jail term

Ms. Gupta said the State governments would be responsible for monitoring the disposed ultrasound machines. Those who used unregistered machines would get a three-year jail term and levied a fine of up to Rs. 50,000. The fee for registration of the machines was increased substantially.

The Ministry had appointed a nodal officer to coordinate issues relating to the implementation of the Act. Portable ultrasound machines were banned, except those in hospitals and mobile-care units of the National Rural Health Mission.

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