As sex ratio worsens, Plan panel makes taboo proposal

As the first line of defence against female foeticide, sex determination tests on pregnant women have been illegal in India for years. But in what could end up as a major policy shift, the Planning Commission is proposing relaxing the ban for rural areas as part of a programme of “adopting” female foetuses and generously incentivising families and health workers to ensure the safe delivery of girl babies.

With the latest census recording the lowest ever child sex ratio of 914 females to every 1000 males – the number in 1971 was 940 – the Planning Commission is looking for “out of the box” ideas for dealing with the continued preference for a male child. The ‘adopt a female foetus' proposal was made by it during a multi-sectoral meeting held here last week to review the implementation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique Act and find a way forward.

“Instead of totally banning sex determination, which the government has failed to do, it would be a better idea to be flexible on allowing sex determination — if families so choose — and in case it is a female foetus, the government will ‘adopt' it,'' Planning Commission member Syeda Hamid told The Hindu.

While the idea is only in the initial stages, representatives from the Ministries of Health and Family Planning, HRD, Panchayati Raj and Information & Broadcasting broadly agreed with it.

Under the scheme, the government would ensure the safety of the foetus until it is born through its network of anganwadi workers, auxiliary nurse midwives and accredited social health activists. For this, the workers would be awarded huge cash incentives. The mother and the family would also be given generous incentives – “worth carrying on with the pregnancy,'' Ms. Hamid explained.

However, the proposal has come in for sharp criticism from women's groups who described it as “disastrous.”

“It is an unfortunate way of looking at the situation,” Ranjana Kumari of Women Power Connect said. Parents go in for sex selective abortions and anganwadi workers or doctors had no role to play in changing their decision. It is a mindset, she said, while the government had failed in enforcing the law with a huge lobby working in favour of sex selection.

The article has been corrected for a typographical error

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