Two-day workshop discusses rising incidence of sex pre-selection

Urgent and sustained efforts needed to curb female foeticide were discussed at a two-day workshop on “female foeticide: rights of the girl child, problems and solutions,” held at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) here on Friday and Saturday.

The workshop was organised to mark the National Girl Child Week from January 24 to 31.

“The sex ratio in the country is decreasing at an alarming rate. The educated, upper classes, and upper castes have started the trend of female foeticide, and it is catching up very fast. We should not be surprised if the 2011 census shows the same trend in the tribal areas too,” chairperson of Men Against Violence and Abuse (MAVA) Harish Sadani said during the workshop.

The workshop was jointly organised by the Maharashtra State Social Welfare Board, MAVA, Stree Mukti Sanghatana, and the TISS for members of non-governmental organisations.

Participants and the speakers discussed the evolution of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act (PCPNDT Act), the provisions and problems in its implementation, lack of awareness in society, and technological innovations to stop female foeticide.

“People's demand”

Explaining the history of the development of public health Acts, Kamakshi Bhate, Head of the Preventive and Social Medicine Department in King Edward Memorial Hospital, said Acts such as the PCPNDT and the age of marriage were a result of people's demand.

“Some Acts come into being because the government thinks of them. But some Acts are made due to people's demand. To fight the tendency of sex determination in society, many women's groups, scientists, doctors, and individuals came together in the 1980s to spread awareness about its ill-effects. They demanded legislation against sex determination and pre-selection,” Dr. Bhate noted.

Expressing the need for the government to take a proactive role in curbing sex pre-selection, she said doctors needed to be punished severely if they were found to be disobeying the law.

“If 10 lakh abortions are done every year, why aren't even 10 doctors punished?” she said, citing studies done by Population First and Laadli.

Vigilance authorities in the government should be made aware of their role. “Many a time, the vigilance authorities themselves don't know what action they have to take. They need to be trained and made aware,” she said.

‘Build value system'

Social activist and academician Chhaya Datar said there should be a collective value system in society, and that a girl child's birth should be valued. “We need to educate doctors and build up their value system so that they do not do things only in accordance with their commercial interests.”

There was a need to look at technological developments critically, Dr. Datar said.

“Now there are techniques through which you can filter the X chromosomes and Y chromosomes to ensure that a child of a particular sex is born. All these techniques emerged with the aim of finding perfection. We should question that and stop looking for perfection,” she said.

Mr. Sadani pointed out that in parts of western Maharashtra, girls were increasingly being named ‘Nakoshi' (unwanted).

“What is it that makes us name our girls ‘unwanted'? When we talked to youths in this region, they said girls do not understand how to deal in society. I think we should work on this patriarchal attitude and teach youths to respect women, their bodies, and their contribution in chores,” he said.

‘Silent Observer'

The workshop also discussed the effects of “Silent Observer,” a technological innovation used in four districts of Maharashtra to monitor and control the growing incidence of sex pre-determination.

“The sex ratio in Kolhapur has improved substantially after the implementation of this project,” said Girish Lad, inventor of “Silent Observer.” He said the machines were installed around two years ago.

“According to the 2001 census data, the child sex ratio [between 0-6 years] was 839 in Kolhapur. In December 2010, it was 901. There is a sizeable decrease in the number of female foeticides in Kolhapur as the doctors have started fearing governmental action. They know that there is data available to act against them,” he said.

Mr. Lad added that the machines helped gather valuable statistical data that was otherwise not available with the government machinery.

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