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Sharp decline in sex ratio at birth

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Ramya Kannan

It was far better in 2003 when compared to the figures in 2006

CHENNAI: The sex ratio at birth has declined sharply in the State over a four-year period, touching a relative low in 2006. A comparison of the sex ratio at birth between 2003- 2006 shows that during 2003, the position was far better than in 2006, in terms of the number of women to 1,000 men, especially in districts with a record of high foeticide rates.

In Namakkal district, the sex ratio at birth was low at 901 in 2003. Three years later, it had dropped abysmally to 872. In Salem, notorious for its male bias reflected in the large number of proven cases of female infanticide, the fall was not drastic, but it dropped from 919 in 2003 to 912 in 2006. The pattern is similar in other districts: Perambalur, Madurai, Cuddalore, Erode, Virudhunagar and Tuticorin. Only in Dharmapuri has there been an upward trend, with a marginal increase from 918 in 2003 to 920 in 2006.

“The Supreme Court judgment in 2001 made it mandatory for scan centres to register. This probably had an effect on the sex ratio, because registering a scan centre means they can be monitored,” says P. Phavalam, convenor, Campaign Against Sex Selective Abortion. The Court passed an order directing speedy and swift implementation of the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act 1994 (PCPNDT Act). It issued specific directions to the Centre, States and Union Territories. However, Ms. Phavalam says, unless severe punitive action is taken against violating scan centres, no headway can be made in improving sex ratios in the State. “The State must recognise the fact that a significant difference can be effected only if they convey the impression that they are really serious about it.”

“As long as scan centres get the idea that the government is watchful, then the tendency to reveal the sex of the child, leading to selective abortion of female foetuses, will be curbed effectively.” She also calls for immediate action from the part of the monitoring agency, considering the abysmal figures in child sex ratio rates. Even going by estimates provided by the Directorate of Public Health recently, there are at least 30,000 cases of female foeticide happening in Tamil Nadu.

Says Ossie Fernandes of the Human Rights Advocacy and Research Foundation: “Though we provide leads on which scan centres are revealing the sex of the foetus and violating the law, we find that these same centres have been re-licensed once they take ‘remedial’ measures.” Activists caution against dilution in implementation of the Act. All officers and District level monitoring authorities are vested with the powers of a civil court and must use them to restore a favourable female sex ratio, he adds.

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