Editorial

Coming to grips with female foeticide

more-in

Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi’s clarifications >over her remarks on the existing ban on sex-selective abortions should put the focus back on the real issues. There are three aspects to the proposal that she put forth at a conference in Jaipur: establish the sex of the foetus when a pregnancy is detected; tell the mother about it and register the fact in public records; and ensure that deliveries happen only in institutions and not at home. This twin strategy of tracking sex-determined foetuses and requiring institutional deliveries is expected to ensure that female babies are not aborted, or killed at birth. While this idea might seem persuasive, like many technological fixes it betrays a worrying lack of awareness of social realities. The very attempt to record the status of the foetus involves the obvious risk of exposing women to undue psychological and social pressure to abort female foetuses. Two, such an intrusion by the state into a woman’s personal-biological space is unwelcome, even Orwellian. That such suggestions are being floated — no matter how quickly they are withdrawn in the face of criticism — is an indication of India’s persisting inability to address the problem of female foeticide, and the continuum of social ills that this practice reflects.

At the moment, there are few incentives for medical technicians, apart from public interest, to withhold information from families on the gender of the foetus. And when such violations have come to light, prosecution has been indifferent. Maharashtra is believed to have come down severely on errant doctors and clinics, which is significant given the likely impact the State’s large population could have on child sex ratios. The record of Punjab and Haryana, with a high prevalence of sex-selective abortions, also points to a modicum of enforcement. But there is a long way to go. After all, where traditional cultural norms dictate a strong preference for boys, recourse to medical technologies could well reinforce socially detrimental personal choices. Clearly, the emphasis ought to be on the reversal of India’s adverse sex ratio among children in the 0-6 year age group. On a national average, the number of girls for every 1,000 boys in this segment of the population dipped to 918 in the 2011 decennial population Census, with more disturbing regional variations. The corresponding figures were 927 and 933 in 1991 and 2001, respectively. Notably, Ms. Gandhi’s six-time constituency of Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh has seen a sharp drop in the child sex ratio in the 2001-2011 inter-Census period. At 940, the figure was above the national average in 2001, but declined dramatically to 912 in the last Census. Pilibhit could easily set an example for the whole country, if only by a scrupulous compliance with the spirit of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, under which any disclosure of the foetal status is a punishable offence.

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 1:12:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/editorial-on-maneka-gandhis-statement-on-foetuses/article8189286.ece

Next Story