The central government plans to make it mandatory for the country’s women to register their pregnancies with it. It also wants abortions to be carried out only under specified circumstances.
The ministries behind the move think it will help them stop exploitation of the girl child and correct India’s heavily skewed sex ratio.
But there are concerns that this data may be misused. The move might allow babus and law-enforcers to enter — and control — the most personal domains of citizens, and provide state protection to corruption and the possible exploitation of women.
“It can lead to too much intrusion in somebody’s private life,” Ranjana Kumari, president of Women PowerConnect, a group of women’s NGOs, said. “It will also be very difficult to obtain such data. In China, the government found it tough to implement the one-child norm. Whether such a thing will be possible in a democracy, I doubt,” she added.
On Thursday, Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury told Hindustan Times that she wanted each pregnancy to be registered. “This will help to check both foeticide and infant mortality,” she said.
Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss had said on Wednesday, “We will provide facilities to conduct pregnancy tests in each village. It will help provide better healthcare facilities to mother and child.”
If Chowdhury has her way, abortions will be allowed only where there is a “valid and acceptable reason”. HT could not get officials to reveal the criteria that would make an abortion “acceptable and valid”.
Chowdhury said that the reason for monitoring abortions was to bust organised foeticide rackets that have been repeatedly reported from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. “With this, mysterious abortions will become difficult,” she said, pointing to India’s sex ratio of 927 girls for every 1,000 boys.
An official said the data would help zero in on pockets that show huge gaps between the numbers of pregnancies and births. “The reason for such a major difference can then be investigated,” the official said.
It will be the job of health centres, hospitals and maternity homes across the country — both government and private — to register a pregnancy when the woman visits for the first time. “This confidential information will then be passed on to local health officials who will maintain a data bank,” the official said.
Anganwadi workers from Chowdhury’s ministry will be authorized to register pregnancies in the villages. “It will help the workers track the health of both mother and child,” an official said.