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Required: A comprehensive test ban

If the Minister of Health can keep up the pressure on state health authorities to ensure punitive action against doctors practising female foeticide, he will have set India on a progressive path.

india Updated: Jun 16, 2006 01:41 IST

If the Minister of Health can keep up the pressure on state health authorities to ensure punitive action against doctors practising female foeticide, he will have set India on a progressive path. Reports that 10 million Indian girls have gone missing in the last two decades — all falling prey to foeticide — should have acted as a catalyst to invoke the Prenatal Diagnostics Techniques Act. The law clearly states that sex determination tests are prohibited as they preempt female foeticide. The onus of divulging the gender of the foetus lies squarely on the team of doctors and technicians who carry out the test and inform parents of their future child’s gender.

What makes it difficult when it comes to cracking down on this regressive practice is that it is a compact between parents, the family and the doctor. So, what is required is extensive community-level action and enforcement of the law. These will provide the support to anyone who may want to report against a doctor or a clinic breaking the law. Authorities must aggressively monitor ultrasound clinics and their medical practitioners. What makes matters chilling is that the practice is more frequent among the ‘educated’ sections of society and ‘progressive states’ of the country, with Punjab and Haryana reporting the maximum number of ‘missing’ girls (being able to afford the costs of such abortions).

Far too often, ministers and officials have couched their failure in combating the crime in claims that female foeticide is a ‘social evil’ and nothing can be done about it until society changes its mindset. They should learn lessons from history where the State proactively curbed ‘social evils’ like sati. The government has been jolted by the reported fact that the female foeticide ‘industry’ is worth Rs 1,000 crore. This has prompted the Centre to consider state governments becoming accountable for balancing the sex ratio in their respective states. The Prime Minister, in November last year, had despaired over the abuse of ultrasound technology. This has to translate into stringent enforcement of the existing law.