Women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi opened a can of worms when she proposed the introduction of mandatory tests to determine the sex of an unborn child bid to counter female foeticide in the country.
While radiologists and gynaecologists welcomed the proposal, women’s rights groups have condemned it, saying the move will victimise women and lead to more unsafe abortions.
‘It will victimise women’
“It’s a very irresponsible statement. She cannot take the onus away from the radiologists, ultrasonograph owners, etc. who make money by conducting sex determination tests, and start policing women. The next step will be to criminalise miscarriages and abortion,” said N Sarojini, director of Sama -Resource Group for Women and Health.
Others said the move will violate a woman’s right over her body and her right to privacy. “The onus cannot be put on women alone, this means that any woman who is carrying a female baby can never get a legal abortion done. It violates the rights of women,” said a UN official who did not want to be named.
Obstetricians and radiologists have welcomed the proposal, saying restrictions are not a solution as ultrasounds are a medical necessity. “Falling sex ratio is a concern, but prosecuting radiologists is not the solution. More out-of-the-box solutions are needed, such as an ultrasound done a day before an abortion can help determine whether there was a medical need for an abortion or not,” said Dr Harsh Mahajan, past president of the Indian Radiological & Imaging Association.
“The sex of the foetus can be determined in 11-12 weeks, and more than 90% abortions in India are done in the second trimester but recorded as being done in the first (before 12 weeks). An ultrasound record before the abortion will help determine whether the abortion as sex-selective or not,” Dr Mahajan said.
Under India’s Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act 1994 (PCPNDT Act) , determining the gender of an unborn child is banned to stop sex-selective abortions which have led to an alarming fall in the number of girls born as compared to boys in India.
All ultrasound machines have to be registered and centres doing ultrasounds have to fill online disclaimers (Form F) for each ultrasound done on a pregnant woman to allow the government to audit the information.
“The PCPNDT is an effective act and BJP-ruled states, such as Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, have taken a lead in strictly monitoring radiologists,” Sarojini said.
Sex ratio at birth – the number of girls born per 1,000 boys – in India fell from 945 in 1991, to 927 in 2001, to 914 in 2011, according to census data.
This is reflecting in adult sex ratio too, with India being home to 940 women per 1,000 men. Globally, there are 984 women to 1,000 men, with Russia boasting of 1,165 women per 1,000 men. Since women live longer than men, all developed countries including US, UK, Japan, Germany, France and Australia have a higher female population than men.
Gandhi’s statement is her personal view and is not a government proposal. “She has discussed her proposal with the Union health minister JP Nadda and has had an informal discussion at the sidelines of a Cabinet meeting, but no formal Cabinet or health ministry proposal has been made,” a health ministry source said.
Child sex ratio in India
Child sex ratio (girls /1,000 boys under six years)
Source: Census of India