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Where have all our girls gone?

The richest region in Maharashtra also seems to be the most regressive, with sex ratios falling to new lows, reports Yogesh Joshi.

india Updated: Jan 03, 2007 16:09 IST

In wealthy — and what should be more progressive — Western Maharashtra, there is no room in prospering families for little girls.

With rampant abortion of female foetuses, the sex ratio has fallen sharply by 100 points in the last decade in six talukas of Kolhapur and Sangli districts.

The dismal sex ratio is an indicator that illegal sex determination tests are rampant. The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act came into force in 1994 to check female foeticide.

It has not helped. Only two cases have been registered in Kolhapur, while not a single case has been registered in Sangli. The Family Welfare Department (FWD) blames it on “loopholes in the law”.

Social activists, however, attribute it to a flawed system.

“Sex-selective abortions are a crime, but cases hardly ever reach the police. No doctor would tell on another. This ‘nexus’ is the reason why Kolhapur and Sangli have seen such a sharp decline in sex ratios,” said Varsha Deshpande, activist and president of the Akhil Bharatiya Dalit Mahila Sanghathana.

Deshpande and her non-governmental organisation, which recently exposed four cases of illegal sex determination, have been working to prevent sex-selective abortions in western Maharashtra.

Dr Madhuri Talwalkar, the FWD’s chief demographer, admitted to an “alarming situation”.

Of the six talukas with low sex ratios, Panhala in Kolhapur is the worst. It has the lowest ratio of 795 (girls between 0-6 years for every 1,000 boys). “I don’t have the latest figures in these talukas, but not much improvement is anticipated,” she said.

In Kolhapur, Dr Kirtikumar Argade and Dr CG Gaikwad are the only one booked so far for carrying out illegal sex determination tests. Kolhapur district civil surgeon Dr V Yadav, who is authorised to initiate action in such cases, told HT that in both cases chargesheets were filed and the trials were on in a local court.

The FWD’s Additional Director SB Chavan said: “The reason for only two complaints over 12 years is a nexus between doctors and patients. Doctors often take refuge under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (1971), which allows them to carry out such tests until a foetus is 12 weeks old. Even if a foetus is six months old, doctors show the age as less and conduct the tests.”

According to former Kolhapur Zilla Parishad health chief Dr Dilip Patil, who is now the city’s civic health chief, “The strong preference for boys, the belief that only sons can look after property, and the easy access to sex determination centers, are why sex ratios are falling in Kolhapur and Sangli.”

If you thought the trend of declining sex ratio is better in the state capital, think again. Mumbai, too, reflects the statewide phenomenon. Wealthier parts of the city have lower sex ratio. The sex ratio is 898 in the island city and 919 in the suburbs. In posh South Mumbai, the ratio is even lower — like the other parts of the state.

“This is true for the rest of the state as well, economically developed regions are showing decline in the sex ratio,” said Maharashtra Women’s Commission member secretary Sanjivani Kutti.

yogesh.joshi@hindustantimes.com