Declining sex ratio is a result of medical professionals helping to eliminate the unborn girl child
UP and Bihar the states with the largest number of births will largely decide whether in the next decade there will be an upturn in favour of girls. Given the lack of deterrence against sex selection in these states, the impact will be felt in a further decline of sex ratios in the country
The declining trend in the sex ratio at birth in recent years is evident from the government’s Sample Registration Survey data (from 909 to 900 over 2011-15). The biological benchmark of sex ratio at birth is 952 girls per 1,000 boys, thus at least 5% of the girls are not allowed to be born today. Note that the latest Civil Registration data of 23 million births in 2014 also confirms this declining trend. Perhaps we as a country have not got rid of the son preference syndrome like China. China and India eliminate more than 15 lakh girls annually.
What are the causes of this decline? It seems to be a combination of the lack of political will and the criminal tendencies evident in the medical profession, as in other professions; the lure of quick money by unlawful means, which has militated against the girl child. Chandrababu Naidu when he demitted office as the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh in 2002, claimed that one of his main achievements was to increase the number of medical colleges from seven (all government colleges) to 30, such is the march of the private sector in the field of medical education. These colleges are churning out doctors for quick profits. Unsurprisingly, undivided Andhra had the sharpest decline in child sex ratios among the South Indian states in 2011 census. While advertisements in the print media have stopped, thanks to the Supreme Court orders over 2001-2003, they continue unabated on Google search. The Supreme Court is currently hearing a case asking for blocking advertisement of sex selection.
The role of the medical profession is also evident from the fact that the sex ratio is more adverse in urban areas compared to the rural areas. Unless medical professionals are held responsible for this gross misuse of ultra sound technology, the adverse sex ratio is unlikely to change. Heroic efforts by NGOs and civil society have yielded results. Varsha Deshpande secured over 70 convictions in Maharashtra of medical professionals over the past decade. This has shown results in improved sex ratios till 2014 which went up to 914. However, over 2015 and 2016 the sex ratio has declined to 899 because of the lack of focus on the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 by the present State government. The sex ratio at birth has been increasing in Haryana and Rajasthan also thanks to the aggressive prosecution of doctors, under the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Programme of the BJP government.
While discrimination against the girl child existed and infanticide was known, the march of technology has made it easier and clinical to eliminate the girl child before birth. Until the last decade, the most important cause of missing girls in India was deliberate neglect after birth, but today, it is sex selection before birth.
UP and Bihar the states with the largest number of births will largely decide whether in the next decade there will be an upturn in favour of girls. Given the lack of deterrence against sex selection in these states, the impact will be felt in a further decline of sex ratios in the country.
This is not to make a case for banning all abortions but rather a case to end discrimination against women at large. It is tragic that this country has no law prohibiting discrimination based on sex; similar to the one for HIV/AIDS recently passed by the Parliament. The Public Accounts Committee of the Legislative assembly of Maharashtra has just announced that in all cases foetal sex be determined and pregnancies monitored till delivery. Apart from being a complete violation of the right to informed consent, which is part of the right to health, it is a gross violation of the right to privacy in decisions of the most intimate kind . Policing pregnant women is not the solution to the problem. On the contrary, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 allows abortion under certain conditions. The new proposal can also have dangerous communal overtones.
Political parties can facilitate a favourable environment for girls, if they avoid polarisation of our society. We need to get our national priorities right for the reversal of sex ratios to normalcy.
Indira Jaising is a senior advocate, Supreme Court
The views expressed are personal