Thursday, February 4, 2016

[Editorial # 57] Coming to grips with female foeticide : The Hindu

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 4th February 2016. Read through it and try to answer the questions that follow. Please do not copy and paste answers. The objective of this exercise is to get you in the groove of answer-writing. Try to write in your own words. Don't hesitate to write in a bulleted-format, if you are uncomfortable in writing in paragraph form.]

Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi’s clarifications over her remarks on the existing ban on sex-selective abortions should put the focus back on the real issues. There are three aspects to the proposal that she put forth at a conference in Jaipur: establish the sex of the foetus when a pregnancy is detected; tell the mother about it and register the fact in public records; and ensure that deliveries happen only in institutions and not at home. This twin strategy of tracking sex-determined foetuses and requiring institutional deliveries is expected to ensure that female babies are not aborted, or killed at birth. While this idea might seem persuasive, like many technological fixes it betrays a worrying lack of awareness of social realities. The very attempt to record the status of the foetus involves the obvious risk of exposing women to undue psychological and social pressure to abort female foetuses. Two, such an intrusion by the state into a woman’s personal-biological space is unwelcome, even Orwellian. That such suggestions are being floated — no matter how quickly they are withdrawn in the face of criticism — is an indication of India’s persisting inability to address the problem of female foeticide, and the continuum of social ills that this practice reflects.

At the moment, there are few incentives for medical technicians, apart from public interest, to withhold information from families on the gender of the foetus. And when such violations have come to light, prosecution has been indifferent. Maharashtra is believed to have come down severely on errant doctors and clinics, which is significant given the likely impact the State’s large population could have on child sex ratios. The record of Punjab and Haryana, with a high prevalence of sex-selective abortions, also points to a modicum of enforcement. But there is a long way to go. After all, where traditional cultural norms dictate a strong preference for boys, recourse to medical technologies could well reinforce socially detrimental personal choices. Clearly, the emphasis ought to be on the reversal of India’s adverse sex ratio among children in the 0-6 year age group. On a national average, the number of girls for every 1,000 boys in this segment of the population dipped to 918 in the 2011 decennial population Census, with more disturbing regional variations. The corresponding figures were 927 and 933 in 1991 and 2001, respectively. Notably, Ms. Gandhi’s six-time constituency of Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh has seen a sharp drop in the child sex ratio in the 2001-2011 inter-Census period. At 940, the figure was above the national average in 2001, but declined dramatically to 912 in the last Census. Pilibhit could easily set an example for the whole country, if only by a scrupulous compliance with the spirit of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, under which any disclosure of the foetal status is a punishable offence.


1.What is sex-selective abortion? Why is it practiced in India? Is/are there any other country/countries where this issue is prevalent?

2. What are various demographic parameters which suggest that sex-selective abortion is prevalent in India?

3. What are the current mechanisms adopted by the government to arrest the issue of sex-selective abortion? Has the government been successful in its endeavours? If yes then how and if no then what are the reasons behind govt's failure?

4. What is the new measure suggested by the WCD Minister to address this issue? In your opinion is the suggested measure ethical and practical?

5. What is sex ratio? How is it measured? Find the trend of India's Sex Ratio after independence.

6. What is Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act? Highlight its salient features.

7. What are various impacts of a skewed sex ratio prevalent in any society?

8. Suggest some practical measures to address the issue of unfavourable sex ratio of India?

9. What is the Sex Ratio of your district and state? What has the local government of your area done to address the issue of skewed ratio (if any)

10. Find out the best 5 and worst 5 states in terms of over all Sex Ratio and Under 6 Sex Ratio.


  1. 1. Sex-selective abortion is the practice of terminating a pregnancy based upon the predicted sex of the infant.

    It is practiced in India because of its cultural norms that value male children over female children.

    Countries where this issue is more prevalent are China, India, Pakistan, the Caucasus, and Southeast Europe.

  2. 2. (a). Human sex ratio at birth
    (b). Child sex ratio (0-6 years)

    1. Please add if something can fit here. I could think of only these two parameters

  3. 3. Laws to prevent sex determination and selective abortion :

    a. Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 : legalises abortion only in cases of medical risks to expwcted mother and rape.

    b. Pre-Conception and Prenatal Diagnostic Technique, 2014 : To deter and punish pre-natal sex screening and sex selective abortion.
    Under this law ultrasonography is not allowed for sex determination of child.

    Govt Initiative :

    Campaigns like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhai, sukanya devi and similar schemes to assist and encourage families to educate their girl child and make them capable to lead their own life.

  4. 1. Sex-selective abortion refers to the act of prematurely terminating a pregnancy on the basis of the sex of the foetus, which is determined through the process of amniocentesis. Such a practice is prevalent in India due to the son-preference amongst most communities. Many communities which function according to patriarchal customs, have greater preference for male children as they are thought to be capable of providing for the family, carrying on lineage and taking care of the elderly. Many traditional homes still view a daughter as a liability, whose upbringing and particularly marriage require expenditure, but who cannot support a family. As a result of this retrogressive mindest that prevails in India , in terms of the cultural and economic importance of a male child, sex ratios are heavily skewed in favour of male children. It is not uncommon to see men remarrying in order to beget a male child if their first wife has failed to produce one, despite scientific evidence to the contrary, that lays down that sex of the foetus in dependent on the man. As a result, although amniocentesis now stands banned , many women pursue illegal tactics, such a bribing clinics and technicians, to reveal the sex of the baby. The premature termination of the pregnancy on account of the foetus being female is known as female foeticide. Sex selective abortion, is suspected to be prevalent in the Caucusus countries such as Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia since the sex ratio has seen a steady decline over the years , although no evidence for the same is available. In China, prior to the advent of the one-child policy, couples would continue to have children until they begot a son. With the implementation of the One-Child policy, couples began to use illegal sex-selective abortions so as to ensure that their sole child would be a male. In fact in certain provinces , the Chinese government permits governments who have a single girl child to have one more child. Similarly Pakistani society has seen high rates of female foeticide such that out of 10 fetuses in the garbage cans in Pakistan, 9 are female fetuses. In all these countries there is a high societal preference for male children over female children. Male children are given precedence not only in birth, but in education, nutrition, wealth ownership, inheritance etc.. which further propagates the society's for male children in a vicious cycle.

  5. 6. The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act , 2003, which was preceded by the Pre-Conception Diagnostic Act , 1994 , is an Act of the Parliament of India that bans pre-natal sex determination and seeks to stop female foeticides and arrest the declining sex ratio. The Act bans the pre-conception or pre-natal determination of the ex of the foetus through ultrasounds or amniocentesis. Post the 1990s, the foetal sex determination and sex-selective abortion industry has grown into a Rs. 1000 crore industry. Hence the act was enacted to ban the use of sex determination before or after conception and pre-natal sex determination in order to prevent the consequent sex-selective abortion. The Act stipulates that ultrasounds and amniocentiesis must not be utilized to determine the sex of the foetus but only to detect genetic disorder, congenital abnormalities, malformations, and disorders in the foetus. It stipulates that no ultrasound technician or clinic must conduct or assist in conducting sex determination prior to or post conception. Moreover, if ultrasounds are conducted for the above mentioned reasons, the technician or doctor must not reveal the sex of the foetus to the family , by any means. The sale and distribution of ultrasound machines capable of determining the sex of the foetus to civilians and uncertified practitioners stands banned. If any clinic or establishment attempts to propagate information regarding sex-selective abortions or provides advertisements for such services they are liable for upto three years of imprisonment and a fine of Rs10,000.

  6. 1. Sex selective abortion refers to the attempt to choose between or giving preference to one gender or sex over the other after determining the sex of the child. It is done through present day technological methodologies or by consuming some contraceptive medicines.
    In India, sex selective abortions are mainly prevalent in states like Haryana, Punjab, UP, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The reason lying behind it is the “son preference” factor. Other than some southern states, India is mainly inflected with the patriarchal society where male baby is preferred over the female baby. In India, it is prevalent because of dimensional socio – cultural factors. Many rituals are based on the male member of the family. Various practices from the ancient times cannot be finished without the presence of the male member of the family.
    The issue of sex selective abortion is prevalent in Pakistan as well, because Pakistan is the part of Indian subcontinent and most of the socio-cultural practices are similar to each other. Bangladesh and Nepal is also sharing this feature. China is also suffering from this issue. In fact in certain provinces , the Chinese government permits governments who have a single girl child to have one more child. Similarly Pakistani society has seen high rates of female foeticide such that out of 10 fetuses in the garbage cans in Pakistan, 9 are female fetuses. In all these countries there is a high societal preference for male children over female children. Male children are given precedence not only in birth, but in education, nutrition, wealth ownership, inheritance etc.. which further propagates the society's for male children in a vicious cycle.
    In western countries also there is patriarchal system but they are able enough to prevent such a backward and traditional inflected notion of Son preference.

  7. 2. Human Sex Ratio at birth,
    High or low sex ratio determines the abortion rate,
    Prenatal sex discernment,
    Female Mortality rate,

    These are the main determinants of Sex Selective Abortions.

  8. 3. Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 was the first legally backing attempt to expunge the child abortion. The act was not specifically for the “sex-selective abortion”, but it automatically and dramatically reduced the female child abortion. Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PCPNDT Act), rendered by the collaboration of NGO and the Government of India.
    “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” is another scheme adopted by the current NDA government last year in January. This policy deals with the financial aid given to the Parents of the female child ONLY in order to facilitate her education and marriage. Aid through giving loans at exceptionally lower rates along with other welfare measures is to be given.
    In 1994, over 180 states signed the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, agreeing to "eliminate all forms of discrimination against the girl child. In 2011 the resolution of PACE's Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men condemned the practice of prenatal sex selection. This International initiative is being followed by the government also to halt such an unethical practice.
    The response of the society in return of the government initiatives is mixed, and cannot be absorbed absolutely. Some states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Kerala, Karnataka and Goa has showed very favorable statistics. The average of these states regarding the Sex Selective Abortions is 974/1000 in 2011, which was 932/1000 during late 1980’s. But States like Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar etc. are showing very sluggish improvement. Former states are prospering economically as well, which could be the major factor behind it. More awareness, better education, proper implementation of policies and efficient administration are some of the main determinants to define the socio – cultural aspects of any society.
    Elimination of ancient culture, existing superstitions, and mass education cannot take place overnight. Grassroots level problem is that around 50% – 60% people are not even aware of such initiatives and laws or legal provisions given by the government.

  9. 4. Series of New Initiatives for Development of Women and Children mark the achievements of WCD Ministry.
    Flagship programme Beti Bachao Beti Padhao and One –Stop Centres launched.
    There will be 33% reservation of women in police force, Special Mahila Police Volunteers, Gender Champions and mobile phone panic buttons to prevent crimes against women.
    Lastly, Khoya Paya portal, landmark with Railways and expansion of Childline to track/restore/rehabilitate missing children, which is indirectly influencing the issue.
    Sweeping Adoption reforms to make the process easy, transparent and quick

    The given measures are very effective and efficient to raise the level of women and female child in the society, but somewhere or the other these could be misused. Mere giving some powers and tools to protect one-self would not suffice, until and unless government administration doesn’t create a balance between pros and cons of these policies and programmes.

  10. 5. Sex ratio is an important demographic indicator reflecting the socioeconomic structure of any society. The decreasing child sex ratio (0-6 years) has been a concern in India’s demography in recent times as this ratio has decreased markedly from 927 in 2001 to 914in 2011 for the country as a whole. This decline is more for rural areas from 934 in 2001to 919 in 2011, and for urban areas it is 906 in 2001 and 902 in 2011.

  11. 7. Skewed sex ratios are the root problems for all the social, economic, political adversities in the country. No reservation will help out; no BBBP policies would work out until the mentality of people is injected with positive values. States like Haryana, whose child sex ratio is 674/1000 – is at the verge of extremely disappointing social and economical status. Men don’t have women to get married. If these problems are not taken seriously from this moment, this will result in the polygamy system in the society. Polygamy system refers that one woman will have to marry more than one man.
    In Haryana, people are going to southern states of the country where sex ratio is well maintained. Haryana people are visiting Kerala in search of woman, and trying their level best to continue their line of decent. Forceful marriages are happening between two different cultures and communities are resulting in the unsuccessful marriages. Such unprepared and miss-combinations are further deteriorating the life dignity of woman. Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab etc. are patriarchal societies and Kerala is Matriarchal society.
    As the sex ratio will deteriorate, reservations for woman will axiomatically increase and which will face the downfall of political and administrative level. It is in place to mention that the role of dalal or mediator is important in arranging marriages. Dalali refers to a male/female broker, agent or go between. The word often depicts a negative connotation. This mediator plays an important role in interstate migration of persons in the form of marriages.
    It can also be interpreted that the “swayamvar pratha” is re–emerging as the grooms are at the receiving end, and brides have the choice to which they want to marry. When these boys are rejected in local market they move out to look for their partners in the foreign market. The sex selective abortion practice has disturbed the demand-supply dynamics of brides. Families sell their daughters for some money to get some respite from their poverty, thus ignoring the suitability factor of the perspective groom.

  12. 4. The Women and Child Development Minister, Maneka Gandhi suggested the legalizing of sex-determination processes such as ultrasounds and amniocentesis , with the provision that such procedures would be followed up with a registarion of the sex of the foetus along with the details of the mother so as to ensure that the pregnancy is not prematurely terminated and is carried on to its full conclusion. This, the Minster suggests will build a database to enable monitoring of which pregnancies were carried to their natural end, and which were terminated prematurely, so that sec-selective abortions can be tracked and prevented. However critics argue that there are severe shortcomings in such an approach. It could for instance render women vulnerable to social and familial pressure to abort the foetus and psychological and emotional pressure. It also disrespects the preferences of couples who do not wish to know the sex of their unborn baby and thereby coerces the state to intrude into the private and personal life of a woman and her family. Following up on all cases is not viable and many cases may be misreported as miscarriages or accidental abortions etc.. Critics argue that forcible revelation of the sex of the foetus may endanger the life and health of the mother and subject her to emotional trauma at the hands of a coercive family and it may also be impossible to track down all such cases and assess as to which of them have been taken to their natural conclusion. Apart from impinging upon the private space of a woman and her family, it seeks only to address the overt expression of the problem but does not strike at the root of the problem , which are ingrained discriminations against female children. Until and unless societal mindset is re-oriented, any amount of law making is futile. Until the existing medical establishments and clinics are regularly and carefully monitored, it will be futile to implement additional precautionary measures. Once the country has eliminated the prevalence of quacks and uncertified practitioners who are the man culprits in aiding and abetting sex-determination procedures, the registered establishments can be monitored. It is after all in the unregistered establishments that most of the selective abortions are done, and hence the process of abolition must begin there.

  13. 8. It is amply clear from the continued prevalence of low sex ratios and sex-selective abortions in the country , that deterrent measures taken have failed put an end to the practice. It therefore requires a reassessment of the present regulations and suggestions for some improvements if the country is to witness a change in this respect.
    For one, the punitive measures against those who conduct or have aided/abetted in conducting a sex-determination procedure through ultrasound or amniocentesis, or have advertised the provision of such services , is a measly three years of imprisonment and a fine of Rs 10,0000. Given that this industry has swollen to the tune of Rs 1000 crore, Rs 10,000 is barely a an incentive( or rather disincentive) to bring the practice to a halt. The profits to be reaped from its continuation are far more than the disincentive of the punitive measures. Hence the very first initiative should be to create an equally large disincentive, so as to encourage adherence to law or to instill a sense of fear of the punitive measures which may be imposed. The costs imposed should large enough , to discourage its continuance.
    Social awareness programs regarding the illegality of pre-conception and pre-natal sex determination should be disseminated amongst the rural masses, and the government with the help of media and non-profit organisations must strive to create awareness amongst the rural masses of the retrogressive nature of their actions and spread awareness of the punitive measures taken against such practices.
    Women empowerment , through better educational facilities, skill development and enhancement and nutritional support for women should be upgraded in order to provide women with the ability to take individual decisions without familial pressure and coercion. Incentives could be provided , such as cash transfers or additional subsidies on nutritional foods and supplements in case of the birth of female children, to encourage families to continue with the pregnancy . Along the lines of subsidies provided to families if they keep their daughters in school, monetary of educational incentives could be provided to women who give birth to girl children.
    The government could also provide free treatment at registered medical centres which require registration of all procedures so as to maintain a database of all pregnancies and to deter women from using the facilities of un-qualified practitioners.

  14. 5 and 10. Sex ratio is measured as both adult sex ratio and as child sex ratio at birth. Adult sex ratio is the total number of women to the total number of men in every thousand members of the population. Child Sex Ratio measures the ratio of girl children to male children in every 100 live births. Since independence , the child sex ratio has been drastically declining and stands at its lowest level since independence. In 1961 the child sex ratio stood at 976 girls for every 100 boys which fell to 940 girls per 100 boys in 1971, was 933 in 2001 Census and has plummeted to 914 in the latest 2011 decennial census. The states which fare the best in sex ratio are Kerala and Puducherry , where the women outnumber the men. This is followed by Tamil Nadu, Chattisgarh, Karnataka and West Bengal. in which sex ratios are in the range of 950-995. The states that rank the lowest are Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Delhi wherein the sex ratio ranges from 893 to as low as 857.

  15. What is sex-selective abortion? Why is it practiced in India? Is/are there any other country/countries where this issue is prevalent?
    Sex-selective abortion refers to the practice of terminating pregnancy after the determination of the sex of the foetus. If the termination is done because its a girl foetus then it is known as female foeticide.
    It is practiced in India because of several reasons:
    Male child is considered to be an asset whereas the girl child is considered to be liability. For them the boy has got the responsibility to Earn for the family and since the girl has to be married then why to spent money on them because they wont give anything in return.
    In India continuation of lineage is considered very important.
    The extra protective environment has to be created for girls. The responsibility which is attached to them.
    The prevalent of dowry system.
    The various countries where such problems are prevalent are China but has reduced considerably after the implementation of One child policy.Pakistan.Azerbaijan.Armenia.

  16. What are the current mechanisms adopted by the government to arrest the issue of sex-selective abortion? Has the government been successful in its endeavours? If yes then how and if no then what are the reasons behind govt's failure?
    There are basically three Acts which deals with issue of sex-selective abortion.
    Firstly since one of the major reasons for female foeticide is Dowry, the government has passed the Dowry Prohibition Act in 1961, wherein Section 4 of the Act makes it illegal to dowry demand in any manner.
    Secondly the Pre-conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 2002. Which makes it illegal to conduct pre-natal diagnostic techniques except in certain circumstances:
    Chromosomal Abnormalities.Genetic metabolic disease.Haemoglobinopathies.Sex-linked genetic diseases. Congenital anomalies. It is also provided thath the person conducting such pre-natal diagnostic shall not reveal the sex of the foetus to any one.
    Thirdly The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971, although permits abortion but this can be carried out only after certain conditions are fulfilled. It can only be terminated if the foetus is not more than 12 weeks old. If it has to be done after weeks then the same has to be approved by two registered medical practitioner in good faith and is generally done if the foetus poses threat to the mother, if the mother is a victim of rape etc.
    In my opinion these laws have not been successful in curbing the problem of female foeticide beacuse of:
    The PC&PNDT act doesn't cover the new techiniques that could be adopted by the medical practioner to determine the sex.
    The extension of abortion till 20weeks can have a negative impact as sex can be determined easily by weeks.
    Since there are so many clinics providing the facility of ultrasound it becomes very difficult to monitor each and every clinic.
    Providing abortion on the ground of mental trauma under the Abortion Act is often mis-used.
    The conviction rates under these Acts are very low.

  17. What is the new measure suggested by the WCD Minister to address this issue? In your opinion is the suggested measure ethical and practical?
    The new measures suggested to prevent female foeticide is:
    1.allow determination of Sex of foetus.
    2.register the same in public records. of the baby should be done not in home but only in Institutions.
    In my opnion the measures suggested by the WCD minister will only attract problem for the mother.
    If the sex of the child is determined and the same is communicated to the mother. The entire family and the society will pressurize and will often lead to abuses.
    there will be psychological damage to the mother who will be going through this entire episode.
    The privacy of the mother should be left undisturbed.
    The entire procedure doesn't seems feasible as there will requirement of institutions for the delivery of the baby. In rural India the child is born most often at home and not in Institutions. There might be cases of emergency wherein it would be very difficult to reach institutions on time and in case the child is being born at home and is still born it would cast mala fide intention on the parents.

  18. What is sex ratio? How is it measured? Find the trend of India's Sex Ratio after independence.
    Sex ratio as the word itself suggests is a ratio. It is used to describe number of females per 1000 of males.
    The sex ratio was almost normal during the period of Independence but then it saw a decline through the 60s and 90s. It has improved when compared to the census of 2001 as shown by the 2011 census.
    In 2001 there were 933 females to that of 1000 males. In 2011 it is 940 females.