SEX DE­TER­MI­NA­TION

Ma­ha­rash­tra gets ready to give up the fight to save the girl child

Down to Earth - - FRONT PAGE - VAR­SHA TORGALKAR

IT'S NOT just be­wil­der­ing but wor­ry­ing. Over a month has passed since the Ma­ha­rash­tra Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly’s Public Ac­counts Com­mit­tee (pac) submitted a re­port in the state assem­bly, rec­om­mend­ing that pre­na­tal sex de­ter­mi­na­tion test should be made manda­tory. Such a test is cur­rently il­le­gal un­der the PreCon­cep­tion and Pre-Na­tal Di­ag­nos­tic Tech­niques (pcp­ndt) Act of 1994 that aims to pre­vent fe­male foeti­cide. pac’s re­port has raised a furore among so­cial ac­tivists, aca­demics and health rights ex­perts, with sev­eral of them de­mand­ing its im­me­di­ate re­jec­tion. But the Ma­ha­rash­tra gov­ern­ment re­mains tight-lipped about it.

This is wor­ry­ing be­cause Ma­ha­rash­tra was one of the first states to recog­nise the prob­lem of sex-se­lec­tive abor­tion way back in the 1980s and be­came the pi­o­neer in im­ple­ment­ing the pcp­ndt Act. But of late, child sex ra­tio in the state has been de­clin­ing—cen­sus re­ports show that the num­ber of girl chil­dren in the state de­clined from 913 for ev­ery 1,000 boys to 894 be­tween 2001 and 2011, and is much be­low the na­tional av­er­age of 919. A re­cent in­ci­dent high­lights what could be the rea­son for the de­clin­ing trend. In March, just a few days be­fore pac made its rec­om­men­da­tions public, the state po­lice busted a sex-se­lec­tive abor­tion racket at Mhaisal vil­lage in western Ma­ha­rash­tra’s San­gli district, and found 19 aborted foe­tuses dumped near a hos­pi­tal.

Ac­tivists fear that such in­ci­dents would be­come ram­pant if the gov­ern­ment ac­cepts pac’s re­port. pac, how­ever, claims oth­er­wise. It says once the par­ents come to know that the mother is car­ry­ing a fe­male foe­tus

through com­pul­sory sex de­ter­mi­na­tion test, they would be en­cour­aged for fol­low-up check-ups and the mother would be mon­i­tored for any sus­pected ill-prac­tices or at­tempts to abort the preg­nancy. If the cou­ple dis­con­tin­ues com­ing to the hos­pi­tal for check-ups, doc­tors would visit them at their res­i­dence. District health of­fi­cers and non­prof­its would also be in­volved in the mon­i­tor­ing process. Track­ing the mother through­out the preg­nancy would help en­sure that the girl child sur­vives.

State leg­is­la­tor Gopal­das Agrawal, who heads pac, says the rec­om­men­da­tion brings the par­ents un­der the purview of the pcp­ndt Act. So far, only doc­tors were held li­able for il­le­gally let­ting the par­ents know about the sex of the child and help­ing them abort. “I will not say that the pcp­ndt Act has proved fu­tile. No law is per­fect,” says Agrawal. The gov­ern­ment needs to im­prove the law so that it be­comes more ef­fec­tive. pac of Ma­ha­rash­tra is the first in the coun­try to sug­gest amend­ments to the pcp­ndt Act and help im­prove it, he adds.

But why vic­timise the vic­tims?

Ka­mayani Bali Ma­ha­bal, head of Mum­baibased net­work Fo­rum Against Sex Selec­tion, says the rec­om­men­da­tions would re­sult in round-the-clock surveil­lance of preg­nant women both within the fam­ily and by the au­thor­i­ties. Be­sides, the au­thor­i­ties may link all cases of abor­tion to sex selec­tion. This will cre­ate need­less pres­sure on women even though they have lit­tle say in con­tin­u­ing or ter­mi­nat­ing a preg­nancy, she adds.

The amend­ments made to the pcp­ndt Act in 2003 recog­nised this lack of au­ton­omy faced by women and had thus kept the preg­nant woman out of the am­bit of the Act.

Yo­gesh Joshi, a doc­tor from Pune who runs a di­ag­nos­tic lab, elab­o­rates another likely sce­nario. “Manda­tory sex de­ter­mi­na­tion test would fuel a pro­lif­er­a­tion of il­le­gal fa­cil­i­ties for get­ting rid of un­wanted fe­male foe­tuses. Cou­ples would first go to il­le­gal fa­cil­i­ties to get the sex de­ter­mi­na­tion test done and ap­proach the state ma­chin­ery only if they have con­ceived a male child. The au­thor­i­ties would never get to know about fe­male foeti­cide,” says Joshi. His words un­der­score the fact that de­spite the pcp­ndt Act, the gov­ern­ment has failed to keep track of the il­le­gal scan­ning and abor­tion cen­tres that have

"No law is per­fect... Ma­ha­rash­tra Public Ac­counts Com­mit­tee is the first in In­dia to sug­gest amend­ments to the Pre-Con­cep­tion and Pre­Na­tal Di­ag­nos­tic Tech­niques (PCP­NDT) Act and help im­prove it" -Gopal­das Agrawal, Head, Public Ac­counts Com­mit­tee (PAC), Ma­ha­rash­tra ‹

mush­roomed across the coun­try since 1994.

Anant Phadke of Jan Swasthya Ab­hiyan in Pune says the rec­om­men­da­tions would af­fect women’s al­ready poor ac­cess to safe abor­tion. As the gov­ern­ment would make abor­tion-re­lated rules strin­gent, li­censed cen­tres may shy away from per­form­ing abor­tions to avoid le­gal com­plex­i­ties. This would force women in need, such as those car­ry­ing ba­bies with ge­net­i­cally in­her­ited dis­eases, to rely on il­le­gal abor­tion cen­tres, who may charge ex­or­bi­tantly and may not pro­vide safe abor­tion and post-abor­tion care. Be­sides, Phadke says, the gov­ern­ment does not have enough hu­man re­source and in­fra­struc­ture for track­ing women car­ry­ing fe­male fe­tuses and mon­i­tor­ing their health.

This is not the first time such sug­ges­tions have been floated. Last year, Union Cab­i­net Min­is­ter for Women & Child Devel­op­ment Maneka Gandhi had sug­gested mak­ing sex de­ter­mi­na­tion dur­ing preg­nancy le­gal. It stirred up a hor­net’s nest be­fore Gandhi could is­sue a state­ment, say­ing that her re­marks were per­sonal views.

Man­isha Gupte, co-founder of non­profit Mahila Sar­vangeen Utkarsh Man­dal in Pune, says it is iron­i­cal that such a rec­om­men­da­tion is be­ing made in Ma­ha­rash­tra, where women and health rights ac­tivists had forced the state gov­ern­ment to im­ple­ment the law by link­ing the use of sex-selec­tion and sex-de­tec­tion tech­nolo­gies to gen­der-based dis­crim­i­na­tion and there­after to the de­clin­ing child sex ra­tio in In­dia.

When Down To Earth told Agrawal about the op­po­si­tion by hu­man right ac­tivists, he said that the rec­om­men­da­tions are only sug­ges­tions to the state gov­ern­ment. If the state gov­ern­ment finds them wor­thy, it will ap­prise the Union gov­ern­ment of it. The Union gov­ern­ment, which is the ul­ti­mate au­thor­ity, will fur­ther an­a­lyse the rec­om­men­da­tions and de­cide whether to amend the pcp­ndt Act or not. “This is a long and te­dious process. We do not un­der­stand why peo­ple are crit­i­cis­ing it,” he said.

While sources say the state gov­ern­ment is yet to be­gin study­ing pac’s rec­om­men­da­tions, ac­tivists main­tain that the gov­ern­ment should fo­cus on strin­gent im­ple­men­ta­tion of the pcp­ndt Act, which has clearly acted as a de­ter­rent to fe­male foeti­cide wher­ever it has been used ef­fec­tively.

"PAC sug­ges­tion would vic­timise women who have lit­tle say in con­tin­u­ing or ter­mi­nat­ing a preg­nancy" -Ka­mayani Bali Ma­ha­bal, Head, Fo­rum Against Sex Selec­tion, Mum­bai ‹

"This will af­fect women's al­ready poor ac­cess to safe abor­tion. Most gov­ern­men­trecog­nised cen­tres do not per­form abor­tions due to le­gal com­plex­i­ties "-Anant Phadke, Jan Swasthya Ab­hiyan, Pune, In­dia chap­ter of Peo­ple's Health Move­ment ‹

"It's iron­i­cal that such sug­ges­tions are be­ing made in Ma­ha­rash­tra, which had pi­o­neered in im­ple­ment­ing the PCP­NDT Act" -Man­isha Gupte, Founder, Mahila Sar­vangeen Utkarsh Man­dal, Pune ‹

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