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Female foeticide in India

© UNICEF/India/2007

By Alka Gupta

Eligible Jat boys from Haryana travel 3,000 km across the country to find themselves a bride. With increasingly fewer girls in Haryana, they are seeking brides from as far away as Kerala as the only way to change their single status.
 
The girls have not vanished overnight. Decades of sex determination tests and female foeticide that has acquired genocide proportions are finally catching up with states in India.

This is only the tip of the demographic and social problems confronting India in the coming years. Skewed sex ratios have moved beyond the states of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. With news of increasing number of female foetuses being aborted from Orissa to Bangalore there is ample evidence to suggest that the next census will reveal a further fall in child sex ratios throughout the country.

The decline in child sex ratio in India is evident by comparing the census figures. In 1991, the figure was 947 girls to 1000 boys. Ten years later it had fallen to 927 girls for 1000 boys.

Since 1991, 80% of districts in India have recorded a declining sex ratio with the state of Punjab being the worst.

States like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana have recorded a more than 50 point decline in the child sex ratio in this period.

Despite these horrific numbers, foetal sex determination and sex selective abortion by unethical medical professionals has today grown into a Rs. 1,000 crore industry (US$ 244 million). Social discrimination against women, already entrenched in Indian society, has been spurred on by technological developments that today allow mobile sex selection clinics to drive into almost any village or neighbourhood unchecked.

The PCPNDT Act 1994 (Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act) was modified in 2003 to target the medical profession - the ‘supply side’ of the practice of sex selection. However non implementation of the Act has been the biggest failing of the campaign against sex selection

According to the latest data available till May 2006, as many as 22 out of 35 states in India had not reported a single case of violation of the act since it came into force. Delhi reported the largest number of violations – 76 out of which 69 were cases of non registration of birth! Punjab had 67 cases and Gujarat 57 cases.

But the battle rages on.

In a recent landmark judgment the Mumbai High Court upheld an amendment to the PCPNDT Act banning sex selection treatment. The Court pronounced that pre natal sex determination would be as good as female foeticide. Pre-conception sex determination violated a woman’s right to live and was against the Constitution, it said.

While the boys from Haryana may have found a temporary solution to the problem of missing brides, experts warn that the demographic crisis will lead to increasing sexual violence and abuse against women and female children, trafficking, increasing number of child marriages, increasing maternal deaths due to abortions and early marriages and increase in practices like polyandry.

There have been only two convictions -- a fine of 300 rupees ($7) and another fine of 4,000 rupees ($98) -- from over 400 cases lodged under the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act.

Bringing about changes in the demand for sex determination is a long process and has to be tackled through women’s education and empowerment including the right to property and land rights. States in the North East and in Kerala where women have these rights show a comparatively better sex ratio.

The battle against sex selection has proved to be long drawn out. But some signs are visible that demonstrate that the fight can be won.

Lakhanpal, a small village in Punjab has turned the tide of male births for the first time. In a state that has the lowest sex ratio in the country, the village boasts of 1,400 girls for every 1000 boys.
 
Arvind Kumar, the collector of Hyderabad district has illustrated the power of the Act. Hyderabad had the lowest child sex ratio (0-6 years) in Andhra Pradesh. After taking over in 2004 he tracked down all 389 diagnostic clinics in the city and took action. 361 ultrasound scan centres were issued notices for non compliance with the PNDT Act.

Licenses of 91 centres were cancelled. 83 machines were seized and 71 released after an undertaking and fine. Three suppliers were prosecuted for supplying machines to clinics with no registration licenses.

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