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With an alarming history and present of gender imbalance, India has a reputation globally, caused primarily due to an increasing number of female foeticide cases. Albeit selective abortion being banned in the country, thousands of cases relating to sex-selective abortion come up every year.
The most shocking fact being the number such cases being highest in urban and prospering rural areas with the highest number of education population. The phenomenon of gender determination takes place predominantly in educated and prosperous families that long for a male child and therefore, opt for illegal sex determination techniques.
The implications of sex-selective abortions can be elucidated as the following:
When it comes to the legal standing on the issue, the Pre-Conception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 2003(Prohibition of Sex Selection) otherwise known as the PC-PNDT Act, makes the determination of an unborn child’s gender or even the use of sex-selection technology, an illegal act. The law was enacted in response to the falling sex ratio and fears that ultrasound technologies were being used to determine the sex of the foetus.
The law was amended in 2003 to bring the technique of preconception sex selection, particularly to ban practices where medical practitioners could influence the sex of the child before conception by using techniques such as sperm sorting. The enacted law not only prohibits determination and disclosure of the sex of the foetus but also bans advertisements related to preconception and prenatal determination of sex.
According to the Act, ultrasound clinics, genetic counselling centres and laboratories cannot be used to conduct pre-natal diagnosis except to detect chromosomal abnormalities, genetic metabolic diseases, sex-linked genetic diseases and congenital anomalies. The Act makes it mandatory for all ultrasound facilities to be registered and for medical practitioners to maintain records of every scan done on pregnant women.
Since 2000, both High Courts and the Supreme Court have delivered a series of judgments which takes a serious view of sex-selective practices by the medical fraternity and the connection it may have with skewed sex ratios.
The primary problem with regards to sex determination in India is the failure of proper implementation of the available laws. There have been reports of non-performance by the State Advisory Committees which works for the implementation of the Act. There are no guidelines or measures to stringently monitor ultrasound clinics.
State advisory committees that help in implementing the Act do not meet regularly. Besides, there is poor monitoring of ultrasound clinics. These clinics are required to maintain records of scans they perform which are often modified and the clinics that violate this requirement are let off with a small fine.
Literacy and job training programmes as well as access to higher education for women, are vital for the empowerment of women and enhancing their status in society. Public education campaigns are also an important part of the equation. Although eradicating sex-selective abortion may seem like a daunting task in a country with such limited resources, it is a vitally important one, morally, socially and economically. To tackle the problem it is essential to raise awareness and seek attitudinal and behaviour change.