Is Diluting Sex Determination Law Threat To Our Goal Of Achieving Healthy Child Sex Ratio?
India has been severely affected by declining child sex ratio especially since 1981 as a result of unholy alliance between technology and traditional preference for boys. Female foeticide and infanticide brought down the child sex ratio to alarming levels that is from 976 in year 1961 to 918 in year 2011.
Against this backdrop Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostics Techniques Act was passed with the intention to prevent the use of technology for such social evil.
Few basic features of the Act are
- Registration under Section 18 of PC-PNDT Act.
- Written consent of the pregnant women and prohibition of communicating in any form the sex of the foetus.
- Strict maintenance of records of any antenatal diagnostic technique the pregnant woman is subjected to.
- Creating awareness among public by placing boards and notices regarding prohibition of determining sex.
The Act penalizes anybody either involved in Sex-Selection (because this includes pre-conception techniques in which it is possible to ensure the conception of only boys) or non-maintenance of records. Offence under the Act is cognizable (do not need arrest warrant), Non-Bailable (bail cannot be granted except on court’s order) and non-compoundable (cannot be privately compromised or settled monetarily or in any other way by or between parties). The Act also defines punishment for any relative or husband of any women seeking sex- selection.
How successful is the Act?
The Act itself is much of a debate. Various Women rights activists have protested against poor enforcement of the Act in many states. The act has not failed. In states like Maharashtra and Haryana where the act was implement and punishments which are deterrent were given there has been a halt in the decline in the sex ratio. However, the problem lies in non-implementation of the act and very less convictions associated with the Act. As long as the punishment for a crime is not deterrent, the crime cannot be stopped.
For example, in the state of Uttarakhand CSR has declined drastically from 908 in year 2001 to 890 in 2011. As per the statement of health minister of India JP Nadda before the parliament on 3rd march 2015 not a single conviction was secured under Preconception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act in Uttarakhand between 2009 and 2014. Gujarat had seen only six convictions between 2009 and 2014. In fact, this data in itself shows that the reason for the continuation of sex selection is mainly due to lack of implementation and no deterrence in the form of strict punishments.
As per a report published by Centre for Youth Developments & Activities important stakeholders like Public Prosecutors, Judicial Magistrate’s, Medical practitioners do not possess required awareness regarding various processes and procedures of the Act. The report even says that 33.3% of the magistrates felt that level of awareness among judiciary is poor.
The present Act is adequate if enforced properly as evident in the states like Maharashtra and Haryana which have clocked more convictions.
But unfortunately, there is a powerfully medical lobby who are trying to undermine the PC-PNDT Act by opposing its implementation and demanding amendments to certain sections and Rules of the Act. The act is viewed by them as Draconian. They say that even clerical errors committed during their job like writing wrong names of the patients, incomplete forms, lack of signature are “equated” with sex-determination. They claim that mistakes are made by clerical staff and not by them and questioned why they should be responsible for it. They came up with slogans like “we are doctors and not clerks”. Indian Radiological & Imaging Association whose membership nears 14,000 members threatened with nationwide strike.
Their Demands are
- All clerical errors like not filling up forms, incomplete forms, missing signature should not be equated with sex-selective abortions. They demanded that doctors cannot be held culpable only because of record keeping errors.
- Ultrasonic sound machines should not be sealed and medical qualifications should not be cancelled for minor clerical errors.
- They want all pending criminal cases due to clerical errors be reviewed and dropped
Various medical organisations have even suggested that sex selection test be made mandatory. In case the test results in female the government should track and monitor the parents with additional scrutiny. This they believe would actually fight female foeticide. This advice even found support from Union Minister Menaka Gandhi. But does government have institutional machinery to track lakhs and crores of pregnancies?? Many believe it does not and would only help generate business profits to medical clinics. Additionally, activists believe that making sex determination compulsory will only increase the harassment of the pregnant woman and increase the number of incidents of “accidental” stove bursts, food deprivation, tortures etc.
What women rights activists want?
Several women rights activists and associations like All India Democratic Women’s Associations are up in arms against any dilution of the Act. They complain that present Act even in its present form is not implemented effectively. Many convictions under this act just result in fine of few thousand rupees. They fear that dilution would only protect the interest of unscrupulous health professionals who misused technology and made sex selection into a lucrative business venture. They requested the government not to dilute the act as it would go against the fundamental right of gender equality enshrined in our constitution.
Having proper records is the only way to make sure that modern machinery is not used for sex determination. It is only then it can act as a deterrent to sex determination practices. If the medical clinics cannot maintain proper records no one can be blamed except them. Medical professional cannot claim innocence due to clerical errors as it is their duty to train their clerical staff. They should realize that their mistakes can cost a life of girl child. Radiologists/ gynaecologists can become major contributors in fight against female foeticide by simply following the PC PNDT Act instead of fighting for its dilution.
Success in preventing sex based abortions and discrimination associated with gender cannot be achieved by just addressing technological and legal aspects. Sex determination is not a crime in many western countries but still they have healthy levels of child sex ratio. The Strict laws have to go hand in hand with attempts to change societal attitude towards female gender. It is true that change in societal attitude will take time but we should not give up on the idea that our society can change. The fight should also focus on tackling issues like dowry, women security, financial support to women in terms of education, employment and inheritance. The government and the society should work for creating a safe and secure environment for female gender to prosper.
Any dilution of the present PC-PNDT Act will not only be against the girl child but also will be against the BETI BACCHAO BETI PADHAO program of PM Modi because one of the key elements of the program is strict implementation of the PC-PNDT Act.