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Female Foeticide

With Reference to Legal Senario
Submitted by: Pranav Khanna
[Student PURC Ludhiana]

Introduction: Female infanticide has been a common practice in our country
since centuries. Indian census has always shown a gendered imbalance. This
marked gap between boys and girls, which has nationwide implications, is the
result of decisions made at the most local level- the family. Sex selective abortion
is a fairly recent phenomena but its root can be traced back to the age old
practice of female infanticide.

One of the greatest threats to our contemporary civilization is the menace of
skewed sex ratio. The increasing imbalance between men and women is leading
to many crimes such as illegal trafficking of women, sexual assaults, polygamy
and dehumanization of society. These acts have been increasing making this
world unsafe for women. Female foeticide is one of the most nefarious crimes on
this earth; perhaps what is detestable is that the people who commit crime
belong to the educated class. To this menace our ancestral and biased view
about male child, lack of education, ever increasing population and dowry have
been good propellants. Some measures and their enforcement have to happen
immediately. The ineffectiveness of the Pre-Natal Diagnostics Techniques
(Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act is very much evident. Hence there
needs to be quick reformation in the attitude of people to look beyond the legacy
and transform this world as a better place to live in.

Son mania
Indian society, like most of the societies world over, is patrilineal, patriarchal and
patrilocal. According to Manu, a man has to be reborn as a man to attain moksha
(redemption). A man cannot attain moksha unless he has a son to light his funeral pyre.
Also, it says a woman who gives birth to only daughters may be left in the eleventh year
of marriage. Obviously, it shows the gender bias in our male-dominated society.2 The age
old preference for sons is motivated by economic, religious, social and emotional desires
and norms that favor males and make females less desirable. Parents expect sons—but
not daughters—to provide financial and emotional care, especially in their old age; sons
add to family wealth and property while daughters drain it through dowries; sons
continue the family lineage while daughters are married away to another household; sons
perform important religious roles; and sons defend or exercise the family’s power
while daughters have to be defended and protected, creating a perceived burden on the
household.3 This stereo-type notion of women as “burden” is one of the main reason
behind female foeticide and infanticide.

What is female foeticide?
Female foeticide is a practice that involves the detection of the sex of the unborn baby in
the womb of the mother and the decision to abort it if the sex of the child is detected as a
girl. This could be done at the behest of the mother, or father, or both or under family
pressure. This detection of the sex of the baby is done through three methods:
(a) amniocentesis;
(b) chronic villus sampling and
(c) ultrasonography.

Legislative actions:
To arrest this evil, the Forum against Sex Determination and Sex Preselection (FASDSP)
a broad forum of feminist and human rights groups, was formed in 1984, and it has been
lobbying for legislation to ban the practice. In 1988, the state of Maharashtra passed an
Act banning prenatal diagnostic practices. In September 20, 1994 the Parliament had
enacted the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation & Prevention of Misuse) Act,
which came into force from January 1996. Later, the Act was amended with effect from
February 14 2003 and was renamed the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic
Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 (PCPNDT Act).

Ground reality:
The ban on the government hospitals and clinics at the centre and in the states, making
use of pre-natal sex determination for the purpose of abortion — a penal offence — led to
the commercialization of the technology; private clinics providing sex determination tests
through amniocentesis multiplied rapidly and widely. These tests are made available in
areas that do not even have potable water, with marginal farmers willing to take loans at
25 per cent interest to have the test. People are encouraged to abort their female fetuses
through advertisements in order to save the future cost of dowry. The portable ultrasound
machine has facilitated doctors to go from house to house in towns and villages.4 Despite
the law being there, due to lack of proper implementation, very few cases are registered.
Under the two main laws (Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act 1971 and the
Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act 1994, the Indian government has conceded
that abortion may be carried out if there is
(a) danger to the life of the mother in child birth,
(b) if the child is at risk of being born handicapped, or
(c) if the women has conceived the child as a result of rape.
Women are also allowed the right to abortion if they wish to do so in the interest of
keeping the family small. PNDT Act only focuses on regulation and control is techniques
of pre-natal sex determination, not the access to abortion in any form. That is, the Act
does not concern itself with selective abortion of female fetuses as such, but rather, with
medical procedures to detect the sex of the foetus,
which can lead to femicide. However, it is often seen that the decision of abortion is
taken after the detection that the unborn child is female, especially if it is the second or
third female child. It must be mentioned here that abortion has entered the lexicon of
feminist struggle through a very different trajectory from that followed in the West. Here,
the ‘right’ to abortion has never been at the centre of much debate since it is seen as a
measure to control population growth.5 Since poverty is seen as a by -product of rising
population, for developing countries like India, population control measures has been a
central focus of government programmes for economic development. The Medical
Termination Act was passed in 1971 amidst Parliamentary rhetoric of choice and
women’s rights, but it was clearly intended as a population measure, as several MPs
pointed out during the debate on the Bill.6 Here, it is worth mentioning that a vocal and
influential school of thought still justifies the selective abortion of female fetuses as a
form of population control. Their argument is that to permit abortion of female fetuses
would stop couples from continuing to have children until the desired son was produced.

Indeed, the statistics are startling. Numerous studies analyzing the
skewed sex ratio demonstrate the extent of this shocking practice. At
birth, there
ought to be around 105 or 106 male children for every 100 female
children, and
this proportion is about the same everywhere in the world. The ratio
then slowly
changes and women, who are much healthier and more likely to
survive than
men, end up outnumbering the men. In places like in Europe and North
America, the ratio of women to men is typically around 1.05 or 1.06, or
higher.5

In India, the 2001 census reveals that the overall sex ratio is 933
females
for every 1000 males, showing a marginal increase of 6 points from the
1991
census of 927. However, this is a very sorry state indeed and we are
doing
much worse than over a hundred years ago when the sex ratio was
972 in 1901,
946 in 1951 till the 933 today. This deterioration in women's position
results
largely from their unequal sharing in the advantages of medical and
social
progress.6

The child sex ratio is another story altogether. This child sex ratio has
shown a steady decrease since 1961 and shows no signs of improving.
From
the 976 in 1961, we moved to 964 in 1971. In 1981, we evidenced a
further
decline to 962 and even further to 945 in 1991. Today the child sex
ratio is 927,
a full 18 points drop. This can only mean one thing. More and more
baby girls
have either been aborted or killed as infants since 1961 and that this
trend
continues strong even today. Indeed, an improvement in the child sex
ratio has
only been marked in one state, Kerala, and two Union Territories,
Lakshwadeep
and Pondicherry. Everywhere else, there is a decrease in the number of
girls.
The greatest offenders in this area are the northern and the western
states, with Punjab and Haryana leading the pack. In Punjab, the child
sex ratio
has decreased by 77 points to a new and horrifying low of 798 females
to a 1000
males, and Haryana has seen a decrease of 60 points, meaning there
are now
only 819 females to a 1000 males. Other offenders high on this list are
Himachal
Pradesh, Delhi, Chandigarh and Gujarat. What is also disturbing is that
this
trend is also noticeable in other states, which evidenced a relatively
healthy child
sex ratio in 1991 and has now radically decreased.

Eradication of Situation:
Unfortunately, various schemes to counter this situation brought out by
many
states as well as at the central level have been ineffective in reducing
the extent
of this problem. However, we cannot let our despair or the extent of
the problem
be the justification for inaction. At this stage, removal of this practice
must
involve:
• Focus on the humanist, as well as scientific and rational approach
and a
move away from the traditional teachings which support such a
practice;
• Empowerment of women and measures to deal with other
discriminatory
practices such as dowry, etc.;
• Ensuring development of and access to good health care services;
• A strong ethical code for doctors;
• Simpler methods for complaint registration for all women,
particularly
those who are most vulnerable;
• Publicity for the cause through the media and increasing awareness
amongst the people through NGOs and other organizations;
• Regular appraisal and assessment of the indicators of the status of
women such as sex ratio, female mortality, literacy and economic
participation.

Of course, we must recognize that infanticide is a crime of murder and
punishment should be given to both parents. There ought to be stricter
control
over clinics that offer to identify the sex of a fetus and stronger check
on
abortions to ensure that they are not performed for the wrong reasons.
Doctors
must also be sensitized and strong punitive measures must be taken
against
those who violate the law. To conclude, I would just like to say that this
is not so
much a legal problem as it is a social disease. We need to truly rid
ourselves of
this son-obsession and understand that our lives would be just as
fulfilling, if not
more, if our children were to be girls. This is not to say that the law can
play no
role. We must all work together to ensure that each and every baby girl
is given
her due.

Conclusion
Female feticide is one extreme manifestation of violence against women. Unfortunately,
as Kerala High Court Chief Justice K K Usha mentioned in a seminar that genderspecific
laws like MTP Act 1971 which aims at empowering women has been grossly misused for
female foeticide after carrying out legally banned pre-natal sex determination tests to
meet the desire of the family to have a male child.10 Misuse of law, wrong
implementation of law has added to the woe of female foeticide. Firstly, it must be
realized that even a full proof law is just beginning of a struggle to curb notorious
practice like female foeticide. As Haksar points out that law reform cannot be divorced
from the more fundamental struggle to transform social values.11 Moreover, it is
necessary to understand that progress of science and technology is mandatory for the
progress of a nation, but what matters most is its manifestation and beneficial application.
Female foeticide is a reflection of what happens when technologies are misused. The only
long term solution is to change attitudes. Government, civil society and media should
work hand in hand to combat this inhuman practice. The society as a whole should ensure
that the girl is safe, secure, educated, economically and emotionally independent.
Worsening sex ratios is bound to have a devastating effect on the human civilization.
Time has arrived to declare a crusade against female foeticide, both on individual and
collective level, to stop elimination of unborn daughters only because of their sex.
Submitted By:
Pranav Khanna
PURC Ludhiana
LAW Deptt.