Sunday, April 29, 2007

Is judiciary serious about checking female foeticide?

The judiciary in India will observe 2007 as the Awareness Year of Female Foeticide and will deal in a strict manner with those responsible for this crime, former Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal had declared while delivering his presidential address at a state-level seminar on 'Eradication of Female Foeticide', jointly organised by the Punjab Department of Health and Family Welfare and Punjab Legal Services Authority.

The law can play an important role in checking this menace of female feticide, he added. Warning the medical fraternity, he said there ought to be stricter control over clinics that offer to identify the sex of a foetus and a stronger check on abortions to ensure that these are not performed for the wrong reasons. Doctors must also be sensitised and strong punitive measures must be taken against those who violate the law, he asserted.

It will be interesting to investigate how the judiciary at different levels heeds the exhortations of the highest in the judiciary. The case in this instance cited below refers to Morena in Madhya Pradesh, one of the very few districts in the country where this issue has been vigorously perused and a game of snakes and ladder is being played out.

A team of district officials did a door-to-door survey in a village and came up with an alarmingly adverse child sex ratio. When this was discussed with the villagers in the evening, they not only accepted the figures but also openly disclosed the fact of sex determination through sonography and termination thereafter in case of a female child and also the names of the nursing homes they visited for sex determination.

Discussions were undertaken with the medical fraternity in the district with a view to discouraging sex determination and so that the district authorities would not permit this heinous practice. However, there was no visible change in the attitude of doctors, therefore the records of nine centres registered under the Act were seized.

These records were scrutinised and it was observed that non-compliance with the maintenance of mandated records was very common at the registered centres. The laxity was more prominent with the Form F requirement. Through this form only the following vital information can be obtained:

(1) Number of children with sex of each child.
(2) Purpose for which ultrasound was done during pregnancy.
(3) Result of ultrasonography - if any abnormality detected.
(4) Was MTP advised/conducted? - Date on which MTP carried out.
(5) Declaration of doctor that while conducting ultrasonography, he has neither detected nor disclosed the sex of her foetus to anybody in any manner.
(6) Declaration of the pregnant woman that by undergoing ultrasonography, she does not want to know the sex of the foetus.

After a scrutiny of the records, the appropriate authority, the chief medical and health officer, issued show cause notices and finally cancelled seven registrations. In the instance of one centre, which was operating two machines in two different locations with one registration, a case was submitted before the chief judicial magistrate. No discernible result in this case could be seen till date.

All the seven nursing homes/ultrasound centres appealed against the cancellation in the month of June 2005, much after the prescribed duration. The State Appellant Authority condoned the delay in all the cases, and decided all the seven cases on the same date of June 10, 2005 giving almost identical reasons for accepting the appeal and quashing the order of the appropriate authority even though the merits and grounds were different in all the cases.

The Appellate Authority, while admitting that Form 'F' was not maintained by these centres and also that records for the last two years were not maintained, observed that 'although there is no clear evidence of maintaining all the prescribed records as envisaged under section 4(3) and rule 9 of the Act, but looking to the records made available, it does not amount to a gross irregularity to cancel the registration of the appellant'.

This order of the state Appellate Authority was challenged by two NGOs namely 'Prayatn' and 'Dharti Gram Utthan', which work in Morena on this issue, by filing a public interest litigation (PIL) in the high court of Madhya Pradesh's Gwalior bench.

The petitioners argued that the erroneously called such violation a 'mere irregularity' and felt that if the reasoning given by the state Appellate Authority were accepted, it would result in total non-implementation of the Act and rules against female foeticide resulting in a further decline of the sex ratio in Morena district.

This petition was admitted for final hearing and the operation of the impugned order of the state Appellate Authority was stayed. In the meantime, the court directed that all the chief medical and health officers (CMHOs) and district collectors of Morena, Guna, Shivpuri, Ashok Nagar, Vidisha, Datia, Sheopur, Bhind and Gwalior make a survey and inspect all the nursing homes as well as the laboratories and centres where the ultrasound machines were being used.
They would have to verify that in such nursing homes and the laboratories/centres appropriate measures were being adopted to restrain, avoid and prohibit the sex determination and sex selection process. They would have to survey all the towns of the district where these machines were being used and submit the report before the court. They would also have to suggest the effective measures to prohibit and prevent such kind of determination.

The state was also directed to seek a report from the Morena collector about the status of involvement of respondents whose licenses were cancelled, whether they were involved in the cases of sex selection and sex determination at the pre- conception and pre-natal stage.
On Dec 13, 2006, five respondents filed applications and contended that they had applied for permission to run the ultrasound machines, as they were not involved in pre-natal sex determination, although the CMHO of Morena submitted that the owners of these machines were not furnishing proper information in proper format.

The court directed that in view of this fact, the respondents would be permitted to run their ultrasound machines but made it clear that they would have to furnish regular information as required under PNDT Act of 1994 and the rules framed there under. It said the competent authority would also have the liberty to supervise and make proper checks of the machines and take action in case any breach was found against them as per the Act and the Rules. A very obvious question stares in our face on these two different approaches to the ultrasound centres, particularly in view of the chief justice's statement. Is the judiciary really very serious about the problem of abuse of sonography and the resultant grave gender imbalance? Certainly, a doubt lurks in the mind that the judiciary may take this as a routine social legislation and leave it to time to get sorted out.

(Dr Manohar Agnani is an IAS officer of MP cadre. He can be reached at
© 2007 Indo-Asian News Service

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Girl Child is still a curse word

Outlook, April 16, 2007

Nothing bridges our urban-rural divide better than the preference for sons, even in this new century

Teesta Setalvad

by Gita AravamudamPenguinPages: 208; Rs: 250

Indian civilisation’s claim to abiding greatness and enduring values could stand severely tested with its systematic mass murder of unborn girl babies. An obsession with sons from the age of Atharva Veda ("Let a female child be born somewhere else. Here let a son be born") and lawgiver Manu’s treatise, legitimised through tradition and belief, has percolated down to 21st century India. Ironically, Pakistan, with its basis of an ‘Islamic’ reality, does not do much better—the sex ratio there is 938 girls for every 1,000 boys.

Delhi leads the way with a record 24,000 girls missing every year. Prosperous urban areas like Chandigarh, Sangli and Mehsana follow suit, playing role models to impoverished rural Bharat. Jeans-clad, pub-trotting, mangalsutra-wedded couples share one value with men who sport phetas (turbans) and women who demurely shield their face with the ghunghat. This shared value, an all-consuming preference for sons, spans the urban-rural divide and cuts across shameful disparities in consumption patterns and nutrition levels and translates into girl baby murder.

Until the ’70s, son preference led families, mothers included, to neglect their girl babies, and in some notorious districts of Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan, to actually facilitate their killing after birth. It takes an Angelina Jolie to remind us that we have no comparable image of a celeb adopting a really black child.

Figures of pre-Independence British India reveal low sex ratios of the girl child, leading the British to enact laws that were later repealed. However, the technology revolution in medical research offered pre-birth sex selection techniques—amniocentesis, ultrasound and scan machines—making doctors willing partners in crime. It also raised questions about the ethics and conduct of professional bodies, like the Indian Medical Association. Disappearing Daughters is a must-read for teachers, students, parents, political leaders and, especially, doctors. Lucidly written, it traces through absorbing case studies and relevant data the tragedy of Indians killing their girls en masse.

India, poised on what we are told is a growth boom, is being torn apart from within. The brutal political, social and economic exclusions and denials driven by caste continue to make The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, toothless. The law against the giving and taking of dowry has not lessened the practice. In fact, there has been an increase in the scale of dowry that commodifies both the woman and the relationship. Is it any surprise then that the 1994 PNDT Act (Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) has failed to punish the powerful perpetrators of the crime?

A possible reason, rarely explored in public debate (much less by our omnipresent media), is the values of our opinion-makers and celebrities. We seem to be caught in a nowhere land. We wear the latest designer labels, spend oodles of money, travel on jet planes, sport Blackberry mobiles. Yet, modernity ends there. Domestic violence is a reality among our preening classes. It takes an Angelina Jolie to remind us that we have no comparable image of a celebrity adopting a really black or even a robustly brown child.

Political campaigns and election manifestoes rarely speak about social reform; weddings at which crores of rupees are spent do not attract the gaze of tax officers; dowry for an IAS officer runs into crores in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar, we are told. Meanwhile, what do our politicians have to say about the sweeping son preference that leads us to murder?

Missing Girlsby Manohar Agnani/ Books For Change/ 153 pages/ Rs 180

Missing Girls by Dr Manohar Agnani, an IAS officer, offers extensive data with suggestions for more effective implementation of the law. In order to implement the PNDT Act, we need active monitoring of birth ratios, fixing responsibility, getting the appropriate authorities to function effectively, to set up central and district advisory committees and get detailed medical audits of all ultrasound examinations carried out by registered clinics, sales-purchase records of ultrasound machines and to make these records public. Many state governments have shown a reluctance to do this, despite stringent remarks of the apex court (on a PIL filed by civil rights groups).

Flexible government policy coupled with grassroot efforts has had some impact, even in those districts of Tamil Nadu where girls were killed after birth. Sustained social campaigns, a few financial incentives, scholarships, self-help groups for women and other administrative measures outlined under the new legislation made a remarkable difference in a few areas. But it’s only a silver lining. The big change will come when we stop this conspiracy of silence.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Haryana's sex ratio changes drastically as efforts pay off

Gulf News, By Ajay JhaChief, Correspondent

New Delhi: The skewed sex-ratio in Haryana has changed drastically with girls outnumbering boys in many parts of the state now. A state government survey has thrown up the heartening news that stringent implementation of various laws and better awareness has helped increase the number of girl child during the past five years. The 2001 census had put Haryana on the alert as it had emerged as one of the states with the worst sex ratio with 861 females for 1,000 males. The situation had become so bad that people in many villages, particularly in Jat-community-dominated areas, had started looking for brides for their eligible youngsters from tribal areas of Jharkhand and Orissa.

Successive state governments since have taken various measures. Besides coming down heavily on private clinics doing sex determination tests that was attributed to the rising incidents of female foeticide, the state administration announced monetary incentives to parents giving birth to girl child, free education and government help in the form of cash at the time of their marriage. Findings of the survey conducted across 25 villages have surprised many. Most of these villages now have more girls compared to boys in the age group 0-6 years. While girls outnumber boys in this age group in Bhiwani district, the ratio that stood at 871 female for 1,000 male in Hisar district in 2001 has increased by 7 per cent with the figure standing at 901 female for 1,000 male.

The situation has changed even in urban areas of the state with girl child outnumbering boys in several towns. According to a Haryana government spokesman here, the provincial government is now planning to have similar surveys conducted in the entire state. Continuing with the carrot and stick policy (rewarding those having more than one daughter and punishing those indulging in female foeticide) and giving wider publicity to achievements of these villages are going to be part of the government policy.