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End female foeticide

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End female foeticide

Radhakrishna Rao

EDITORIAL: The Assam Tribune - December 22, 2007

The relentless female foeticide linked to the sex-determination test in Punjab and Haryana, which has led to an alarming dip in the female population of the two States, have now found a new easy-to-use high-tech gadget to determine the sex of the unborn baby.

For parents who consider a male progeny as a prized possession, this innovative kit imported from the US and Canada and costing around Rs 20,000 has become a most sought after gadget in the States. The gadget enables the identification of the gender of the foetus within seven weeks of the pregnancy.

Both in Punjab and Haryana where a skewed sex ratio has caused an acute shortage of “local brides’, this new kit could definitely undermine the efforts at minimising the menace of female foeticide. Against such a bleak social situation, women’s groups and religious organisations in both the States are now in the thick of a campaign aimed at ending the rampant and widespread menace of female foeticide.

As things stand, the female-men ration in India is 933 females for every 1,000 men. However, in sharp contrast Punjab has 874 females and Haryana 857 females for every 1,000 men. Kerala seems to be the only exception. There are more women than men in this lush green South Indian State.

According to the Punjab Medical Council, â€There are reports that doctors who are believed to be indulging in the illegal practice to carry out sex determination tests through the ultra-sound technique are selling the kit to the clients.†To cry a halt to this, the State’s medical fraternity has now called for widening the scope of Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act to take care of the latest development.

Incidentally, Punjab is known to lose one fourth of all girls who would be born. Appalled by the growing and unchecked trend of female foeticide and abandoned female children, the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhanadhak Committee (SGPC), the highest seat of Sikh spiritual and temporal authority, has not only issued an edict against female foeticide but has also decided to take care of the abandoned female babies.

Towards this end, the SGPC would soon ask the gurudwaras all over the State to place cradles at their entrances and exhort unhappy parents obsessed with “a boy†syndrome to leave “the innocent female children at God’s door and not the devil’sâ€.

According to media reports, in recent months, there has been an increase in the number of new-born female children being abandoned in public parks, railway compartments and roadsides.

Further, as pointed out by the Centre for advocacy and research, “The preference for a son is a reality but we have to create enough processes to make sex determination costly and difficult. Without this happening, talking of putting an end to sex-determination is like crying in wilderness.â€

In Rajasthan, ten out of 28 districts have a sex ratio between 850 and 900 girls per 1,000 boys. Recall, the discovery of a few female foetuses in a deserted place outside the township of Nayagarh in Orissa sometime back had created country-wide revulsion. It was alleged that a few doctors working in the Government hospitals had a role to play in this heinous act. Following the public outrage, the Orissa State Health Department raided 277 nursing homes spread across the State. Shockingly, it was found that about 78 of these were unregistered. The truth finally emerged. Nayagarh had become a nerve centre of female foeticide.

According to a demographer, “The unholy alliance between tradition (son preference) and technology (ultra-sound) has a played a havoc in Indian society.†Added a doctor, “Ultra-sound was invented in the 1950s for safe motherhood but it has not only killed millions of foetuses in India, it is also a leading cause of matrimonial mortality.â€

In States such as Punjab and Haryana, where there is a serious shortage of local women, men are forced to marry girls from outside their home states. For instance, Jat men from the pre-dominantly agricultural hamlets of Haryana, enter into wed-lock with girls from the North Kerala township of Payyannur. However, many of these girls from the impoverished social background, unable to withstand the ignominies heaped on them, have returned back to Payyannur.

Men from the Punjab villages “import†brides from parts of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and the North-Eastern states. What is more, some Punjabi men have managed to get brides from as far off as Philippines. These brides are not only expected to take care of the rigours of the household work and agricultural operations, but also bear, ideally, a male progeny.

In some cases one “bride†is shared by a number of brothers in the family they are married into. Thus, polyandry is raising its ugly head in the rural backyards of Haryana and Punjab.

Sociologists are clear in their perception that a huge dowry associated with marrying off a girl is a major factor pushing the people of Punjab and Haryana (to a large extent) and western Uttar Pradesh (to some extent), into the clutches of “female foeticide.â€

Moreover, as per the Hindu tradition, only a male can light the pyre of his dead father or mother. Besides, a male child is considered a ‘safety net’ in the evening of one’s life. In fact, a favourite justification for supporting the practice of female foeticide is that it serves as an effective tool of family planning.

However, many field surveys show that sex-determination tests can only ensure multiple abortions with perilous consequences for the well-being of the female. As it stands, the lack of food, clean drinking water, economic security and safe clinical facilities could lead to a situation where women has to have over six children to ensure one surviving male child.

Indeed, as one research study points out, any further reduction in the sex ratio in North India would signify a continuing decline in the relative status of women. Moreover, it would be unlikely to offer any benefit to the women. Thus, the ongoing practice of female foeticide completely negates the glorification of women in India’s religious texts as the “Mother Supremeâ€.

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