The country’s falling child sex ratio is proof of the fact that a majority of Indian parents continue to go the extra mile to have a son. Central and State governments have been spending crores of rupees to sensitise parents that it is good to have a girl child, that she must not be killed off at the womb itself, that she should be educated and empowered. There is a law that forbids the detection of the gender of an unborn child, making it a crimil offence. But all this to no avail, as census figures of 2011 compared to 2001 show clearly. If 927 girls between the ages 0-6 years were born per 1000 boys in 2001, a decade later in 2011, that number came down to 918. Neither is this something happening primarily in our villages, about stereotypical family elders enforcing the ‘son only’ iron rule with age-old, unholy methods. The latest data says that if the child sex ratio in rural India is 923 girls per 1000 boys, it is an appalling 905 in urban areas. In urban families with two children, one-third have both boys while one-sixth have both girls — something that goes against the rules of chance. It seems many couples are not taking chances in going on having children until they get a boy; rather, they are choosing and ensuring that a boy will be delivered. So how do they go about it? After all, hospitals and diagnostic centres with ultrasound facilities routinely erect hoardings warning that under the Pre-Conception and Pre-tal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, they are not authorised and do not carry out sex determition of the unborn child. But here too, bribes are the key to get the dirty work done.
When Union Woman and Child Development minister Maneka Gandhi was asked about this recently, she came out with a suggestion that has triggered much controversy. The minister pointed out that with the relentless march of medical technology, even a cheap blood test could be enough to tell the gender of the unborn child. So instead of ‘making crimils of people’, why not change the government policy itself? After conception, when the pregnt woman seeks medical counsel, it can be made compulsory for doctors to tell her whether it is a boy or girl she is carrying. The expectant woman can then be registered, the entire child-bearing period monitored not only till delivery, but even up to a year from the birth of the baby — Maneka Gandhi reasoned. Many social and women rights activists have promptly joined issue with the minister, pointing out flaws in her reasoning. Such a policy will let the unscrupulous doctor and paramedic off the hook if they engage in female foeticide; instead, if there is a suspicion of sex-selective abortion, law enforcers will pursue the woman. And if it is difficult to keep rogue diagnostic centres and clinics under check, surely it will be impossible to keep track of crores of expectant women, with many of them having little say over the matter of wanting a daughter or not. In case there is a miscarriage, the woman may be hounded on the suspicion of having got the foetus aborted. This will also go against the United tions stand that women should have the right to abortion. Though Maneka Gandhi’s ministry later issued a clarification that she actually pushed for effective implementation of the PCPNDT Act, the controversy has opened the door to some much needed soul searching. Some parents may be proudly circulating ‘selfies with daughters’, but overall, India is still no country for the girl child. If the child sex ratio is down to 913 among Hindus, it is also dismal among Muslims, Christians and Buddhists. The fact that it is a much healthier 974 among minor faiths indicates the socio-cultural mountain the Indian girl child is up against.