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Darkness at noon for girl child

New Delhi, Sept. 24: A study carried out by a premier health organisation says female foeticide is rising in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, despite a series of legal measures adopted by the Centre and the Supreme Court to root it out.

“Unfortunately, sex determination and female foeticide continue unabated. In fact, it seems to be increasing,” says the report of the Voluntary Health Association of India. It is based on field research conducted by Ashish Bose, a demographer, and Mira Siva, a health and gender-issues expert.

The report, Darkness at Noon, comes in the wake of apex court strictures ordering mandatory registration of all clinics with ultrasound machines and the Centre amending the Pre-natal Diagnostic Technique (PNDT) Act to give it more teeth.

“The doctors are now charging a higher fee. Earlier, an ultrasound test for sex determination would cost Rs 500. Now it has gone up to Rs 1,000 because of the greater ‘risk’ involved,” Bose said.

“Legal action can only work when there is gender justice in society,” Siva said.

The 2001 census showed up the affluent states of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh as the worst offenders in sex determination and female foeticide. Punjab had its first sex-determination clinic way back in 1979 and the practice spread to Haryana soon after.

The association team surveyed three districts with the worst female foeticide record —Fatehgarh Sahib in Punjab, Kurukshetra in Haryana and Kangra in Himachal Pradesh.

“Fifty per cent of doctors said pregnant women choosing sex-selective abortion should be punished. Although 100 per cent of doctors were familiar with the PNDT Act, none of them was aware of its details, including the punishment prescribed for the violators,” the report says.

The study shows ultrasound clinics are being registered in accordance with the apex court strictures. But the machines continue to be used for sex determination. “Normally, the doctors camouflage it as a test for checking the ‘viability’ of the foetus. But the test also reveals the gender,” Siva said.

“Many of the doctors have no ethical compulsions. After performing an ultrasound test, they show a ‘V’ sign if the test shows the foetus to be that of a boy,” Bose said.

The study team asked the respondents why they preferred a boy. The most common responses were “to continue the family name, make the family and parents respectable in society, for economic and social support, to inherit the family property and take care of parents in old age”.

“All the panchayat members in the villages accepted that the status of a mother increased with the birth of a son,” the report says. “An overwhelming majority said the number of girls in their villages was decreasing.”

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