Tamluk, Oct. 16: The rural development department has decided to tell panchayats across the state to raise awareness among people on female foeticide as the 2011 census report has shown the number of girls to every 1,000 boys has gone down in rural Bengal since 2001.
A circular on this has been sent to the zilla parishad and the district magistrate of East Midnapore which has the lowest girl child count — 937 girls to 1,000 boys in the 0-6 years age group. Panchayat and rural development minister Subrata Mukherjee has said the circular will be sent to other districts too.
“We have been asked to call a meeting in every village to create awareness among people on female foeticide and why determination of sex tests is illegal. The census report has shown that the birth rate of girls has gone down. We have been told to make villagers aware that a girl is equally important as a boy and that abortion of a female foetus after sex determination is unjust and that such tests are illegal,” said Gandhi Hazra, the sabhadhipati of the East Midnapore zilla parishad.
The national girl child ratio in the 2011 census is 914, down from 927 girls in 2001. Bengal has a higher overall average (rural and urban) — 950 girls to 1,000 boys — than the national figure but it has seen a slight drop from the 2001 overall state average, which was 960 girls to 1,000 boys.
The highest girl-boy ratio is from Murshidabad at 962 and North Dinajpur has shown the sharpest 10-year drop — from 967 girls to 946.
“We have taken up this matter seriously. We will appoint all-woman self-help groups who would gather information on pregnant village women. They will bring these women to their nearest Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) centres and register their names. A watch will be kept on them so that they don’t approach quacks and secretly have sex determination tests and abort the foetus if it is female. If anyone refuses to be registered, then the local panchayat will have to be informed. We have informed all gram panchayats and we will start the exercise after the Pujas,” Hazra said.
A panchayat official said that generally in villages, when a woman gets pregnant, she goes to a quack.
“We suspect that it is through a section of quacks that the women get to know the sex of their foetus through ultra-sonograms in diagnostic centres, all done secretly. If it is a girl, many women want an abortion. If a panchayat comes across any case where a woman has been advised by a quack to determine the sex of the foetus, it will have to inform the administration or police,” a panchayat official said.
Kalidas Dutta, the chief medical officer of heath in East Midnapore, said sex determination tests are banned under the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act.
“It is very difficult to catch a diagnostic centre that indulges in illegal sex determination tests. If a doctor or technician conducting the USG verbally tells a patient about the sex of the foetus in her womb, what can we do? Only awareness can prevent such practices. If during the awareness drive in the villages, we receive a complaint against a diagnostic centre, we will shut it down,” the CMOH said.
Calcutta High Court advocate Jayanta Narayan Chatterjee said the law prescribes an imprisonment up to three years and fine up to Rs 50,000 for conducting sex-determination tests. In the case of subsequent offence, the punishment is up to five years with a Rs 1-lakh fine.
Panchayat and rural development minister Mukherjee said: “We are worried about the drop in the birth rate of girls in rural areas. I personally believe this is because of female foeticide after sex determination tests. There is a section of people who want boys only and this has become a social problem…. There is need for awareness among rural people.”