The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Court steps in for girl child

Patna, July 13: Rajbardhan Sharma did not have to employ extreme methods to kill an unwanted girl child like his grandfather had done years ago.

The Vaishali farmer’s grandfather would have a dai (untrained village nurse) strangle his new-born daughters or feed them opium. But Rajbardhan only needed to turn to clandestine health clinics in Patna and Muzaffarpur.

A sex-determination test costing Rs 5,500 confirmed that his wife was expecting a girl. That done, all the farmer needed to do was take his wife to a Patna nursing home to terminate the pregnancy. He informed his family that she had a miscarriage.

Rajbardhan, who already has one daughter and son, did not want more girls. He feels no guilt at committing female foeticide.

Even though the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act prohibits sex-determination, the practice is rampant in Bihar. Some diagnostic centres advise clients they should spend Rs 5,000 for determining the sex of their child instead of spending Rs 2 lakh in dowry on their daughters.

Alarmed at the Bihar health department’s half-hearted attempt to curb the practice, the Supreme Court has directed the state government to form a board to monitor the operation of such diagnostic centres.

The board, headed by the Bihar medical education secretary, was set up on Friday and is expected to send periodic reports on the centres.

A separate move by the National Human Rights Commission to get regular reports on the practice has galvanised the health department into action.

“The style and method of committing infanticide has changed. Nowadays, sophisticated medical gadgets have made killing a female child easy,” health minister Shakuni Chowdhary said on Friday while addressing a health conference.

Voluntary health groups like Adithi estimate that “as many as 163,200 female infants are killed every year in Bihar”.

This has upset the sex ratio in the state. As per the 2001 census, there are 921 girls per 1,000 boys, but the ratio is much lower in north Bihar districts such as Vaishali, Muzaffarpur and Sitamarhi. A study conducted by NGO Vatsalya says these districts have the worst female foeticide record.

Urban Muzaffarpur has a sex ratio of 888 girls to 1,000 boys, lower than in rural Muzaffarpur where the ratio is 927: 1,000. This would suggest that people in urban areas are using modern means to eliminate girls.

Vaishali district has an urban sex ratio of 921 while the figure in rural areas is 934. The corresponding figures in Sitamarhi are 913 and 896. “The wide gap can be attributed to the prevalent practice of infanticide, either overt or covert,” a member of Vatsalya said.

The NGO’s study found that the rural poor continue to strangle girl children or feed them opium. “Of those interviewed, 21.7 per cent confessed that they used suffocation or opium to end the lives of female children,” the study says.

The NGO said of those interviewed in the urban sections of the three districts “in 93 per cent of the cases women underwent abortions after finding out that the foetus was female”.

“Female foeticide is also dependent on the facilities available regarding ultra-sound and genetic tests. In all the major urban centres of Bihar, centres offering sex determination tests adopted a variety of methods to spread awareness of the facilities they were offering,” the Vatsalya study says.

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