The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cheap and easy for girl-killers

Killing a female life comes easy and cheap in Calcutta. It varies between Rs 1,200 and Rs 6,000, proportionate to the time spent inside her mother’s womb.

Even a well-formed foetus can be “delivered” to death. The only consideration: the ‘right’ price.

The Telegraph on Thursday visited a few such clinics and nursing homes in the city to find out why 30 of the city’s 141 wards have seen a drop in the percentage of women over the past decade.

Ninety-six diagnostic centre-cum-nursing homes have had cases slapped against them after being found using “unregistered” ultrasonography (USG) machines, commonly used for sex-determination tests. The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation, Prevention and Misuse Act) bans, besides sex determination, abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.

But one of the nursing homes that The Telegraph visited (in Ekbalpore) did not have any qualms about carrying out an operation when approached with the tale of a woman “in her 22nd week of pregnancy, but going for a divorce because of problems over the child’s sex”.

The doctor was quick to refer the ‘case’ to a gynaecologist, with a note on the nursing home’s pad, scribbling “5.5” on the top left corner denoting the number of months of pregnancy.

And what would be the price of killing “our friend’s wife’s soon-to-be-born daughter”' Not more than Rs 5,500.

The story was repeated at another diagnostic centre, in Garden Reach, but with a twist. The contention of the ‘client’ — the foetus must be checked to ascertain whether it was a girl, before the decision to drop the child was taken. And the mother was just nine weeks pregnant.

The price came sliding down. The cost of the USG: Rs 850. And the abortion: Rs 1,200.

But could the USG confirm the gender of a foetus so early into the pregnancy' “We may be wrong, but can you take a chance'” was the question.

In the rush to abort female foetuses, ironically, many sons are killed. “If doctors ‘confirm’ the sex before the 16th week, what else can happen'” asked gynaecologist Purabi Mukherjee.

So, why do people go in for an abortion so early' “Any abortion is risky if it approximates the 20th week. No one wants to lose a potential son-bearer,” explained ultrasound technician Kalpana Chakrabarti.

But there’s one method — done less frequently for Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 — that confirms the gender in the eighth week. It involves tests on some amniotic fluids.

But USG in the 17th week, followed by an abortion, though far riskier for the mother, is cheaper for the father and safer for the diagnostic centre. “Why should diagnostic centres do the amniotic-fluid test and leave a trace of their crime'” asked Mukherjee.

A mother — and her soon-to-be-born daughter — are far more expendable.

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