Indian society is predominantly patriarchal in nature and women are still treated as the property of men and their families. Years of relentless struggle by feminist activists and a variety of progressive legislations on rights of women and girls did not have a desirable impact on the perpetrators of violence against them. The reason lies in the fact that women and girls are always seen as a burden rather than an asset.
The census report of 2011, published by the Registrar General of India, shows a declining trend in child sex ratio in many states from 2001 to 2011. Calculated as number of girls per 1,000 boys in the 0-6 years age group, the ratio has shown a sharp decline from 976 girls to 1,000 boys in 1961 to 914 according to the 2011 census. According to global trends, the normal child sex ratio should be above 950. In certain parts of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh (UP), Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and even Delhi, there are less than 850 girls for every 1,000 boys.
Child sex ratio reflects both pre-natal and post-natal discrimination against girls. Therefore, the sex ratio at birth is considered a more accurate and a refined indicator of the extent of sex selection. The sex ratio at birth (SRB) for the country for 2009-2011 is estimated at 906 girls born for every 1,000 boys (according to Sample Registration Survey). Uttarakhand records the lowest SRB and Chhattisgarh the highest according to the annual health survey 2011.
Across the states where the annual health survey was conducted in 2011, (Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh) SRB in the rural areas is significantly higher than that of urban areas. In UP, rural SRB is 911 compared to 873 in urban areas. Paradoxically, the child sex ratio (0-6) continues to decline in the successive censuses. The disturbing feature in census 2011 has been the spread of the declining trend in new areas. The data also shows that around 67 per cent of birth registrations take place in cities and just 23 per cent in villages, though 64 per cent of the population lives in rural India. This indicates the inefficacy of the governmentís programmes for healthier mother and child in villages through birth registrations.
It is estimated that in India, the practice of sex selection has resulted in the loss of approximately 5.7 lakh girls annually during 2001-2008. Even though female mortality and sex selective female infanticide has contributed to the skewed sex ratios in recent times, the use of sex selective diagnostic technology has contributed to the menace.
| Students of St Xavier’s College and St Xavier’s College of Management and Technology take part in a salad competition on the eve of International Women’s Day. Picture by Ashok Sinha
The legal arm
In view of the growing misuse of easily available ultrasound technology, the Union government passed Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PNDT) in 1994 to prohibit sex selection for non-medical reasons and regulate pre-natal diagnostic techniques such as ultrasonography. It was further amended into the Pre-Conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act in 2004.
Its implementation has although been weak, as shown by several studies. In more than 10 years of the law being in place, a little over 600 cases have been lodged under it across India. Although official and accurate figures are hard to come by, the total number of convictions using the act is roughly 20. Formal documentation of such data is not freely available in the public domain too. The number of cases that have led to convictions is so low that it becomes essential to investigate the impediments in its functionality as an effective legal instrument to catalyse positive social change.
The amended act not only prohibits determination and disclosure of the sex of the foetus but also bans advertisements related to preconception and pre-natal determination of sex. Among other things, it has also made mandatory for all ultrasound clinics and other diagnostic facilities, capable of sex determination, to prominently display a signboard that clearly indicates that disclosure of the sex of the foetus is illegal.
There have been challenges in the implementation of the act by different states. While a few states have taken proactive steps to improve monitoring, capacity building of implementers and sensitisation of the judiciary, others are yet to ensure setting up and effective functioning of implementation structures. Apart from a few exceptions, filing of cases has been slow and at times flawed with not many convictions. In view of this, a Supreme Court ruling has provided detailed directions to all states to improve the implementation of the act.
The state and district advisory committees should gather information relating to the breach of the provisions of the PC&PNDT Act and take steps to seize records, seal machines and institute legal proceedings if there are violations. These committees should report the details to the state medical councils for taking action, including suspension of the unitís registration and cancellation of licence. A special cell has to be constituted to monitor the progress of various cases pending in the courts and take steps for their disposal. But still the issue lacks the attention of various state governments.
Preference for sons leads to female foeticide, adding to the woes of the girl child. Shortage of eligible girls of marriageable age is leading to polyandry in many states where the sex ratio is skewed. According to some reports, in rural Punjab and Haryana, women are purchased from poorer areas and from lower castes. The women is forced to act as a wife not only for her legally wed husband but also for his brothers, and sometimes even the father-in-law. Boys from north Gujarat districts, with the lowest sex ratio of 798 girls per 1,000 boys, buy brides within the state and outside. Some girls are victims of fake marriages after which they are trafficked for sexual exploitation.
When female foeticide takes place, a future mother gets crucified. We cannot simply accept this. Scriptures forbid it; the law prohibits it; ethics deprecate it; morality decries it; and nature abhors it. It would not be an exaggeration to say that a society that does not respect its women cannot be treated as civilised.
As Swami Vivekananda had said just ďas a bird cannot fly with one wing, a nation would not march forward if the women are left behindĒ. On the eve of International Womenís Day, let us strive collectively to save our daughters. India can secure its future by saving and nurturing its daughters.