Monday, September 6, 2010

Female Feticide- Myths & realities

A silent genocide has been going on now for more than a decade in India and it is estimated that more than a million fetuses are victims of sex selective abortions just because they are girls. I have been associated humbly in efforts to contain the malaise and during my interaction, I have observed that there are lot of myths about the entire issue with an overwhelming sense of denial. Most myths are centered around 'its not happening anywhere near us'.
I have made an attempt here, duly supported by empirical data and census figures, to dispel some of these myths to highlight the gravity of the crime. It's happening around us, at a pace unimaginable and we will realise the magnitude once the figures of Child Sex Ratio (CSR) becomes available for Census 2011.

1. SSA & falling SRB is a problem of Punjab & Haryana & not happening elsewhere

Reality: while its true that the problem of sex selective abortions started in parts of Punjab & Haryana, its no longer confined to these two states and is no longer a North Indian phenomenon. It has spread rapidly all over the country. The census 2001 clearly indicates that the fall in Child Sex ratio (CSR) is rampant throughout the country and the situation becomes more glaring if one looks at CSR at district, sub district and for urban areas.

Problem is going to get only worse as will be confirmed during Census 2011.

2. It happens in few religions only
Reality: The census 2001 figures of CSR religion wise is as follows:

the decline while more noticiable in few communities has fast been spreading to all other communities.

3. Poor & economically disadvantaged, because of sheer poverty, resort to Sex Selective Abortions

Reality: It is very easy to wash off our hands imagining that such a 'henious act' is done by poor who are uneducated and are forced to take this extremem step because of their inability to bring up daughters! However, nothing else could be so far from truth.

“Declining trend in sex ratio was reflected in most states, including the more economically advanced ones like Punjab & Haryana. It clearly points out that economic growth may not necessarily bring about an improvement in the status of women. This in turn can be attributed to the discrimination that the girl child faces & the consequential problems of poor health & the nutritional status[1].

Planning Commission in its mid term appraisal of Tenth Five Year plan in June 2005 notes that ‘richer districts tend to account for a larger decline in the child sex ratio. For example, the South Delhi district has one of the highest records of the decline in the Child sex ratio. The incidence of the use of sex determination techniques tends to be more in the most modern & developed districts. This calls into question the argument that market economy undermines patriarchal authoritarian & male-biased traditional attitudes & spreads egalitarian values. Policy has to address the concern that the inculcation of the values of the market economy seems to be only enhancing the gender inequity as reflected in the FF & female infanticide indicators.’[2]

Likewise, a look at the following table indicates that SSA has an inverse relationship to education and wealth index.

Well, it may, in the first instance, sound outrageously ridiculous and violating our sane thoughts on education and wealth but it seems to be a reality. What else can explain a very high degree of 'son preference' or rather 'not wanting to have daughter' among the rich and educated in South Delhi and most parts of Punjab, Haryana, UP & richer parts (mainly urban as of now) of AP, MP, HP, Gujarat and Maharastra.

Some of the State Governments too suffer from this myth. States such as NCT of Delhi, Haryana and Bihar have come out with Schemes aimed at incentivizing 'girl child'. While the schemes are noble per se but their targetting is totally off the mark. They provide cash incentives for girls once they reach the age of 18 and the incentive varies from Rs 50000/ to Rs 1,00,000/. However, it is again based on the misconception that SSA is done by poor due to economic constraints and that incentivizing this way will prevent such abortions. But the point is that it is done by educated and 'well off' who dont need such incentives and it has thus lead to a situation where State Governments are having a feel good factor for having done something while the abortions continue unabated!

4. It happens only in urban areas

Reality: Due to the fact that Ultra sound machines (USM) came up in cities initially, its partly true that the problem of sex detection and SSA did start in cities especially in North India in late 80s and early 90s. However, realizing the business potential and an exponential demand from the rural areas which was largely untapped, the network of USMs quickly spread to the semi-urban and rural areas.

A look at the distribution of villages as per CSR for any state in India shows that number of villages where CSR is less than 800 has increased during the decade of nineties. We have illustrated by taking the example of Punjab, Haryana, Maharastra and Gujarat. This just proves that the problem is no longer confined to urban areas alone.

5. “We want a son because he will look after us in our old age” – the economic rationale for a ‘son-preference’

Reality: As we look around, it is observed that the security of parents during their old age is often gender neutral. At the risk of generalizing, we wish to say is it not more often that a daughter is more likely to look after her parents in their old age.

6. Family members, especially mother in law, forces the woman to undergo scan and SSA

This is often cited as a reason that it was due to the pressures from the family members of the spouse, especially the mother in law, that the woman was forced to undergo sex detection and SSA. However, it’s a myth as its often the parents who wish to have the SSA especially the sex of 2nd & subsequent child in Birth Order Parity. However, the issue of other family members forcing the woman to undergo sex detection is taken care of in the amendment as issued in 2003 by the Supreme Court in which it is stipulated that unless the contrary is proved, it will be presumed that the woman was forced to undergo the test by the family members.

7. Act is weak. Sting operation is the only way to find out and its difficult to prove in court

– Act is simple, easy to understand and extremely powerful. The problem lies in its lack of implementation which is on account of lack of monitoring and accountability. Government has, from time to time, been enhancing the penalties under the Act but these are ineffective measures as it remains on paper. The success of the Act lies in its implementation. It has enough teeth as it is.

8. Police is not acting

Reality: Police under the Act has no direct role to play. DAA is a quasi judicial authority and has got the powers of search and seizure under the amendment as issued in 2003.

9. Routine ultrasound is life saving

Reality: the research shows that pregnancy is just as safe if a woman doesn’t have a scan. Evidence also suggests that there is no improvement in maternal mortality or perinatal mortality due to ultrasound scan. It is also suggested that ultrasound scan should not be recommended during early pregnancy as a routine test and routine trimester scanning after 24 weeks of fetus gestation should not be undertaken.
[1] Tenth Five Year Plan 2002-07 chapter 2.11 Women & Children, 2.11.36
[2] Mid Term Appraisal of Tenth Five Year plan , June 2005, 4.48

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