September 12, 2008 1:47:41 pm
The image seems innocuous enough: A pregnant woman’s belly with a male symbol scrawled in ink to the right of her navel and a female symbol to the left.
But in India, where the practice of aborting female fetuses is widespread, such advertisements for prenatal gender selection kits are neither innocuous nor legal.
Last month, activist Sabu George filed a petition against the Indian subsidiaries of Google, Microsoft and Yahoo with the nation’s highest court, asking the companies to pull gender selection advertisements from their Indian search engines. On Aug. 13, the Supreme Court asked the companies to respond to the petition.
The response is yet to come, but the day after the court’s order, the offending ads vanished from the Web, George said. On Thursday, however, they began to reappear on Google.
The company is, George said, “breaking the law and making money.
Every time you click on that ad, Google is making money.”
If you typed in the words “sex” and “selection” on Google India on Thursday, up popped a sponsored link to Urobiologics LLC, a U.S. company that sells urine test kits for US$275 to US$400 that it says can determine the sex of an unborn baby with 98 percent accuracy.
Dr. Kuldeep Wirma, the founder and president of the company, said by phone from the company’s Livonia, Michigan, headquarters that Urobiologics cannot ship kits directly to India, but that a kit could be delivered to a US address, and from there mailed to India. Samples mailed from India can be processed in 15 days, he said.
Asked by The Associated Press about the legality of advertising for a gender selection kit in India, he acknowledged the ad was illegal and vowed to pull it immediately. “We can stop it right away. We don’t intend to do business in India,” he said, though he added that he had asked Google to include India on the list of countries where his advertisement would run last week.
Roli Agarwal, a spokeswoman for Google India, said Thursday evening she could not comment immediately on the Urobiologics ad, referring questions to an official statement from Google in response to George’s petition.
“The Google advertising program is managed by a set of policies which we develop based on several factors, including legal requirements and user experience. In India, we do not allow ads for the promotion of prenatal gender determination or preconception sex selection. We take local laws extremely seriously and will review the petition carefully,” the statement said.
Some Indian families prefer boys to girls in part because they can earn more money and don’t carry the burden of a pricey dowry.
Despite the fact that sex selection is illegal in India, the number of girls keeps dwindling.
In 2001, 927 girls were born for every 1,000 boys, down from 962 in 1981, according to government census figures.
India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier this year called the falling sex ratio a “national shame.”
“The patriarchal mind-set and preference for male children is compounded by unethical conduct on the part of some medical practitioners, assisted by unscrupulous parents, who illegally offer sex-determination services,” Singh told reporters in April.
The Lancet, the British medical journal, has estimated as many as 10 million female fetuses may have been aborted in India over the last two decades.
“What we are dealing with is a genocide,” George said.
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