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The silent emergency

Government,civil society need to urgently address falling child sex ratios.

Written by Usha Rai | Published: September 6, 2013 3:59:17 am

Government,civil society need to urgently address falling child sex ratios.

Preliminary findings after a whole year of campaigning on the falling child sex ratio (CSR),by 200 NGOs across 23 states,indicate that we have only skimmed the surface of this silent emergency. These NGOs had gathered under the National Foundation for India last year to deal with the problem. Findings show the implementation of the Pre Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act continues to be poor,and the nexus between clinics,doctors and the political class is proving difficult to break.

While patriarchy continues to be the underlying cause for the problem,advances in technology have made sex selection easier for those wanting sons. Mobile ultrasound machines have made their way into remote districts and it is now possible to determine the sex of the foetus through blood and urine tests. A year of campaigning revealed not just a “son preference” but also a “daughter aversion”.

In 2011,alarm bells went off when the census revealed that the CSR for children from the age group of 0-6 years had plummeted to 919 girls to 1,000 boys,from 927 girls to 1,000 boys in 2001. Except for Chhattisgarh and a few states of the Northeast,the entire country was in trouble. The trend of eliminating girls spanned across class,caste,ethnic and religious lines. The situation was more disturbing in urban areas but even in rural areas,prosperity was leading to a fall in the CSR.

Both in 2001 and in 2011,the states that fared the worst in the north were Delhi,Himachal Pradesh,Haryana,Jammu and Kashmir,Rajasthan,Punjab and Chandigarh. According to civil society representatives,there was little seriousness in implementing the PCPNDT Act. While Rajasthan has filed the maximum number of cases under the PCPNDT Act — more than 500 cases since 2009 — Delhi has reported only 62 cases,J&K one case and Himachal Pradesh,none. In Punjab and Haryana,more than 100 cases were filed under the act. In UP and Bihar,108 and 126 cases,respectively,have been filed. The number of convictions,if any,is very low.

As Satish Agnihotri,an IAS officer who has worked extensively on the issue,pointed out,different regions had different weak links. In some areas,the appropriate authority for implementing the PCPNDT Act has not been formed,in other areas,it has been formed but is not working properly. Identifying the weak links of each region is as vital as a sustained campaign to bring back the balance in the CSR.

There has also been some excellent work in different areas and these best practices need to be replicated and shared with the bigger movement. In the Ganganagar district of Rajasthan,the Chamber of Commerce joined forces with the Gurudwara Committee to facilitate education for girls. This is in partnership with the Let Girls Be Born Campaign,run by NGOs Plan India and Urmul Setu. Local panchayats are celebrating the birth of girls and several families have come forward to adopt girls from families that feel they cannot afford to support more than one daughter.

In many states,a larger female workforce has shown an improved sex ratio. So there is a need to focus on education and employment for women. However,in Kerala,which has the highest literacy rate in the country,the CSR is declining.

In India,the medical termination of pregnancy was legalised in 1971. Women,quite rightly,don’t want to lose out on this right,which gives them control over their bodies. But people seem unable to distinguish between safe abortion,which is legal,and sex selective elimination,which is illegal. In the north,a pro-life group is adding to the misunderstanding and confusion on the two issues. Another problem that calls for attention is violence against women,which is aggravated when the woman is unable to produce a male child.

The existing laws need to be strengthened through implementation. It is equally important to educate medical professionals on the ethics of medical practice. Working with faith-based organisations may help because they lay the cultural foundations of society. But campaigners feel that collaboration with religious groups “is a double-edged weapon”. Meanwhile,the ministry of women and child development has identified 100 districts with a poor CSR and drawn up an action plan. As a first step,the collectors of these districts and some civil society organisations have been called upon to launch a mission to save the girl child. At the national level,the ministry will work closely with the information and broadcasting ministry and others to create a fund for a media campaign on the declining CSR. Only the joint efforts of government and civil society organisations can reverse this bleak trend.

The writer,a veteran journalist,formerly with ‘The Indian Express’,writes on development issues

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