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Sex Determination: An Old Law, A New Debate

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Minister of Women and Child Development had proposed that the gender of the child be compulsorily registered and the birth be tracked. Minister stressed to  establish the sex of the foetus when a pregnancy is detected; tell the mother about it and register the fact in public records; and ensure that deliveries happen only in institutions and not at home. This twin strategy of tracking sex-determined foetuses and requiring institutional deliveries is expected to ensure that female babies are not aborted, or killed at birth.  This ignited the whole debate of whether such suggestion should be included in Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, which comes under the legislative power of health ministry.

Objections to this proposal:

  •  It  will only make female foeticide more rampant. How feasible is it to monitor 29 million pregnancies annually when the government hasn’t been able to check 50,000 ultrasound clinics.
  • Idea of compulsory sex determination will only push women to unsafe abortions. There will be greater pressure on the pregnant woman from her family if they find out early on that her second or third child is a girl.
  • This proposal is an encroachment on a woman’s reproductive rights and shifts the burden on the woman by criminalising her.
  • The record of Punjab and Haryana, with a high prevalence of sex-selective abortions, also points to a modicum of enforcement. But there is a long way to go. After all, where traditional cultural norms dictate a strong preference for boys, recourse to medical technologies could well reinforce socially detrimental personal choices. Clearly, the emphasis ought to be on the reversal of India’s adverse sex ratio among children in the 0-6 year age group.
  • On a national average, the number of girls for every 1,000 boys in this segment of the population dipped to 918 in the 2011 decennial population Census, with more disturbing regional variations. The corresponding figures were 927 and 933 in 1991 and 2001, respectively.

The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 2003:

  • The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 2003, commonly called PC-PNDT Act, makes it illegal to determine the sex of the unborn child or even use sex-selection technologies.
  • The law first came into force in 1996 as the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994, in response to the falling sex ratio and fears that ultrasound technologies were being used to determine the sex of the foetus.
  • The law was amended in 2003 to bring the technique of preconception sex selection within the ambit of the Act – essentially, banning practices where medical practitioners try to influence the sex of the child before conception by using techniques such as sperm sorting (where a sperm cell is specifically chosen because of its sex chromosome). The law as it stands not only prohibits determination and disclosure of the sex of the foetus but also bans advertisements related to preconception and prenatal determination of sex
  • According to the Act, ultrasound clinics, genetic counselling centres and genetic laboratories cannot be used for conducting pre-natal diagnostic techniques except for detecting abnormalities such as chromosomal abnormalities, genetic metabolic diseases, sex-linked genetic diseases and congenital anomalies. The Act makes it mandatory for all ultrasound facilities to be registered and for medical practitioners to maintain records of every scan done on pregnant women.

Why this act was needed: Since 2000, both high courts and the Supreme Court have delivered a series of judgments, taking a serious view of sex-selective practices by the medical fraternity and the connection it may have with skewed sex ratios. In September 2001, following a public interest litigation – filed by the Centre for the Enquiry of Health and Allied Themes, rights group Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal and Dr Sabu George, who had been pushing for the effective implementation of the PMDT Act — the Supreme Court passed an order for strict implementation of the Act and reiterated it again in September 2003.The rate of conviction has been poor. From 2003 to December 2014, only 206 doctors had been convicted by courts, of which Maharashtra had the highest number at 96, followed by Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana. At least 15 states and four union territories had zero convictions all these years.The woman and child development minister’s proposal is that the gender of the child be compulsorily registered and the birth be tracked. Activists have opposed the idea, saying it will only make female foeticide more rampant.

Implementation of this act: The main problem isn’t with the Act but with its implementation. State advisory committees that help in implementing the Act do not meet regularly. Besides, there is poor monitoring of ultrasound clinics. Such clinics are required to maintain records of the scans they conduct but the violators are often let off with a fine.

Dialing……mains General Study I : Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation



Vishal Thakur By - Vishal Thakur
Posted On - 2/6/2016 12:00:00 AM

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