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Female foeticide: Licensed to kill
In 1993, an English-language daily conducted a sting operation in which Mangala Telang, a noted South Delhi gynaecologist and infertility specialist, allegedly agreed to do sperm sorting or sex pre-selection. Over 14 years later, in 2007, the BBC secretly filmed Telang, the founder president of the Indian Fertility Society, who had publicly campaigned against the "evil crime" of female foeticide, agreeing to perform a scan for an undercover couple to determine the sex of their baby. She allegedly even offered to help arrange for an abortion if it was a girl. Following the BBC film being aired, Telang's licence was reportedly suspended under the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act. Health officials sealed and shut down her clinics. A case under the PNDT Act was supposed to be filed against her. But Telang continues to have a flourishing practice;her clinics are back in business and she works for some of the most posh hospitals in the country's capital.
Many such doctors in Haryana, Rajasthan and other states - who were charged under the PNDT Act have got away scot free. "If the government had made an example of these doctors and ensured that they were jailed for being party to female foeticide and breaking the law, it would have had huge deterrence value. But doctors are honourable criminals and they get bail even if they get convicted, " points out Sabu George, an activist who has worked on the issue of the girl child for over 25 years.
When the 2011 census revealed that India's child sex ratio had fallen even further from 933 in 2001 to 914, home secretary G K Pillai was widely quoted as saying that measures put in place over the last 40 years had not had any impact on the skewed ratio and his suggestion was to completely review the family planning policy. However, activists say that the home secretary ought to look at the level of enforcement of the PNDT Act to understand the situation.
"Every serial killer is afraid of being caught. If they don't get caught, they become further emboldened. Similarly, when criminal medical practitioners are caught and nothing is done to them, it is worse than if they had not got caught at all. The whole publicity around the arrest and charging is like an advertisement for them, " says Puneet Bedi, consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology in Indraprastha Apollo Hospital and a campaigner against female foeticide.
TIGHTEN THE NOOSE
The PNDT Act makes it mandatory for all ultrasound clinics to be registered. It also mandates that for every ultrasound conducted, a form has to be filled and submitted periodically for scrutiny. According to the law, if the form is not properly filled or not submitted, it is assumed that the doctor conducted sex determination and the onus is on the doctor to prove that he/she did not do so. "We audited the forms submitted over six months in 2009 in six districts, and found that more than 50 per cent of the forms were incomplete and almost a fifth of the registered clinics were not submitting the form at all. This shows the level of compliance and how the doctors are deliberately flouting the PNDT Act because they are not worried about the consequences. A proper and regular audit, which could ensure regulation of these clinics, is hardly ever undertaken, " explains Rizwan Parwez of the Centre For Advocacy and Research, which works on implementation of the Act in select districts in Rajasthan. Forget about regulation, hundreds of clinics continue to operate across the country without even registration. "Only a handful of cases are filed for the millions of sex selection crimes being committed, " says Sabu George. Bedi blames the medical councils for not taking action against the doctors.
PRICE TO PAY
For long, sociologists have warned of the dire consequences of an increasingly skewed sex ratio. A falling sex ratio is a cumulative process, which could lead to more crimes and violence against women. Without enough brides, men will be forced to purchase wives, which could lead to human trafficking - as is already happening in Haryana. This, in turn, would lead to insecure parents resorting to even more female foeticide and keeping their girls from getting an education out of fear of letting them out of the home. In the long run, all the gains made in pushing for greater female literacy and empowerment could be undone by the lack of initiative and foresight in tackling the dipping sex ratio. According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), in 2020, China will have 30 - 40 million more young men than young women. China would have to deal with them being untethered to a family of their own and social instability, warns CASS. Despite such examples, India is hurtling down the same regressive path.
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