The rise in number of illegal pre-natal sex determination clinics in India
The plans are usually simple but results always startling: you walk into a diagnostic clinic and the doctor takes you through some secret pre-natal codes. “Your child will be a fighter,” parents are told. “Your child has very doll-like features.” Women rights activists say some clinics even hand out boys or girls accessories at the end or serve the client blue or pink sweets. Almost every female foetus diagnosed in these clinics never sees the light of the day. “I was sent with my husband for a regular check-up in the third month of my pregnancy. The in-laws played a game. The moment they got to know it was a girl, I was forced to abort. They would threaten me each day,” says a woman from Bibi Pur village in Rajasthan.
In India, the births of up to 12 million girls have been prevented in the past 30 years. Although termination on grounds of gender was outlawed in 1994, 400,000- 500,000 babies are aborted each year because they are girls. Mostly, women from rural parts of the country are forced to abort as giving birth to a girl burdens an already poor family with the weight of dowry. The lack of awareness about post-abortion complications and the inability to fight the pressure from the families make women a subject to selective abortions. A culture of preference for sons has led to the change in gender demographics in the country, especially in the states of Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and Maharashtra.
“I was taken to a pre-designated clinic. Since it was not possible to abort the baby after three months, they put a medicine in my genitals. To my utter shock, bits of the baby’s body parts came out while passing urine,” the woman tells Rajen Choudhary who is called “Friend of the Unborn” for raiding illegal clinics in Rajasthan.
The rise in number of pre- natal sex determination clinics in India has led to a skewed sex ratio in many parts of the country. Reasons such as gendered access to resources, dowry system and superstitions such as killing a girl increases chances of conceiving a baby boy etc. contribute to the rise in number of aborted foetuses. Though the advancement in sex determination technology was meant to detect sex-linked genetic diseases or foetal abnormalities, this practice is being misused to selectively abort female foetuses. The detection is carried out by many medical practitioners across the country in unregulated diagnostic clinics. Maharashtra has the highest number of cases of non-registered clinics in the country while Haryana records the highest number of female foetuses aborted each year.
An ultrasonography is carried out in these for a huge sum of money which can range from 3- 5 lakhs.
Forms given out to parents who sign up for prenatal diagnosis as part of
record maintenance. Referred to as Form F, this is only permissible in case of complications
in pregnancy and not selective abortion under Prohibition of Sex Selection Act,2003
A report from Union Ministry of Health said that 294 cases have been filed in Delhi for non-registration of clinics in 2017. Haryana saw 41 cases, 74 cases were registered in Maharashtra and 31 cases in 7 districts of Bihar. “As per quarterly progress reports submitted by states/ UTs, 103 court cases were filed during 2014-15, as many as 190 during 2015-16 and 133 in 2016-17. Till March 2017, as many as 2,371 cases were pending before various criminal courts while 1,132 cases had been decided under the The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 2003 – resulting in 416 convictions and 114 suspension/ cancellation of medical licences of the convicted doctors,” JP Nadda, then the Minister of Health told Parliament. A reward for Rs. 2 lakhs was proposed by the Delhi government for those with information about unregulated clinics.
The census figures of 2011 show the ratio of girls at 8.8 as against the national average of 914 girls per 1000 boys. However, foeticide is not the only cause for this gender gap. Illegally peddled sex selection drugs are another cause of deaths. SSD’s are marketed as remedies which can change the sex of the foetus in the womb. Often unaware of the want of monetary gains of medicine industry, women consume drugs containing phytoestrogens in levels beyond what is considered safe. Haryana, which recorded the poorest sex ratio in the country saw stillbirths due to these illegal drugs. The state’s strong tilt towards having a male child comes from the fact that men can inherit the agricultural land of the family.
Punjab and Haryana have recorded the highest number of missing girls in the country.
Local journalists and experts have played an active role in carrying out sting operations and raiding the clinics that carry out the illegal practice. One such sting was carried out in Rajasthan in 2017. It was called “Kokh Mein Katl under which raids were carried out by hiring decoys. A total of 100 doctors were arrested from Rajasthan alone. Journalists have also highlighted the lack of regulation in providing equipment for ultrasonography. As a consequence, it has become easier for medical practitioners in unregistered clinics or for doctors without medical certificates to carry out the selective abortion. There have been campaigns by NGOs in rural areas to make people aware that abortion is legal only when, (i) there is a risk to life of either the mother or the baby (ii) the conceiving has occurred as a consequence of sexual abuse.
The internet has become a catalyst in providing information about gender selection clinics. The government has been unable to frame and regulation against companies such as Google or Yahoo. Google hosted various advertisements and suggestions for couples from clinics that promote detection of sex in foreign destinations. “The Internet offers highly targeted advertisements. Only those who want sex determination of the foetus, will find these advertisements,” says Sabu George, an academic-activist who had filed a public interest litigation against Yahoo, Microsoft and Google for violation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostics (PCPNDT) Act, 1994.
In 2017, the court held that a ban on online content about sex determination will be a breach to the fundamental right of people who genuinely wish to seek the information. The court ordered the three companies to set up in-house intelligence that will keep tab of all prenatal sex determination ads found online. The court said, that their intent was to make them “responsive to Indian law.” However, online agreements are hard to track. Given that the web network is vast, some agreements take place even without the slightest of knowledge of anyone.
Over the years, media has carried out various stings with help of local police to clamp down on these rackets. To abort on sex selective grounds is an abuse to the profession of medicine. It is considered to be a medical sin. As for the woman, she can hardly ever move on from the psychological trauma of seeing shreds of baby’s body due to the medicine in her genitals. Practices like sex selective abortions being used to deny the right to life is the harshest manifestation of gender discrimination in India.