By Tehmina Arora
33,260. This is the approximate cost of 10 grams of gold in rupees. Sadly, the value of gold also has a direct bearing on the number of girl children who are allowed to be born, and how they are cared for.
The cost of a daughter’s marriage and an expensive dowry, which includes large amounts of gold – hence the price of gold matters – are among the main factors in the minds of parents when they decide to have a sex-selective abortion, according to research. This, coupled with the cultural norms that restrict a daughter’s access to property, education, and most of all agency, proves to be a noxious cocktail for little girls in our country.
The 2011 Census revealed that there were only 918 girls per 1,000 boys in the 0-6 age group across India. According to WHO, the normal child sex ratio falls in the range of 943-980 girls per 1,000 boys, and any value lower than that is reflective of gender discrimination against the girl child, girl infanticide and female foeticide. Conservative estimates place the number of girls missing from our society at 19 million.
This is not only a rural problem. A study on the trends in selective abortion of girls in India published in June 2011 in the medical journal Lancet suggested that the chances of survival for a second born girl after a first daughter are less if the family is well educated and rich. These families live in urban areas where they have access to ultrasound scans and can afford abortion. The 2011 Census also shows that the child sex ratio in Delhi stands at a dismal 871 girls for every 1,000 boys. The posh South Delhi district is the worst offender, with a child sex ratio of only 862 girls.
In poorer communities, where there aren’t many ultrasound clinics, daughters are instead abandoned or killed after being born, or lost through neglect. According to another Lancet study published in June 2018 on the under-5 mortality rate of women in India, an estimated 239,000 excess deaths occurred per year. That amounts to toughly 27 baby girls (ages 0-5 years) dying every minute due to neglect, malnourishment and lack of access to medical facilities.
Further, more than 90 percent of the districts in the country had excess female mortality, but the four largest states in northern India – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh – accounted for two-thirds of the total number.
Researchers found that gender-based discrimination towards girls doesn’t simply prevent them from being born, it may also precipitate the death of those who are born.
Savita, a young mother in Delhi, explained this, “After my second daughter was born, my husband and in laws started abusing me… I had not been able to give them a son.” Then, the third daughter was born and violence against Savita and the children grew more brutal. “When my little baby girl fell ill and finally died, the violence stopped,” she added.
Despite these terrible statistics and heart-breaking stories, very little is being done to implement the Pre-Conception Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 (PCPNDT Act). The legislation makes gender determination illegal and puts the onus on the medical fraternity to closely monitor all ultrasounds. Although prenatal sex-detection and sex-selective abortion are illegal, many clinics continue to provide these services in a clandestine manner across the country.
A press release by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare states that the Quarterly Progress Reports submitted by States and Union Territories show that 3,986 court cases had been filed and 2,007 ultrasound machines had been sealed or seized thanks to the implementation of the PCPNDT Act. However, the report also noted that from 1994 until December 2017, only 449 convictions had been secured, and the medical licenses of only 136 doctors were suspended or cancelled following those convictions.
“The level of implementation of PC-PNDT Act is abysmal,” stated the central government’s 10th Common Review Mission in its 2016 Report on the National Health Mission. “Lack of witnesses and insufficient evidence are cited as major reasons that result in cases falling through, thereby resulting in low conviction rates. The Act is inadequately used while drafting court complaints and the full force of the law is often not brought to bear in prosecution.”
If the law is strictly implemented, we can begin to see a turnaround quickly.
In 2012, Rajasthan became the first and only state to set up their own PCPNDT Bureau of Investigation to take up cases of sex-selective abortions and sex determination under the Act. The Bureau first looked at the integration of reports and the problems that occur in investigation in the violation of the Act, and then the state set up many special courts for speedy trials. With the help of police, the Bureau ensured strong prosecution against the offenders, including doctors, nurses, ANMs, touts, and brokers involved in the criminal act of sex determination and sex-selective abortions.
Through their relentless efforts, officials in Rajasthan have been able to secure more than 135 convictions in the last five years. The incentive schemes, like the Mukhbir Yojana (informer scheme), with an enhanced amount of 250,000 rupees, helped build up a strong network of informers across the state. It is estimated that because of these efforts, the child sex ratio is gradually rising in the state and now stands at nearly 950 girls per 1,000 boys in many districts according to the Pregnancy, Child Tracking and Health Services Management System.
However, other state governments have failed to follow even simple steps. They have not instituted a system of informers or conducted decoy operations or ensured informers’ protection. Nor do they have dedicated helplines, websites or cash rewards for reporting illegal sex determination and female foeticide. Recent media reports suggest that over 56 percent of the funds allocated from 2014-15 to 2018-19 under the Central Government flagship program, the “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” scheme, were spent on “media related activities,” (read public relations for the government). In contrast to this, less than 25 percent of the funds were disbursed to districts and states. The reports also suggest that over 19 percent of the funds were not released by the government at all.
The law alone cannot change the culture. People change culture. Sex-selective abortions are a scandal of epidemic proportions and we cannot sit idle as girls vanish from our cities, our neighbourhoods and our families. We need to adopt a model of LIFE for all girls – Love, Inheritance, Freedom and Equality.
The girls in our families and those yet unborn, need advocates who will love them, ensure that they have equal rights to family property as their brothers, their freedoms are protected and promoted and that in all things they are treated with equal dignity and respect. This is the only way we can show these little girls that they are truly priceless.