Every time the census figures are released, the alarm bells start ringing. This year, the provisional census figures revealed a shocking decline in the child sex ratio figures from 927 per thousand in 2001 to 914 in 2011- a decline of 13 points, bringing the figures down to the lowest since independence. The ratio has been falling unabated ever since the 1961 Census. And though states like Punjab and Haryana have shown some improvement since the previous Census, their child sex ratios are still the lowest in the country. Unfortunately, the situation has deteriorated in many more states now. There are nine states with child sex ratios below 900 - Haryana: 830, Punjab: 846, J&K: 859, Delhi:866, Rajasthan:883, Maharashtra: 883, Gujarat: 886, Uttarakhand: 886, and Uttar Pradesh: 899 per thousand. The number of states with child sex ratios of 951 and above has reduced by half from 18 to 9 while the number of states and UTs with CSRs below 915 has increased from 9 in 2001 to 14 in 2011.
The hollow claims being made by the UPA- II government regarding “inclusive” growth stand thoroughly exposed by these grim statistics. There can be no celebration about the rise in the overall sex ratios, when the impact of this consistent decline threatens to undermine whatever gains are being touted. What is more, it also raises fundamental questions about the government policies and interventions, which have obviously done little to redress the imbalance in child sex ratios, but rather, have contributed to aggravating the situation further.
In an organisational meeting, AIDWA activists and leaders from the states of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra and West Bengal placed their state experiences.
To address the underlying issues, and chalk out a plan of action, a joint meeting was organised by AIDWA, and the Indian School for Women’s Studies and Development (ISWSD), in New Delhi on April 30, 2011. Many prominent academicians, and members of ISWSD including - Rajni Palriwala, Indu Agnihotri, Malini Bhattacharya, Professor Mohan Rao and representatives from organisations like Sama, Young Women’s Christian Association, Students’ Federation of India, Working Women’s Co-ordination Committee (CITU)and All India Kisan Sabha etc, participated in the meeting, which was presided over by AIDWA vice president Kirti Singh. Kiran Moghe, AIDWA national secretary and Jagmati Sangwan, AIDWA vice president gave graphic accounts of the struggles undertaken in Maharashtra and Haryana to force the administration to implement the PcPNDT Act. They raised many serious questions about the political commitment of the government to enforce it. A draft resolution was placed by AIDWA general secretary, Sudha Sundararaman, which was greatly enriched and strengthened by the ensuing discussion.
The meeting unequivocally came to the conclusion that the fall in child sex ratio represented a damning indictment of the policies of the UPA-II government and an exposure of its utter failure to implement the PcPNDT Act.
Fertility Decline & Demographic Change
The aggressive “population stabilisation” programme, preceded by the family planning drive launched by successive governments have contributed to the sharp decline in child sex ratios. This is because smaller families are being propagated and popularised within a highly patriarchal and gender discriminatory social construct. Parents too now wish to have less number of children, but, the fall in growth rate of population after decades of stagnation appears to have been achieved primarily at the cost of the girl child. When parents decide to have one child, or two children, the preference is for the son- even without sex selective abortions. In a state like Punjab, it was observed during field research that families with one son prefer not to have another child at all!
Though the two child norm has been formally given up, many states continue to implement it, with incentives and disincentives still being included in different ways. Women with more than two children cannot contest panchayat elections in some states. In Maharashtra, the Cong/ NCP government has passed a law that families with more than two children will have to pay one and a half times more for irrigation water.
Modern families want at least one son, and not more than one daughter - and methods to achieve this ideal are being resorted to without compunction. Indeed, surveys have shown that higher literacy figures and economic growth provide no guarantees against the crime of sex selection. It is in urbanised, fast growing metros that sex selective abortions are gaining popularity, and acceptance. In rural areas, the girl child is neglected after birth, her health needs are not attended to, and she is allowed to die. Such is the grim reality of aversion to daughters.
Sex Selective Abortions
Under the PcPNDT Act (1994) sex selection is illegal, and punishable. However, in reality sex selective abortions are being conducted with impunity. There is a well developed nexus between the medical profession, the technicians, and the large companies selling the ultra sound machines. This profitable market exists because of the unwillingness of the government to take stringent action against those violating the law.
When AIDWA did a sting operation in Pune district of Maharashtra against a leading doctor, it discovered that the Act had not even been notified in that district even ten years after the Act had been put into place! A similar lapse undermined the efficacy of the law in Haryana as well!
Collusion between the profit makers, corruption and the clout wielded by unethical and corrupt members of the medical profession (often supported by their associations) have rendered the Act toothless. Clinics get sealed due to our struggles, and then, are back in action within a short period. So-called monitoring committees at all levels are dominated by those who are being monitored and activists, experts etc are conspicuous by their absence on these committees.
The “F” forms that should be analysed and monitored to identify wrongdoers are gathering dust in office rooms.
The Central Supervisory Board set up to monitor and oversee the implementation of the PcPNDT Act did not hold a single meeting over three years. It has been reconstituted recently, in a most non transparent manner. States too are following suit, which will render these bodies ineffective once more.
The linkages with the medical service as business are becoming more advanced, with the advent of newer and newer technologies. The phenomenal expansion in ART centres indicates what a lucrative business enterprise it has become- the potential for its misuse for sex pre selection is extremely high, but there is no regulation. Thus, there is a serious lack of political will in the implementation of the PcPNDT Act by the government.
Some Disturbing Questions
Technology is not neutral. It was noted that the introduction of a “silent observer”- a hard disc placed in the ultrasound machine to monitor pregnancies more closely- in some states and regions is an unwanted intrusion that could lead to harassment and victimisation of the woman. Though proper screening and monitoring is important, the procedures for monitoring pregnancies cannot become an instrument for invasion into the privacy of individuals.
The numbers of ultra sound machines are increasing by the day, and there are now mobile clinics catering to outlying areas. Pregnant women are being subjected to a number of ultrasounds, for which there is no necessity, and indeed this can be harmful for the unborn baby, as declared by the radiologist’s associations in the US & UK. Privatisation is breeding a culture of excess screening and medical tests, a trend that is being exploited by the unscrupulous private health providers. A comprehensive legislation to safeguard public health rights must be formulated to address such concerns. The discussion also highlighted the inefficacy of government schemes due to the many conditionalities that are being imposed on selection of beneficiaries, as also the stereotyped mindset that went into their formulation.
The participants noted that the neo liberal paradigm of development had led to devastating implications for women. They underscored the complex link between the market economy, and the erosion in women’s status. The agrarian crisis, and the consequent further devaluation of women’s work has led to her increased impoverishment and marginalisation. Unemployment and underemployment among women is high. The denial of nutrition and health care, made worse by the introduction of user fees in health institutions, the lack of a universal PDS, accompanied by a decline in the consumption of food grains, the repeated increase in prices of essential commodities, the huge increase in dowry, without property rights and asset creation for women – all these have created a matrix where the girl child is supremely unwanted. While dowry demands are escalating, property rights for girls are not implemented properly. In Haryana, the daughter who inherits property from the father is expected to sign over her share to her brothers- otherwise she is subjected to a great deal of harassment. The growing incidence of violence against women and girls transforms them into even more of a burden.
Thus, there are a plethora of factors leading to the girl child being killed or neglected to die before or after she is born, and it is necessary to address these comprehensively, for the government to arrest the decline in child sex ratios.
The meeting resolved to launch a nation-wide campaign and struggle highlighting the following issues:
* The government should implement the PcPNDT Act stringently and show political will to curb this crime.
* The Central Supervisory Board, and the equivalent state mechanisms, all the monitoring committees and appropriate authorities should comprise of members who have both knowledge of the law, and proven commitment to upholding the rights of girl children. All monitoring committees must be constituted properly. Swift punitive action should be taken against the offenders.
* The two child norm should be withdrawn with immediate effect, including all related incentives and disincentives.
* Existing schemes for girl children must be critically examined and reformulated such that they are universal and are not linked to any kind of conditionalities and stereotypes.
* Monitoring for proper implementation of the Act must not violate privacy rights of pregnant women. The introduction of ‘silent observer’ in ultrasound machines should be reconsidered in this context.
* Rampant privatisation of public health care should be curbed with an umbrella legislation on healthcare. Misuse of new technologies like the Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs) for sex selection should be prevented.
Sudha Sundararaman Voice of Working Woman June 2011