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Gender-based sex selection is one of the most evident forms of son preference in India, more so in so called financially effluent states of north India, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, etc. The abortion of a female foetus merely on the ground of being female is an insult and discrimination to women-hood as a class, being based as it is on the low worth of being a woman.

Cultural and socio-economic factors are the reasons for son preference as it is presumed that sons can provide old age support. In our country, a lot of old age people live with their married sons in the absence of any social welfare benefits and security mechanisms. Moreover, sons are also alone considered to perform the funeral rituals of their parents. Also, most women have very limited opportunities to contribute towards their parents’ welfare as after marriage she leaves her natal home to live with the family of her husband. This creates an apparent dichotomy between the value of a girl to her parents and that of a woman to her in-laws. In this exogamous lineage system women are left out. They become dispensable because majority of them count for very little as individual. Other factors that fuel son preference include dowry and other marriage practices including the rising costs of marriage mainly borne by the girls' families. Apart from this, the patrilineal system of inheritance is other factor promoting son preference. So the low value of women and girls as seen in practices of dowry and inheritance is manifested in sex selection and female infanticide.

As socio-economic and cultural reasons encourage son preference and thinking of daughters as a burden, any strategy to end this practice has to be multi-pronged. On one hand, the society should be educated and motivated through behavior change towards girls and women, curtailing social evils like dowry, etc and more importantly, on the other hand, the PCPNDT (pre-conception and pre-natal diagnostic techniques ) Act has to be implemented more stringently in true spirit.

The law to prohibit sex selection, the PCPNDT Act, was introduced after a long struggle and campaign by women groups. The offences and penalties under the act are that if anyone contravenes any of the provisions of the Act he/she can be punished with imprisonment up to 3 years and with fine upto ten thousand and on any subsequent conviction, with imprisonment up to five years and with fine upto fifty thousand. The 1994 Act was preceded by Maharashtra PNDT Act in June 1988, by which time it had become clear that pre-natal sex determination tests to eliminate female fetuses had become an easy way of getting rid of daughters. The mere fact that central legislation came about six years later of the State Act showed the lack of political will at that time in addressing this dangerous trend. The act only gained momentum when the Prime minister himself kick-started the save and empower girl child program through “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” Abhiyan initiated from Panipat in Haryana last year. In Haryana the Act is being enforced more effectively now. But the Act  not being implemented and enforced by some states in true spirit, result in cross border flourishing the trade of female foeticide.

The 2011 census of India data has revealed that child sex ratios (number of girls in 0-6 age group as compared to 1000 boys ) have been steadily declining from 971 in 1981 to 945 in 1991.It further declined to 927 in 2001 and finally to 919 in 2011. This decline has been largely reported due to pre-natal sex selection, which has continued unabated since the early seventies. Other reasons which are responsible for this decline are female infanticide and neglect of girls in early age. It has been noted that if the first child in a family is a girl, sex selection is more likely to ensure that a boy is born.

It has been observed that sex selection is being facilitated by a section of doctors and other allied personnel who have a huge monetary interest in perpetuating the practice and who exploit the traditional preference for boys to do so. These medical personnel and allied touts have managed to manipulate and bypass the law by various stratagems.

The Bombay high court held that sex selection “ offends the dignity of women, It undermines their importance. It violates women’s right to life. It violates Article 39(e) of the constitution which states that the principle of state policy that the health and strength of women is not to be abused. It ignores Article 51(e) of the constitution which states that it shall be duty of every citizen of India to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women. Sex selection is therefore against the spirit of the constitution. It insults and humiliates womanhood. This is perhaps the greatest argument in favor of total ban on sex selection.

In one judgement Orissa High Court stated that though medical technology has been developed to detect genetic and other defects, such techniques are misused by medical practitioners as a device for determination of the sex of foetus; and if it is a female one, the same is aborted to prevent the birth of a female child.

Some of the methods adopted in certain cases to tell the sex of a baby are innovative. Some doctors say Yes for males and no for females. In certain cases, if a doctor says come and get a report on Monday it is a boy and if says Friday it is female. One doctor adopted a slightly different modus operandi, signature in red ink to indicate a girl and blue for a boy. No words are exchanged. It is an unspoken thing and one doesn’t even have to ask. If the doctor doesn’t oblige, tout will do.

One bigger obstacle in the implementation of the PCPNDT Act is that both family members and doctors are acting in collusion in this heinous crime against a life who is yet to be born and defend herself. So it is the responsibility of the state, health and various dept of state, a few vibrant NGOs and public at large to step forward against this heinous crime and save the girls and in this way save the humanity from an untimely exit from mother earth.

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