Spreading like a virus
A recent media workshop on the issue of sex selection and female foeticide brought home the extent of the problem. Held in Agra in February, the workshop was organised by UNICEF, Business Community Foundation, and the Centre for Advocacy and Research. Doctors, social scientists, researchers, activists, bureaucrats, journalists told their stories of what they were doing to fight the problem.
If the 1991 Census showed that two districts had a child sex ratio (number of girls per thousand boys) less than 850; by 2001 it was 51 districts. Child rights activist Dr. Sabu George says foeticide is the most extreme form of violence against women. “Today a girl is several times more likely to be eliminated before birth than die of various causes in the first year. Nature intended the womb to be a safe space. Today, doctors have made it the most unsafe space for the female child,” he says. He believes that doctors must be held responsible — “They have aggressively promoted the misuse of technology and legitimised foeticide.”
Researchers and scholars use hard-hitting analogy to emphasise the extent of the problem. Dr. Satish Agnihotri, senior IAS officer and scholar who has done extensive research on the issue, calls the technology “a weapon of mass destruction”. Dr. Bedi refers to it as genocide: “More than 6 million killed in 20 years. That’s the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust.”
Foeticide is also one of the most common causes of maternal mortality. The sex of the foetus can be determined only around 14-16 weeks. This means most sex selective abortions are late. Abortion after 20 weeks is illegal in India. Donna Fernandes, Vimochana, a Bangalore-based NGO, says foeticide is related to a host of other social problems as varied as privatisation of medical education and dowry. Karnataka has the highest number of private medical colleges. Healthcare turning commodity has led to terrifying consequences. Adds Fernandes, “Wherever green revolution has happened foeticide has increased. With more landholdings and wealth inheritance dowry has increased.