The Prohibition of Sex Selection Act
In 1994, the Parliament of India enacted the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act also known as the Prohibition of Sex Selection Act. As per the Act, it is illegal to use any technique to identify the sex of a foetus after conception. This came into action to prevent the abortion of female fetuses, which is still a common practice in India.
Some of the rules of the act are as follows:
Prohibition of sex determination and selection by any techniques like ultrasound and amniocentesis
Sex of the fetus cannot be communicated in any way by any parties
Diagnostic techniques can be done only by qualified professionals
All institutions carrying out tests must be registered under the act
Institutions must display their approval certificate
Prior to any tests, relevant forms must be filled and documented
The patient and doctor must sign a declaration
All institutions must display a notice indicating that sex determination or selection is prohibited under the law
Violation of the act by any party is punishable by imprisonment for a term and a fine
Why Is Sex Selection Illegal?
The 2011 population census in India revealed that there are only 940 females to every 1000 males in India. The sex ratio is highly skewed in the western Indian states of Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan.
A patriarchal society, the dowry system, poverty and illiteracy (in some cases) has resulted in a society where sons are preferred over daughters.
Although sex-selective abortion is illegal and female foeticide results in long prison sentences these practices continue in the country.
The skewed ratio is spread across the country, with many urban centers showing the same level of gender imbalance as rural centers. This indicates that the preference for male children trumps the fear of the state. Although the ban on ultrasound testing (that identifies the gender of the fetus) was banned in 1996 and the PCPNDT Act has been in effect since 1994, it was only in 2006 that a doctor and his assistant were convicted for foetal sex determination.
Many ultrasound and scan centers in the country still carry out diagnostic techniques that reveal the gender of the fetus.
A Cultural Problem
In India, it is common for families to prefer raising boys. The belief driving this preference is that sons take care of the family while daughters leave the family after marriage. As per cultural norms, boys are viewed as an ‘asset’, while raising a girl is more expensive because of dowry and lack of financial return in the future.
This cultural sanctioning of female abortion ensures that those involved in the practice get away scot-free. In many cases, neither sex-selective abortion nor the act of female foeticide come to light. Another startling aspect of the sex selection process is the use of drugs to help change the gender of the fetus. These drugs, going by the names of ‘Shivlingi’ and ‘Majuphal’ contain high amounts of testosterone and natural steroids. They are sold across the counter in north Indian states like Haryana. The administration of these drugs has resulted in foetal deaths and an increase in the number of stillborn babies, not to mention the physical and emotional toll it takes on the mothers. Men and women are both complicit in the sex selection process as the birth of a female child in many homes is treated akin to a funeral.
The Indian government offers many programs to combat this social evil including providing educational scholarships for girl children. They even offer cash transfers to parents who haven't forced their girls into an underaged marriage (unmarried till the age of 18). States such as Tamil Nadu have schemes where the parents can leave unwanted children in designated centers to help combat the female foeticide problems.
Despite these measures, statistic show that the country's gender imbalance still exists.