Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sex Determination Tests in India Fueling Rise in Sex-Selective Abortions

The widespread use of tests to determine the sex of a fetus in India are fueling an increase in sex-selective abortion, government officials and advocates said Tuesday at a meeting examining the issue, Reuters reports (Bhalla, Reuters, 8/21).

According to a UNICEF report released in December 2006, about 7,000 fewer girls than expected are born daily in India, and about 10 million fewer girls than expected were born in the past 20 years. The most recent Indian census figures found that the gender ratio decreased from 947 girls per 1,000 boys to 927 girls per 1,000 boys from 1991 to 2001.

Minister for Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury last month announced that the Indian government is planning to create a national registry of all pregnancies and abortions performed in the country in an effort to curb sex-selective abortion and infant mortality. The government would like to have public and private health centers, hospitals and maternity homes in the country record pregnancies and abortions. The government also aims to increase the number of health workers who will locate and provide care to pregnant women in rural areas.

The country in 1994 approved the Prenatal Determination Act, which bans the use of technology, such as ultrasounds and sonograms, for the purpose of sex-selective abortion. The law also bans advertisements for prenatal sex determination, as well as the practice of preconception sex selection (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 8/3). According to Reuters, more than 400 cases have been filed under the law, resulting in only two convictions -- a fine of 300 rupees, or about $7, and another fine of 4,000 rupees, or about $98.

Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre of Social Research, a New Delhi-based organization promoting women's empowerment, asked, "Is 300 rupees the cost of a girl in India?" She added, "We are obviously not doing enough, as we would see many, many more convictions being made." According to officials, there are plans to increase punishments for sex-selective abortion from three years to five years in jail with a maximum fine of 10,000 rupees, or $240, to 50,000 rupees, or $1,215, as well as to boost enforcement of the law.

Officials said it is difficult to catch and charge physicians, patients and other agents involved in sex determination tests and subsequent abortions in private clinics, adding that people can be charged only when there is concrete evidence. "Sex selection has been the main culprit for the declining female-child ratio in the country," Pravir Krishna, a senior official from the Indian Ministry of Health and Welfare, said, adding, "Technology has given us a lot of benefits, but this is one aspect of technology which has given us a serious problem" (Reuters, 8/21).

Reprinted with permission from You can view the Kaiser Daily Reports online, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at The Kaiser Daily Reports are published for, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

SabrinaW said...

This is a really tough issue to write policy on because intent is dangerous to legislate against. Additionally, this is a culture-technology issue rather than a law-technology issue.

On the one hand, in America, the consistent "pro-choice" position means "pro-any choice, any time, any reason," but on the other hand, there is a social justice problem with a culture selecting one sex over another.

This is definitely a strong statement about the potential damages that arise when cultural norms are further enabled by technology, producing a runaway situation. Personally, I believe that if it is wrong to restrict abortions in America, then it is also wrong to restrict abortions in India, regardless of reason. I would rather see efforts to establish a cultural dialogue to enable the culture to grow with the times as it recognizes that such extreme sex selection is good for no one.