Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Failure of Activists - By Dr. Sabu George

Most NGOs and the medical profession concerned with female feticide for the past two decades, failed to recognize the likelihood of its rapid spread. The first private clinic was set up in Amritsar in 1979. This trend soon spread to other cities in North and Western India, resulting in adversely influencing the sex ratio in those parts of the country. A ten year gap ensued before the proliferation of these clinics began in Southern India. In the early eighties attention was being given to the issue of female infanticide but the activists had not anticipated the problem of female feticide. Although the spread of this problem was initially slower, many taluks even in backward parts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh now have sex determination clinics. There were occasional media reports from 1992 onwards about the abuse of ultrasound for fetal sex determination in major cities of Tamilnadu. Despite expression of concerns from the mid nineties about the prevalence of female feticide in rural areas, NGOs and others involved in work against infanticide did not prioritize action against feticide. Even elementary steps were not taken; for instance there was no lobbying with the state to set up the mechanisms to register sex determination clinics as mandated by the 1994 national law;  and there also was a failure to confront the medical profession’s insensitivity to the gross violation of medical ethics.

Intensification of Son Preference Related to Fertility Decline

Fertility decline has taken place in all economic and social groups in most parts of the country, especially in Tamilnadu.  The sharp fall in birth rates from the eighties is one contributory factor for intensification of son preference. Similar developments have been earlier observed in other patriarchal societies such as China, South Korea, Taiwan etc., with the decline in fertility rates. Sex determination methods were being used from 1979 onwards in North India to manipulate sex composition of children to have greater proportion of sons.  In 10 years, the sex ratio of pre-school children in Punjab dropped from the already low levels [925 to 874 during 1981-1991].  Sharp declines also occurred in Haryana and Rajasthan, states where female feticide is widespread. In less than a year the 2001 census will reveal the present situation in Punjab and other states. The indication we have from the grassroots level is that there will undoubtedly be an even steeper fall against girls. There are more than one thousand ultrasound clinics in Punjab. And elaborate networks from the village level to the nearest urban ultrasound clinics for referrals exist, where each link gets a commission from the clinics.

In Tamilnadu, the hospital birth data in recent years, reveals an increased masculination  in sex ratio at birth [109 boys per 100 boys as opposed to the expected 105].  This is essentially an urban sample. The 2001 census may not see any significant improvement in the sex ratio of surviving children in Tamilnadu.  However, we will have no definitive information on whether there is a decline in infanticide due to replacement by female feticide. But one thing is quite certain, the establishment of sex determination clinics is the early warning sign for the impending drop in sex ratios. It takes a decade for the practice to spread and gain widespread social acceptability. And, if a significant number of families in the new millennia start opting  for one or more sons with none or fewer daughters, there will be an alarming drop in sex ratios.  Our challenge is to reduce the anti-girl attitude of our society before fertility becomes less than two  [given current fertility levels, women will have an average of nearly 2 children during the child bearing years]. 

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