ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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PNDT Act and People's Action

Despite the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 having been around for over five years femicide has continued rampantly in many states. The 2001 Census figures pertaining to the sex ratio of the 0-6 year population bear adequate testimony to this. There had been a declining trend of females in the sex ratio all these years but the 2001 Census shows an even greater decline, especially in states like Haryana, Maharashtra, Punjab, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. Sabu George (individual activist), Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT) from Mumbai and Pune and Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal (MASUM) from Pune decided to intervene and bring this issue back on the national agenda by filing a public interest litigation (PIL). CEHAT’s decision to be co-petitioner for the above stated PIL was primarily a result of its commitment to women’s health and rights issues, ethical medical practice and upholding human rights.

The PIL was filed in February 2000 with two goals. One, to activate the central and state governments for rigorous implementation of the central legislation, and second, to interpret the legislation and/or to demand amendment to ensure that the techniques which use pre-conception or during-conception sex selection like, for instance, the Ericsson method and pre-implantational genetic diagnosis (PGD) are also brought under the purview of the act. The petition draws attention to the gross misuse of reproductive technology in a society characterised by a strong bias against the female child. Even as female infanticide is yet to be eradicated, techniques like PGD have widened the gap in the already skewed sex ratio. Sex-selective abortion needs of society find its roots in the patriarchal social norms and the low status accorded to women. The new reproductive technologies – unregulated and abused – are now further perpetuating these practices which are discriminatory and unethical from the standpoint of medicine, as well as violative of human rights of women. That a link exists between elimination of female foetuses during pre or intra conception or infanticide and the widening sex ratio has long been accepted by demographers. The sophisticated technique of PGD helps couples with genetically determined conditions, but this does not outweigh the damage caused by its misuse by unscrupulous practitioners. While the act was brought in as a secular initiative of health and women’s activists and the governments, there was no effort in pushing for implementation of the act. It suffered the same fate as that of other social acts like those against dowry, child marriage, sati, etc. The machinery required to enforce this act at the state and district levels was not put in place, the required resources were not provided and there was general disinterest on the part of various government bodies to take this act seriously. Further the family planning programme’s insistence on the small family norm (two children or even one child now) coupled with the son preference added pressure on families to look at sex-selection as a via media for their desired family composition. And also the medical profession and its associations like IMA and the Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Societies of India (FOGSI) remained silent over such malpractice by their members. So the state’s complacency coupled with socio-cultural ‘demands’ and the unconcern of the medical profession led to the failure of enforcement of the act.

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