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No Right To Be Born in Rajasthan

The drop of 26 points in the child sex ratio in Rajasthan between 2001 and 2011 reveals that the prospects for human development in the state are bleak. Despite considerable pressure from civil society groups to implement the Pre-Conception and Pre- Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, the pernicious trend of eliminating girls has continued. Unless immediate and stringent measures are taken, this may well lead to catastrophic consequences in the long term.

COMMENTARY

The use of ultrasound technology to re-

No Right To Be Born in Rajasthan

ject the unwanted girl child has become widespread in the state. This came to light in 2006 when a sting operation carried out Kanchan Mathur, Shobhita Rajagopal by the Sahara television channel captured

The drop of 26 points in the child sex ratio in Rajasthan between 2001 and 2011 reveals that the prospects for human development in the state are bleak. Despite considerable pressure from civil society groups to implement the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection)

Act, the pernicious trend of eliminating girls has continued. Unless immediate and stringent measures are taken, this may well lead to catastrophic consequences in the long term.

Kanchan Mathur (kanchan@ idsj.org) and Shobhita Rajagopal (shobhita@idsj.org) are with the Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur.

T
he recent 2011 Provisional Census figures for Rajasthan show an alarming drop in sex ratio in the 0-6 age group from 909 in 2001 to 883 in 2011. A decline of 26 points is indicative of a clear bias against the girl child in a cultural milieu mediated by a range of factors – a feudal history, stringent patriarchy, rigid gender norms and deep-rooted disadvantages which pervade all spheres of domestic and social life. The state has also witnessed considerable action from civil society beginning with media exposure to the more recent scaled up action against the unscrupulous ultrasound clinics. However, the insidious trend has not been reversed and unless strong action is taken, will lead to disastrous consequences.

What Do the Figures Reveal?

The Census 2011 shows that the overall sex ratio has improved from 921 to 926 over the last decade. This is the highest recorded for the state since 1901 though it continues to be below the national average of 940. However, Rajasthan is at the bottom of the table among the empowered action group (EAG) states where child sex ratio is concerned. In 2001, 23 districts out of 33 recorded a sex ratio of above 900 for children between 0 and 6 years but in 2011 only nine districts show a sex ratio above 900. Thirteen districts show a decline greater than the state average of

883. Data reveals that of the 33 districts in Rajasthan, barring Ganganagar, all others have recorded a fall in juvenile sex ratio in the current census. The districts that have seen the biggest fall include Dungarpur, Jaipur, Sikar, Rajsamand and Tonk, Jhunjhunu, Alwar, Dausa, Bharatpur, Karauli and Sawai Madhopur. The fall in Dungarpur district, a predominantly tribal area, merits a closer inquiry as it shows a drop in child sex ratio by 39 points. Three districts, i e, Jaipur, Jhunjhunu and Sikar are also known for high literacy rates denoting little correlation between higher literacy rates and mindsets which allow girls a right to be born and live with dignity.

june 18, 2011

on camera over a hundred doctors across 22 districts violating the law. More cases of female foeticide have been unearthed since then in various parts of the state. After the sting operation, the Rajasthan Medical Council (RMC) temporarily suspended the registration of four gynaecologists and three sonologists and the licence to practise medical termination of pregnancy (MTP) and ultra sonology of 29 other doctors. More than 30 doctors violating the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) (PCPNDT) Act, 1994 were restrained from practice by the RMC on prima facie grounds of violating the code of professional conduct, etiquette and ethics as laid down by the law (Singh and Srivastava 2008). However, in July 2007 the RMC revoked the suspension of all the errant doctors. Subsequently, the process of sex determination has gone undercover with pregnant women being taken to neighbouring districts/and across state borders for sex determination and sex selective abortions through already established channels.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society groups working in 13 districts assert that of the 1,651 private ultrasound centres registered in the state and 122 machines installed in government hospitals, about 1,000 private centres continue to conduct sex determination tests (CFAR 2010). The overt desire for sons and the extremely low value attached to the birth of a girl child, dowry, early marriage, and low education of women are key social determinants adding to this dismal scenario.

Civil Society Initiatives

For the past decade several networks, coalitions and individual NGOs active in the field have been addressing the issue of declining sex ratio and female foeticide along with ensuring that the PCPNDT Act is implemented in all its seriousness. They have focused on campaigns, community based programmes and initiatives involving religious and caste leaders. Decoy operations carried out in various districts by NGOs have succeeded in identifying unscrupulous

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Economic & Political Weekly

COMMENTARY

doctors. However, no action has been taken against them and district-level authorities continue to shield those involved in this malpractice. Under the larger rubric of addressing issues of violence against women and girls, some groups have also tried to identify and create awareness on the various types of violence and discrimination women and girls in the state face throughout the life cycle. Declining sex ratio is seen as a symptom of the discrimination meted out to women. Several risk factors have come to fore as a result of the campaign on the implementation of the PCPNDT Act launched in the last few years. These risk factors must be recognised and mitigated because they could compromise some of the gains of the women’s rights movements.

Role of the State

On its part the state has for long claimed promotion of women’s empowerment beginning with the Women’s Development Project (WDP) in 1984. However, the systematic dismantling of the WDP which had a network of change agents at the grassroots level is indicative of the lackadaisical approach of the state towards issues of women’s equality and dignity. The sathins (grass-roots workers, literally “companions”) could have played a proactive role in creating an environment for empowering the girl child and acted as catalysts for monitoring the implementation of the act at the district level provided their acti vities had not been curtailed. Today no alter native programme exists which addre sses women’s empowerment and issues of violence against them. The lack of coordination between different line departments working on women and child related issues also add to the woes. Despite the rhetoric, an obvious lack of political will to save the girl child shows that the development graph of the state is on the brink of disaster.

Another institutional mechanism set up to protect the rights of women, the State Commission for women, is currently defunct due to non-appointment of a chairperson and members. The state policy for women launched in 2000 was never taken serious note. Hence, the question of implementing it did not arise. The State Child Policy that came into being in 2007 devotes a complete section to the Rights of the Girl Child. It puts forward several strategies to ensure that girls are protected including effective surveillance systems to prevent foeticide and infanticide and to strengthen the monitoring system of the PCPNDT Act, 1994. The Act does exist but the implementation leaves a lot to be desired despite the setting up of the PCPNDT cell by the directorate of medicine and health. Though the cell issued a directive that all unregistered ultrasound clinics should register themselves under the PCPNDT Act, many of the clinics continue to operate in a surreptitious manner. To date the state has not carried out any serious review of the implementation of the PCPNDT Act nor has it taken any measures to analyse data pertaining to registration of pregnant women and deliveries. The mechanism of decoys and sting operations has not been evolved in the state. Besides, the allocation of an abysmal Rs 2.50 crore in this year’s budget, which totals Rs 55,000 crore, for implementation of the PCPNDT Act ensures that no tangible results will be achieved in the near future (The Hindu 2011).

Ensuring State Accountability

On 4 April 2011 the representatives of various women’s, social and human rights organisations put forward a charter of demands to the chief minister demanding that a Vision 2021 policy document on the Mission to Save the Girl Child be drafted. Some of the other demands include: setting up of a state level monitoring committee to develop indicators for monitoring the programmes created to save the girl child; fixing the responsibility to regulate medical malpractices and implementing the PCPNDT Act on all officials. The programmes developed must include the full and effective implementation of the PCPNDT Act in the state including developing an active and effective witness protection scheme including one for decoys, strict and immediate action against doctors, chief medical and health officers (CMHOs) and other people who violate the law. The organisation of balika janam utsa v sammelans and dialogue with the people is to be seen as a priority, birth registration should be made compulsory and Accredited Social Health Activists sahyoginis, sathins and the anganwadi (all grass-roots health workers) workers must assist the panchayat and municipalities, who should be made accountable for this.

As a response to the demand charter presented by the women’s groups, a meeting was organised by the department of health and family welfare on 7 April wherein problems related to implementation of PCPNDT Act were discussed at length. The principal secretary, health, assured the groups that strict action would be taken against those found guilty of sex selection, female foeticide and violating the Act.

Conclusions

The delegitimisation of sex determination by the PCPNDT Act must go hand-in-hand with efforts at changing the existing valuesystem and mindsets of society, including values and obligations of society towards the girl child in particular and women in general. Such efforts will create the ethical basis for the implementation of the law and help in isolating those who violate social principles, and can be punished for the violation of the law. However, if social support for the activities that violate the laws including moral acceptance of it continues, the law will ultimately become ineffective.

Besides, it is important to recognise that the PCPNDT Act is also intimately connected to other laws, and there is a need to extend the conceptualisation and activities to those other laws for the effective enforcement of the PCPNDT Act. In the absence of such a strategy, the gains of efforts made may not sustain in the long run.

The basic justification for the enactment of the law in this case is discrimination on the basis of gender. The social determinants of sex selection are much wider and strongly rooted and the efforts to implement the law need to link up with local movements raising a voice against a range of pernicious social, economic, cultural and religious factors. This needs to be done without losing the main focus of implementing the PCPNDT Act.

References

Census of India (2011): “Provisional Population Totals, Rajasthan”, Directorate of Census Operations, Jaipur, Rajasthan.

Centre for Advocacy and Research (2010): “Making a Difference – A Newsletter on Issues of the Girl Child”, Jaipur, Rajasthan.

Singh, M and K Srivastava (2008): “Saving the Girl Child”, Seminar, 583.

The Hindu (2011): “Decline in Sex Ratio Shocking, Disgraceful: Women Groups”, 3 April.

Economic & Political Weekly

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june 18, 2011 vol xlvi no 25

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