Mandatory Sex Determination in Maharashtra Will Endanger Pregnant Women, Say Activists

The recommendation of compulsory prenatal sex determination is aimed at preventing foeticide, but doing so will target every woman bearing a female foetus and impact their already poor access to safe abortion.

To stop female foeticide and increase the female sex ratio across Maharashtra, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has recommended the state government make prenatal sex determination tests mandatory for all pregnant women. The PAC has also called for monitoring women who have conceived a female child to prevent foeticide.

The recommendations, however, have irked social and health activists across the state, who have called it a violation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, the Medical Termination Of Pregnancy Act and the fundamental rights of women.

Gopaldas Agrawal, the head of the PAC, told The Wire, “There are many shortcomings of implementation of the PCPNDT Act, 1994. Hence, when couples come for sonography tests, sex selection tests must be made compulsory. Sex of foetuses should be disclosed to parents and also registered in records. These parents should be told to come for follow-ups at the local level. If they stop coming for regular follow-ups in case they have gone through abortion, local doctors should go to their homes to find out their status. Parents who have conceived a baby girl should be kept track on. Doctors, parents, NGOs and district health officers should be involved in this procedure.”

He added, “Currently under existing laws, doctors are held responsible for foeticide but parents are not held responsible under any law. These recommendations if implemented will get parents in the ambit of the law.”

The recommendations have not gone down well with activists working in social and health fields, with over 100 activists and more than 15 organisations expressing shock over the PAC recommendations.

Brinelle D’Souza of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, said, “We condemn the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee to the Maharashtra legislative assembly making prenatal sex determination and tracking of pregnant women mandatory to prevent sex selection. These recommendations violate the PCPNDT Act itself, and will impinge upon the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act as well. It is ironical that such a recommendation is being made in Maharashtra, which pioneered the law to curb sex selection after a long campaign by women and health activists that linked the use of sex-selection and sex-detection technologies to gender based discrimination and thereafter to the declining child sex ratio in India.”

Hema Pisal of the Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsha Mandal, said, “It is shocking that the proposal is being mooted at a time when one more racket of sex selection has recently come to light in Mhaisal, Sangli, where 19 foetuses were found buried at a stream in the village by Dr Babasaheb Khidrapure, a BAMS doctor. Later, many doctors from both Maharashtra and Karnataka were arrested in connection with foeticide. The racket clearly exposes the nexus between unscrupulous medical professionals and corrupt government health officials in allowing illegal sex determination to proliferate in the state.”

Agrawal, however, insists that these recommendations are meant to prevent such rackets.

Kamayani Bali Mahabal of the Forum Against Sex Selection, said, “It is quite clear that such a proposal is intended to absolve doctors and to shift the burden to the shoulders of pregnant women. The 2003 amendments to the 1994 PCPNDT Act recognised the lack of autonomy faced by women and had specifically kept the pregnant woman out of the ambit of the Act. This new proposal will only result in a 24 hour surveillance of pregnant women both within the family and by the state authorities. It will unnecessarily target every woman bearing a female foetus, and will link any abortion that such a woman has [for any reason] to sex selection. This will adversely impact women’s already poor access to safe abortion. It will fuel a proliferation of illegal facilities for getting rid of unwanted female foetuses.”

Kiran Moghe of Janwadi Mahila Sanghatana, said, “PAC suggestions of surveillance are a violation of our fundamental right to privacy and victimisation of the woman when the focus of surveillance should be providers who are the key link to practice of sex determination and sex selection.”

Agrawal, on his part, said, “Doctors are held responsible for foeticide under the PCPNDT Act but parents go free. Parents do sex selection tests in many ways and they go for abortion. There is no system to keep track of them. That is why the committee has recommended making parents also responsible for foeticide.”

Manisha Gupte, a women and health activist, said, “We demand that the Maharashtra legislative assembly reject the recommendations of the PAC. We also demand stringent implementation of the present Act, which has clearly acted as a deterrent wherever it has been used effectively.”

Shiv Sena leader and MLC Neelam Gorhe has also criticised the recommendations of the PAC. She said, “I have sent a letter to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis that recommendations should not be accepted. Recommendations are impractical, costly and in violation of the PCPNDT Act.”

Agrawal, however, said, “These are mere recommendations and not laws. First, the Maharashtra government will decide whether it would take these recommendations into account. Later the central government will be enacting the law based on the recommendations. The government can either accept or reject recommendations. This is a lengthy procedure. I do not understand why activists are irked over it.”

Last year, woman and child development minister Maneka Gandhi had suggested similar measures of tracking pregnant women carrying girl foetuses to stop female foeticide, a suggestion that drew criticism from activists.

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