The child sex ratio is a powerful indicator of social health of any society. Calculated as number of girls per 1000 boys in the 0-6 year age group, the ratio has shown a sharp decline from 976 girls to 1000 boys in 1961 to 927 as per the 2001 census. In certain parts of the country, there are less than 800 girls for every 1000 boys.
The declining child sex ratio has its roots in the practice of sex selection or what is commonly understood as determining the sex of the foetus and eliminating it if found to be a female. The use of technology to determine the sex of the foetus and easy access to it since the early eighties has contributed to the rapid decline in the child sex ratio.
The adverse child sex ratio can severely impact delicate equilibrium of nature and destroy our moral and social fabric. Contrary to what many believe, lesser number of girls in a society will not enhance their status, instead, this could lead to increased violence against women, rape, abduction, trafficking and onset of practices such as polyandry and buying of brides.
The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act (PCPNDT Act) provides for the prohibition of sex selection, before or after conception. Its purpose is to prevent misuse of technologies such as ultrasound that enable testing the sex of a child before it is born. It is illegal to test the sex of the foetus for the purpose of eliminating the female. The law provides for an imprisonment, which may extend to three years and fine up to Rs.10,000 for the first conviction. The law has its own place but has been hampered by difficulties in implementation and societal apathy. Sex selection is not only about technology. At the heart of the matter is the low status of women in society and the deep-rooted prejudices they face right through their life.
To get the complete picture, the issues also need to be seen in the context of a patriarchal social framework and a value system based on 'son preference' -- such as the son being responsible for the carrying forward of the family name, support in old age and for performing the last rites. Further, the practice of dowry and the tag of 'paraya dhan' translate into daughters being considered an economic liability.
Consequently, what we see is discrimination and neglect of the girl child, which could be in terms of inadequate nutrition, denial or limited access to education and health, child labour and domestic violence. At its worst, sex selection translates into one of the most repugnant form of violence against women.
The notion that only couples with two or more daughters are going in for sex selection and therefore does not affect the overall child ratio is misleading. In fact, data indicates that even for the first-born, there is a preference for a male child. This trend is even more noticeable where the first born is a girl. Sex selection in not a solution to dowry - the system of dowry will continue as long as people look upon daughters as a liability. What is
important is to address the root cause for the subordinate status of women in the society.
The thought that it is more humane to eliminate a female foetus than subjugate her to a life of discrimination is a fallacy. By the same logic, it would be justifiable to eliminate poor people than let them suffer a life of poverty and deprivation. The girl child is not the problem, the practice of sex selection is. “It is vital that the seriousness of the issue is brought out. It is not something out there in the future. It is a 'here and now' issue,” says Krishna Tirath, union minister of state for women and child development.
She further adds, “Adopt zero tolerance for sex selection. If you know of anyone indulging in it, report to the Appropriate authority (Medical Officer/ District Magistrate of your area.) Your vigilance will help stop discrimination against girls and send out strong message to those who err. Value your daughter. Each one of us can change our immediate environment by treating our daughter equal to our sons. If each of us looks at the girl child with a changed mindset, it will break the prevailing social apathy.”