by Akansha Yadav (completed her 3 year LLB course from K.C Law College, Mumbai).
We live in a paradoxical era. On one end we are witnessing progressive changes made to the rights of a woman, enabling her to have a fair share in her family’s ancestral property, a concept which had no place in the ancient Hindu shastric laws and on the other glaring end we see umpteen female foetuses unable to survive the gestation period in the womb only because of one reason - their gender.
The year 2019 evidenced an incident wherein 132 villages across the state of Uttarakhand did not report the birth of a single girl child in over three months. According to a government survey, India’s sex ration i.e. number of females per 1000 males has declined to 896 in 2015-2017 from 909 in 2011-2013, all in all, these numbers demonstrate a prejudicial tilt in the demographic structure of the country making it one of the greatest threats to our contemporary civilization.
A patriarchal mind-set coupled with equating daughters to a financial obligation remains the number one cause of female foeticide in the country.
The social, religious and cultural fibre of India is pre-dominantly patriarchal which gives women a secondary status in the society. The social structure of conventional families is based on the foundation that a family runs through a male. Moreover, the very minute a girl child takes birth in a poor Indian family, the entire family’s focus shifts from welcoming the birth of the child to pondering upon the future expenses that would be incurred during her wedding. These “expenses” also include dowry, a barbaric practice still ubiquitous in our country. Thus, the dire need to determine the sex of the child widely prevails in the Indian society.
Law against Female Foeticide:
The Pre-Conception, Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique (Act), 1994 was enacted to stop female foeticide and arrest the declining sex-ratio in the country. The Act provides for stringent punishment against the person so involved in the process of sex determination in a specified manner. Any person as mentioned under Section 23 of the Act when convicted can be subjected to an imprisonment for a term which may extend up to three years along with fine which may extend up to Rupees Ten Thousand. Furthermore, the name of the registered medical practitioner convicted for the first time under the Act, is removed from the register of the State Medical Council for a period of five years and permanently for any subsequent conviction.
Despite such provisions, the Act only delivered substandard results in most states. The reasons attributable to such low conviction rates are a lack of witnesses, insufficient evidence, and out-of-court settlements, as stated by the 10th Common Review Mission (CRM) report of the National Health Mission (NHM).
Additionally, we have the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 in force which penalises giving, receiving, demanding and advertisement of dowry. It is an Act that has almost attained a status of a senior citizen in terms of the years of its existence but has still failed to eradicate the evil practice. The evidence of continuity of this practice and its repercussions reflects in the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data which reported 7621 dowry deaths between 2016-2018.
Ray of hope:
The “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” scheme was launched by the Union Government on January 22, 2015. It was believed that this revolutionary step would help protect the girl child and reduce gender-based discrimination. Sadly, the Ministry of Women and Children admittedly accepted that majority of the funds allocated to the scheme were spent on advertising rather than making an active difference.
The heinous practice of female foeticide ensures to take away the very first breath of the girl child by having her killed in the womb. The irony of the situation is that we live in a country where a girl is worshipped as a Devi but denied of her existence as if she has no right to live.
This practice has been going on for way too long and needs to leave with the same urgency as COVID 19. We need to fulfil our basic responsibilities as human beings by educating people about the repercussions of this evil practice. We can lead our country with its grossly skewed gender ratio towards progress by being vigilant citizens and making sure that we create an atmosphere where everyone is welcome irrespective of their gender.