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Sex determination racket bust points to a national issue

Sex ratio at birth. Sex determination ban in India to prevent imbalanced sex ratio. By Melanurya (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Prenatal sex determination is illegal in India in a bid to stop sex-selective abortion address the country’s imbalanced sex ratio.
In Haryana’s Panchkula district, a clinic has been raided by the state health department over allegations of a sex determination racket operating there. 

The Siddharth Clinic in Swastik Vihar, located in the Mansa Devi Complex, claimed to perform “infertility, gynae and ultrasound”, despite being unregistered with local authorities, and that equipment for procedures it was not permitted to conduct was found there. In addition, patient forms were only partially completed and allegations of prenatal sex determination tests being carried out there prompted the raid. 

Under the Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994, prenatal sex determination is banned in India. The Act’s objective was to prevent female foeticide, a decades-old issue in India and a driver of the country’s imbalanced sex ratio. 

Between 1970 and 2017, sex-selective abortion was responsible for 10.6 million missing girls and women with the country’s sex ratio declining from 900 females for every thousand males in the 2013-15 period to 896 females for every thousand males in the 2015-17 period. While Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani claimed earlier this year that the country’s sex ratio had improved in recent years, as Health Issues India reported at the time, “such a claim seems very much dependent on the figures used.” 

“The disparity in India’s sex ratio at birth has been alleviated by thirteen points since 2015, from 918 girls for every thousand boys to 931 girls for every thousand boys,” we noted, citing Health Management Information System data. However, this data reflects reporting from institutional deliveries and government facilities, omitting private facilities. In some states, sex ratio at birth is actually worsening while just 22 states and union territories actually report, limiting the scope of data on the subject. 

Indeed, despite legislative efforts such as the PCPNDT Act, sex determination rackets still go on. Advances in technology such as portable ultrasound machines make prenatal sex determination easier, whilst the law itself is considered to be poorly enforced. As such, a multi-crore rupee cottage industry operates underground in India with sex determination and sex-selective abortion widespread. 

As such, the sex determination racket in Panchkula is far from an outlier. Regularly in India, cases are reported of doctors being booked for carrying out sex-selective abortions or running sex determination tests illegally. In one recent example, a start-up was flagged for sending couples abroad for sex determination tests in countries where the practice is not illegal. With India missing millions of its women and girls because of such illicit practices, more vigilance and robust enforcement of the PCPNDT Act is needed to correct the country’s imbalanced sex ratio and move it closer to international norms. 

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