Three people have been arrested in connection with an illegal prenatal sex determination racket, in a reminder of the country’s sex ratio and discrimination woes.
India’s sex ratio is seriously imbalanced, driven in part by the practice of sex-selective abortion. Even though prenatal sex determination is illegal in India, having been banned in 1994 through the Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostics Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Determination) Act to prevent female foeticide, the practice continues as an underground industry with 10.6 million missing girls and women between 1970 and 2017 attributed to sex-selective abortion.
According to a report published in The Times of India (ToI), the recent bust followed on from a complaint by the District Medical and Health Office (DMHO) in the Rangareddy district of Telangana, following which an autorickshaw driver and two doctors were arrested by police in the Chaitanyapuri locality. According to reports, the driver – named as Anjaneyulu – would ferry pregnant women to the two doctors – named as Sarala and Ayesha Fatima – at the Ushodaya Hospital in Attapur where sex determination tests would be conducted.
“The two doctors confessed that they performed sex determination tests,” said Chaitanyapuri inspector R. Saidulu, quoted in the ToI. “We could find three women on whom the tests were earlier performed. Anjaneyulu had been collecting Rs 9,000 from each patient. Anjaneyulu and his associates used to take Rs 6,000, while they used to give the remaining Rs 3,000 to the doctors.”
The trio have been booked under Sections 406 and 420 of the Indian Penal Code – respectively referring to criminal breach of trust and cheating – and Section 23 of the Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostics Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Determination) Act.
Such practises are far from confined to one outfit operating in this part of Telangana. In October, Health Issues India reported of a clinic raided in the Panchkula district of Haryana which was believed to be operating a sex determination racket. As we noted at the time, this points to a much wider national issue. “Foetal sex determination and sex-selective abortion by unethical medical professionals has today grown into a Rs. 1,000 crore industry (US$244 million)….spurred on by technological developments that today allow mobile sex selection clinics to drive into almost any village or neighbourhood unchecked,” UNICEF said in 2017.
Meanwhile, sex ratio figures are hard to come by. Whilst Smriti Irani, the Union Minister of Women and Child Development, claimed earlier this year that India had effected an improvement in its sex ratio at birth, the data she cited reflected only reporting from home deliveries carried by health workers and government institutions – not covering private hospitals, not to mention the sex-selective abortion black market of the kind seen recently in Chaitanyapuri. Sex ratio at birth is actually deprecating in a number of states and union territories, of which a mere 22 report such data. Of the data reported from the 22, twelve reported a worsening sex ratio. Another day, yet another sex determination racket busted
Prenatal sex determination continues to be practised in India despite the law prohibiting it. Authorities being vigilant against rackets facilitating it and cracking down on such rackets is imperative. Meanwhile, proper reporting of sex ratio at birth figures is needed at the national level to ensure that India is fully appraised of its crisis and can formulate interventions and policy accordingly.