PNDT Act a failure, legalise ultrasound tests: Maneka
Terming the 20-year-old PNDT Act a “failure” and continuing to bat for legalising sex determination tests, Woman and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi is pushing for a plan wherein the Government tracks the development of the unborn child, whose gender has been established through ultrasound. And this tracking, she says, could be done with the help of a 3.500 specialised software attached to the ultrasound machines and connected to the District Magistrate’s office.
“The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (PNDT), has failed. The data bears evidence to the fact that we have not been able to save any more lives after the enactment of the Law,” Maneka told The Pioneer. “Make sex determination tests legal. Let the parents know whether the unborn child is a girl or boy, and then we, the lawmakers should start tracking the development of the child from thereon,” she said. Maneka also plans to take up the issue with the Health Minister JP Nadda.
However, Maneka’s plans have been slammed by activists. “Is tracking about 50,000 registered ultrasound machines easy or a million pregnant women? This is a ridiculous idea and will further complicate matters,” said Dr Neelam Singh, a gynaecologist and member of National Inspection and Monitoring Committee (NIMC) under the PNDT Act.
“It is a mindset problem in our country. Tracking pregnant women will make life difficult for them, while the real culprits, the radiologists who actually perform the tests will go scot-free,” she said. “We are losing close to six million girls before birth annually. This is because of sex determination. Sex ratios in the last 30 years have been falling constantly and that is mostly after the introduction of these sex determination tests,” said Dr Sabu George, a social activist and researcher, who has studied female foeticide in various Indian states.
“We should not run after the women as it will be harmful for both the mother and the unborn child. Instead, we should bring to book, the doctors who reveal the sex of child for money,” he said. George also said that this will overturn the efforts of the previous NDA regime, which gave more teeth to the PNDT Act, which brought ultrasound clinics under the scanner.
Since 1961, even the child sex ratio (0-6 years-girls/ 1,000 boys) has been on a constant downhill. More recent data shows a more pronounced decline with 927 per 1,000 boys in 2001 to 918 in 2011. Certain districts of the country have fewer than 800 girls for every 1,000 boys born.
Under the WCD Ministry’s campaign, Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, the Government is targeting 100 istricts across the country with the worst child sex ratio in the first phase. “We are trying to sensitise the masses through various campaigns. We are also making the vigilance tighter but it is not helping much. While the parents, who are the real culprits are escaping the law, the radiologists are being made scapegoats,” said Maneka.
Citing a recent example she said, “The government-run orphanage, Palna in Amritsar (Punjab) received 89 newborn girls in a single month alone. Since there were no takers there, these little girls were sent to Jalandhar for adoptions.” Maneka said that even if the parents are not killing the girl child, they disown them.
“There is a need to re-haul the Act. We should compulsorily install software costing as less as Rs3,500 across scanning machines which are connected to the DM’s office to record the count of children along with complete details of the parents,” she said. “Thereafter, the state should be made to track the birth of the girl child and her progress. This way, we can track the parents killing or abandoning the unwanted girl child,” she suggested.
Earlier, Maharashtra women and child minister Pankaja Munde, also suggested that foetal sex determination tests should be allowed. Strict follow-ups when the foetus was female would be a more effective way to save the girl child. Activists blame nexus between the administration and radiologists for poor implementation of the Act. They say that, poor conviction rate, which is lower that 200 till date, under the current law is because of state’s half-hearted measures in implementing the act.
“Most radiologists indulging in wrong practices have strong political connections which help them escape the law,” said Dr Singh. “The doctor lobby is asking for the lifting of ban on sex determination. It is because they are feeling threatened. If the administration and society get together, it will not be so difficult to implement the Act,” she said.
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