Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hardly a surprise!

Census 2011 reports a steep fall in child sex ratio

For the last few days all those working on the issue of falling sex ratio have been waiting with bated breath for the release of the provisional census data. That the child sex ratio (CSR) i.e the number of girls per thousand boys in the 0-6 age group will register a fall was a foregone conclusion but the anxiety was by HOW MUCH? The data is out, the wait is over and we still cannot breathe easy.

The CSR is an important indicator not only because it reflects the pre-birth elimination of girls but also the discrimination against girls once they are born. It is true that more girls die during childhood than boys. Some under enumeration also has to be factored in as many families do not report the presence of girls in the family (Though,let me clarify that it is not a major contributor to the CSR)

At the national level CSR declined from 923 to 914 between the last two censuses. The decline of 13 points from 2001 to 2011 as compared to 18 points between 1991 (945) and 2001(927) may offer some consolation to all those working on the issue. But the fact remains that gender discrimination is continuing to be rampant.

The data shows that the overall percentage of children in the 0-6 age group has reduced by 2.8 %. They constituted 15.9% of the population in 2001 as compared to 13.1% in 2011. This indicates lowering fertility rates- a negative growth rate in this segment of the population. However, it is important to note that if we look at the growth rate among boys and girls which is -2.42 and -3.80, it is clear that girls are not really having a fair chance of survival due to discrimination at birth and during childhood. As we always said, a small family is desired but a son is a must.

What is worrying is that while there has been some improvement in the CSR of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh, Tamilnadu, Gujarat, Mizoram and Andaman and Nicobar Islands, in the remaining 27 states and UTs the sex ratios have recorded a decline. This shows that the phenomena of discrimination is no longer limited to a few pockets but is almost assuming epidemic proportions. The SRS data of 2007 on sex ratio at birth highlighted this phenomenon and now census has confirmed it.

This poses new set of challenges to the programme managers and civil society organizations. We cannot remain focused on a few districts or states alone any longer. While it is imperative that all that is possible is done to regulate the illegal practice of sex determination there, it is equally important that we regulate the sale and mushrooming of ultrasound clinics and machines elsewhere. The poor records of machines sold, poor compliance of the PCPNDT Act requirements by the clinics, and dismal performance of authorities in regulating these machines needs to be acknowledged and appropriate administrative mechanisms need to be put in place immediately all over the country. It is no longer a problem of “those” states. It is a problem of every district and state.

I am saddened to note that Maharashtra had a fall of 30 points from 913 to 883 between 2001 and 2011 in CSR. That the political will is lacking is evident from the fact that the State Supervisory Board was constituted recently after almost three years and has shown utter lack of understanding of the issue in its very first meeting. It is demotivating to see the people in power still thinking that Maharashtra is not as bad as others!

The alarm bells are ringing. It’s time for all of us to wake up from our stupor and fight for the girl child.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Barking at the wrong tree!

GOM proposes to regulate use of Abortion Pill to stop sex selective abortions

Twenty one lac illegal sex determination tests and seven lac girls being eliminated through illegal sex determination everyyear and the government feels that there is no need to regulate the clinics. The fact that in spite of our society being a son preferring society, that we did not eliminate girls on such a large scale before the pre-natal diagnostic techniques appeared in the market does not seem to register with them. Though it is apparent to all that there is a definite link between the availability and accessibility of sonography machines and the fall in the sex ratios, the concerned officials continue to deny it and blame it on mindsets and say it is a social problem.

The apathy of the Maharashtra Government to this issue is established by the fact that the State Supervisory Board was not constituted for two and a half years. And when it is formed last week under pressure from NGOs the very first meeting shows the lack of understanding and misdirected focus which deflects from the basic issue of misuse of technology.

As a monitoring and policy directing body it is expected to have members who have the technical knowledge, commitment to upholding the rights of the women and understand the nuances of abortion and sex selective abortions. If we are to go by the news reports it is obvious that the members have not been able to take an informed stand on the issue.
The focus of the recommendations of the State Supervisory Board is on controlling the sale and use of the abortion pill. This is a totally misdirected measure.

Abortion pills are not used by the women going for pre-birth sex selection. The pills are effective only up to 49 days of pregnancy. A woman cannot know the sex of the baby by then. The sex of the baby can be indicated from 12th week onwards and confirmed only after 18th week. So how does monitoring the sale of abortion pill help the cause?

This approach is dangerous as it compromises the right of a woman to safe abortion. Abortion in India is legal if it is in the interest of the well being of the mother and child, in case of rape and contraceptive failure. In a social context where women do not have control over their reproductive and sexual behaviour, abortion helps them get rid of unwanted pregnancies.

In India it is estimated that nearly 11 million abortions take place every year and around 6 million of them are unsafe abortions. Close to 20,000 women die every year due to abortion related complications. Awareness about abortions being legal is poor in India and measures like the proposed one would force many women to go for unsafe abortions by quacks endangering their lives. It would talibanise the society with the pharmacy workers, government officials and other lumpen elements targeting women buying abortion pills. It goes against the principle of confidentiality of MTP act.

Instead, the government should focus on cracking the business of illegal sex determination clinics and lodge legal cases against all clinics flouting the PCPNDT act. It is time that all those who value the rights of the women come forward and lodge their protest against this regressive, ill informed and misdirected move of Government of Maharashtra.