Little concern about India’s missing girls

Prenatal sex determination is rampant in all states in India and is going unchecked despite an Act.


Sonal Matharu | October 12, 2010

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) organised here on Tuesday a one-day conference on prenatal sex selection leading to  declining sex ratio in India.

In India, sex ratio at birth, that is, number of girls per 1,000 boys at birth, is 904. (sample registration survey 2006-08). Child sex ratio, that is, girls per 1,000 boys in the age group of zero to six years, is 927 (census 2001) and population sex ratio, that is, females per 1000 males in general population, is 933 (census 2001).

Members of the civil society, researchers and doctors, who participated in the conference, agreed that easily available sex selection techniques, absence of regulations and weak law makes determining the sex of the foetus a common practice in almost all states across the country.

NHRC chairperson Justice K.G. Balakrishnan said, “We live in a male chauvinistic society. That’s why we look down upon women and do not treat them properly. These problems cannot be eliminated from the society but mindset of the people can be changed.”

He added that many times a pregnant woman has so much pressure from the family that even if she doesn’t want to know the sex of the child and abort it if female, she doesn’t have much power to act.

The trend of pre-determining the sex of the foetus is more common among non-poor families which have the resources to get the tests done. It is very common in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan and Gujarat and is now moving to Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh where governance is poor, said Subhash Mendhapurkar, director of a Himachal Pradesh-based NGO, Sutra.

Estimates of missing girls in 2001-07 (SRS data) highlights that 1,95,899 female births did not occur each year in Uttar Pradesh due to prenatal sex selection. Next is Bihar with 76,160 missing girls followed by Rajasthan with 71,931.

This practice has serious consequences for surviving women. It would lead to increased violence against women, rape, abduction, trafficking and a resurgence of practices such as polyandry and exchange marriages. In some parts of the country women are being purchases as brides for poorer regions or from lower castes and forced to become ‘wife’ not only to her husband, but also to her brothers, making commodification of women a real threat, says a note by NHRC.  

National Commission for Women’s chairperson Dr. Girija Vyas said, “There is no third party intervention and no police intervention to check what the clinics and nursing homes are doing. There is no accountability. Birth of a girl child is seen as a stigma.”

The Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (prohibition of sex selection) Act (PCPNDT Act), 1994, to regulate sex selection before and after conception has failed to prevent misuse of technologies such as ultrasound that enable testing the sex of the foetus for non-medical reasons. There are very few convictions under this Act and its execution is poor. 

There is a need to revise the Act with the change in technology, said Vyas. “The devices to determine the sex of the foetus are now small enough to be carried in a purse. Even blood tests can tell the sex of the foetus,” she added.

United Nations population Fund (UNFPA) representative Ena Singh said, “Access to technology is not regulated. Demographers say that if sex ratio in India is 904, that means 2,000 girls are missing in a day. In a year, that figure is seven lakh.”

As per global trends, normal sex ratio should be 950 girls per 1000 boys. However, in states like Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Gujarat, this ratio has declined to less than 900 girls per 1,000 boys.

The conference titled, ‘Prenatal Sex Selection in India: Issues, Concerns and Actions’, was organised by NHRC and UNFPA. They also released a joint report on the same at the occasion.



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