Determining the sex of an unborn child is an offence, but statistics provided by the Union government to the United Nations “hide the real malady”, according to health activists and experts.
In its third and fourth periodic report to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has claimed that in 2012, only 284 cases were filed in the country under the Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994, which prohibits sex determination and selection. Not a single case was reported in Karnataka.
“Knowing the situation, these figures are not credible. If there is vigilance, the number of cases would be higher. We don’t know who collects these figures, when and from where. Was it collected from all clinics?” asked Sreelakshmi Gururaja, a representative of India Alliance for Child Rights and a former UNICEF official.
The report says in Karnataka, only two cases were filed under the Act in 2010, and there were none in 2011 and 2012. Of the 284 cases in the country in 2012, Maharashtra accounted for 210. But this is highly unlikely, Dr Gururaja said. “It obviously means that Maharashtra has improved its investigation and collection of data. But at no point do we stop and go back to verify the figures.”
The 2011 Census data shows that the child sex ratio (0-6 years) in Karnataka is 943. Experts say government report to the UN could be incorrect as it doesn’t explain the skewed sex ratio.
“It could mean that everyone is complying with this Act, and yet you have a skewed ratio. There is surely some discrepancy,” said Dr Swarna Rekha Bhat, consultant paediatrician and neonatologist, Narayana Health City. “It is odd that just two cases were filed in the state from 2010 to 2012 and there was no explanation for this.”
‘The Practice is Rampant’
Rule 17(1) of the Act penalises medical practitioners who don’t put up boards saying ‘disclosure of the sex of the foetus is prohibited under law’, in both English and the local language. Yet, the practice is chronic in North Karnataka districts like Bagalkot and Belgaum and also in Mandya in South Karnataka, said Akhila Vasan of the Jana Arogya Andolana Karnataka.
She said the data indicates that state and district-level committees formed by the Health Department have failed to conduct checks and inspections in hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. “These figures hide the real malady and adds to a dysfunctional regulatory mechanism which prevents us from understanding what is actually happening in these areas,” Akhila said.
However, Dr Sita Bhateja, obstetrician and gynaecologist at Sita Bhateja Specialty Hospital, said the Act has been enforced strictly and that even doctors are scared to conduct the test. “We do have patients requesting us to find if the foetus is male or female, but we tell them that it amounts to an offence and send them back.”
She added that the government expects transparency in maintaining records of the ultrasound scans done. “Sometimes, they even plant their officials in the hospital to find if the ultrasound machine is being misused.”