Sex Selection is the act of identifying the gender of the foetus and the elimination of the unwanted sex of an offspring. It is an attempt to control the sex of the offspring and achieve a desired sex. In India, a male child has always been preferred over a female child, from time immemorial. This was mainly due to the prevalence of a patriarchal mindset and also the rules of inheritance that favored the male. It is disheartening that even after 69 years of Independence, in this 21st Century, the craze for a male child has not died down and there still exists selection of the favoured sex and aborting the female child. If statistics are to be believed,1,00,000 abortions are carried out each year, solely because the foetus is a female. The present sex ratio of India is 943 females per 1000 men (As per the 2011 Census) and it is considerably low across many states in India.For instance, Dhimana and Behrana villages of Haryana have been recorded to have a dangerously low sex ratio of 444 and 378 respectively, the lowest sex ratios in India. It is a shame for the world’s largest democracy to face such an abuse of gender and human rights.
It is to be noted that causing miscarriage of a woman is an offence under the Indian Penal Code, whether it is with her consent or without her consent. This penal provision being very wide definitely covers female foeticide (where if it is known that the unborn child is a female, the miscarriage may be caused) and also infanticide (where a female infant may be killed) but does not explicitly cover sex selection and abortion in its ambit. Thus, India passed its first law against abortion, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in 1971 which made abortion legal only in very specific circumstances such as the medical risk to the mother or pregnancy due to rape. It also established the procedure to be followed by the physicians and the facilities where abortions can be performed. The basicloophole in this statute was that, the law did not anticipate the increase in sex selective abortion based on the advancement of technology. To fill the gap, the Government of India passed a new law, The Pre-Natal Diagnostics Techniques Act (PNDT) in 1994. This law was further amended in 2004 and the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) (PCPNDT) Act came into being to prevent and punish prenatal sex screening and selective sex abortions. This was introduced basically for offences including the conduction and abetment of pre-natal sex determination by unregistered centre’s, selection of sex on either genders, conduction of PND test for any purpose other than those specified under the provision of the said Act. It is a statute which is preventive in nature. While preventing the people and unregistered medical centres from using techniques to detect and select test, the Act also prevents companies and dealers from making any unauthorized supply, sale, distribution or rent of any equipment which can be used for such purposes.
The basic provisions of the Act can be highlighted as under:-
- It prohibits the selection of sex, before or after conception.
- It gives out the grounds for the use of pre natal diagnostic techniques which include genetic and chromosomal abnormalities, metabolic disorders, congenital malformations, haemoglobinopathies and sex linked disorders.
- It prevents any laboratory or clinic to perform any test of ultrasonography for the purpose of determination of the sex of the foetus.
- Any advertisement in any form for the pre natal and pre conception sex determination is strictly banned, and can incur a punishment of imprisonment for upto 3 years and/or fined Rs. 1000.
This Act also makes mandatory the registration of all diagnostic laboratories, genetic counseling centres and laboratories, genetic and ultrasound clinics.
Very recently, on 16th November, 2016, the Supreme Court Bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra directed search engines such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo to take down all advertisements and links on pre-natal and pre-conception sex determination within 36 hours as they were in direct violation of the PNDT Act, 1994. The Supreme Court said to the search engines: “Whether one is going to have a boy or a girl, that kind of information is not necessary in India. The sex ratio is going down in the country and we are concerned about that. Whether you are making money or not we are not concerned with that.” The object behind the PNDT Act and its necessity is embodied in the words of the Supreme Court.
This Act was a positive step in the right direction tocurb the menace of female foeticide and abortion of the unwanted foetus. This is very necessary in a country like ours, where thousands of female children suffer from the regressive mindset of the society at large through this rampant gendercide. At the end of the day, laws are meant to protect its citizens from the abuse of human rights and this law is a progressive check on a society where girls are sentenced to death even before they are born.