Law on Abortion: retaliation to Female Foeticide in India

Female foeticide is the killing of female foetus. This happens if the parents are able to discover which gender the foetus is, which in fact is illegal, but more over the mentality needs to be changed. India in general needs to believe that females are equal to males!

Female Infanticide and female Foeticide in India reflects the low status of woman in a particular country. It is the cruelest and harsh demonstration against a female by the male dominating society. The underlying inequalities between men and women, borne of cultural, religious, and social influences and the undying desire for a male child provide for the basic reasons that promote the act.

One of the most common and simple mechanisms of eliminating the girl child is ‘Female Foeticide’. It is the act of undermining the sex of the child in the mother’s womb and if it is found to be a female; to get the same aborted. ‘Foeticide’ means the destruction of the foetus at any time prior to birth. ‘Infanticide’ means the unlawful destruction of a newly born children and is regarded as murder in law.

The Indian markets saw the introduction of various low-cost and affordable technologies that accurately determined the sex of the foetus in the 1970’s. The medical fraternity, being conscious of the ingrained hatred towards the female child, vehemently started advertising detection of the sex of the foetus and consequent abortion in cases of detection of the female child by using banners that stated ‘Spend Rs. 500 now and save Rs. 50,000 later’[1]. Female foeticide, therefore replaced the act of infanticide and have become the additional acceptable and cleaner measure of getting eliminate the feminine kid as against infanticide. Proponents of sex-detection tests supported the opportunist steps of the medical circle, stating that ladies had the choice of deciding the sex of their off-springs which eventually with the limited “supply” of girls compared to men within the society, their demand and therefore standing would increase

The above-mentioned views propelled foeticide further and led to a scenario of ever decreasing sex-ratios of the ages 0-6 of the country with the sex ratio of 2011 hitting an all-time low of merely 914 female births to 1000 male births as opposed to the world average of 950 female births to 1000 male births[2].

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971, legalizes abortion – however, under certain conditions. It states that pregnancy can be terminated by at least one registered medical practitioner (if the length of the pregnancy does not exceed 12 weeks) and by at least two registered medical practitioners (if the length of the pregnancy is between 12 and 20 weeks) who are of the opinion, formed in good faith, that the continuation of the pregnancy shall expose the woman to risk to her life or of grave physical or mental health, (this includes women subjected to rape and pregnancy-induced by the failure of any contraceptive device or technique used by a married couple) and that there is substantial risk that if the child is born s/he shall suffer from severe physical or mental abnormalities.

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Pregnancies that can be terminated also include those in minors (under-18) or “lunatics” with the permission of a guardian.

Moreover, sex selection is covered under the Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 2002. Originally, there was a Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994, but due to the prevalence of pre-conception diagnosis; a newer law was put in order.

The PC & PNDT Act states that no place or doctor is authorized to conduct pre-natal diagnostic techniques except for the purpose of detection of one or more of:

  1. chromosomal abnormalities;
  2. genetic metabolic diseases;
  3. hemoglobinopathies;
  4. sex-linked genetic diseases;
  5. congenital anomalies;

It also states that “no person including the person conducting pre-natal diagnostic procedures shall communicate to the pregnant woman concerned or her relatives or any other person the sex of the foetus by words, signs or in any other manner” and “no person shall, by whatever means, cause or allow to be caused selection of sex before or after conception”.

Under the Act, the following people can be charged: everyone running the diagnostic unit for sex selection, those who perform the sex selection test itself, anyone who advertises sex selection, mediators who refer pregnant women to the test, and relatives of the pregnant woman. The pregnant woman is considered innocent, “unless proved guilty”.

This law was again amended due to various reasons, and it finally became Pre-Conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) (PCPNDT) Act in 2004. It brought ultrasound and amniocentesis under its ambit. It also led to the empowerment of the Central Supervisory Board and the formation of the State Level Supervisory Board. The rules, regulations, and punishments are made more stringent.

The laws in India have been laid out pretty well – covering at least the bare necessities. However, more important than the law (in this case) is the implementation of the law. The laws have been passed fine, but the reason sex determination and illegal abortions still take place is the improper and inadequate implementation of the law. The law is not being properly implemented, and proper action has not been taken against those found guilty. Of course, the official reason shall remain ‘inadequate forces and staff’ and ‘lack of funds’, but we know better. And if female foeticide in India is to be stopped, it is time that our officials and those who have been presented with ‘power’ dig their noses into the laws in our Constitution, and begins taking severe and appropriate action. On paper, everything is fine – what is written can be criticized numerous times – but when it comes to taking action, well, action needs to be taken.

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[1] Chetan Sharma, Divya Jain, ‘Technology and its Impact on Female Foeticide in India’ (Government Technology, 18th May 2005).

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[2] Census of India 2011: Child Sex Ratio Drops to Lowest Since Independence’ (The Economic Times, 31st March, 2011).