Sex determination still a worry
24 Jan 2009
AHMEDABAD: The Central government has declared January 24 as National Girl Child Day with a focus on targeting scourges of female foeticide, domestic violence and malnutrition but a recent survey conducted in Mehsana district in Gujarat, infamous for its severely skewed sex ratio, has busted certain myths about sex determination tests.
Conducted by a city-based NGO, Chetna, it revealed that the decision to find out sex of the foetus was taken jointly by husband and wife in more than half the cases. This is contrary to the popular perception that the mother-in-law is usually the instigator.
Seven per cent respondents accepted having undergone a sex determination test. On an average, they had more than two daughters and, interestingly, their level of literacy was higher than that of all respondents.
Though sex determination facilities are available only at block and district levels, eight out of 10 respondents who lived in villages had undergone the tests. Forty-two per cent of respondents knew the tests are illegal. But, shockingly, less than 20 per cent knew medical termination of pregnancy (MTP) is illegal!
The incidence of tests is higher among joint families but the same across castes. Nine out of 10 women who had the test, had an ultrasound at a private hospital. The study titled Pre-birth sex selection and elimination of girl child: An exploratory study in Gujarat’, which was completed in August 2008, covered 12 villages in three blocks of Mehsana district. The sample consisted of 359 married women between 15 and 45 years with at least one child less than three years old.
Reasons cited for preference of a boy child were dowry practice (37 per cent), that a boy provides support in old age (15 per cent) and concern for safety of daughters (12 per cent).
Chetna is bringing out a series of posters on the girl child to sensitize people. They will cover issues like female foeticide, infant mortality rate among girls, anaemia, child sex abuse, child marriage, maternal mortality, female literacy, malnourishment among girls and women, higher level of child labour among girls, and others.
The posters bring out certain disheartening facts. A study measuring gender equality has placed India 113th out of 130 countries. Female literacy in India is 54 per cent, lowest in Asia. Every second girl in India is undernourished and the reason is not poverty, but discriminatory feeding practices. Twice as many girls as boys are engaged in child labour in the country.